Wayfinding - it's not just for humans anymore

An article in New Scientist reports that new research shows mice "make signposts out of leaves and twigs so that they do not get lost in fields".

"The wood mice might need to use signposts because the fields where they live are very bland - one patch of ploughed field looks much like another (..) And while some other mice use scent markers, wood mice are wholly visual". Much like humans.

Christina's teaching at User Interface 8

While many of our talented colleagues have or are currently offering courses at one venue or another, Christina Wodtke is offering the opportunity for you to shape her upcoming course at User Interface 8. Let her know in her site comments what you'd like her to cover in a day, particularly if you've read Blueprints. If there were areas where her book fell a bit short for you, this might be an opportunity to address something in more depth.

Relation Browsers: a GUI for IAs

Garry Marchioni and Ben Brunk have been working on GUIs for visualizing nodes and relations in web sites - what they call a Relation Browser. They've published a paper on their work about the quest for a General Relation Browser that provides a picture of IA tools of the future.

JoDI's usability of digital information page other interesting papers, but I won't list them all here.

Comparing left- and right-justified site navigation menus

A comparison between left- and right-justified site navigation menus - James Kalbach and Tim Bosenick have published the results of recent usability testing on the location of navigation menus.

The punchline is that there was no significant difference in task time between the two conditions. They conclude that we should rethink our devotion to left hand menus. I disagree - when there's no significance performance difference, then user expectations, de facto standards, and project goals should guide these decisions. I think that still leaves left-hand menus with the upper hand. (thanks Column Two)

Advertising: A Cry for Usability

Advertising: A Cry for Usability - Advertising is frequently interruption-based, posing a serious usability flaw. It's very obvious on the Web as pop-up ads, audio, animation, Flash ads, and exit pops make the Internet increasingly difficult to navigate and use, and its content increasingly difficult to read.

I find the idea of usable advertising interesting - there seems to be a fundamental conflict between an advertiser's goals and a user's goals. But since advertising supports the service, the overall value is greatest when the two can be aligned. ( thanks Other Blog )

One title to rule them all, one title to bind them....

Well, over on Beth Mazur's IDblog Dirk Knemeyer suggests that information design should assume a director role over all the other disciplines in a project and that IA isn't a discipline, but a tactical practice. Hope he wore asbestos undies ;-)

Seriously, I'm not sure that one can argue for ID, IA, or interaction design as the 'director' without also making the case for the other two disciplines. Experience Architecture or Design seems a better fit for said director role. I've said more to that effect in the comments on Beth's blog.

(thanks Gunnar)

IT & Society special issue on Web Navigation

On SIGIA, Dick Hill points out this journal. Edited by Ben Schneiderman, the Winter Issue of IT & Society was dedicated to Web Navigation and contains articles ranging from user frustration, to PDAs, to browser design.

Introduction to social software

Lee Bryant has compiled a fantastic introduction to social software: Smarter, Simpler, Social.

Social Software is reaching early stage critical meme mass, and is sure to be fueled by the current Etech conference being blogged right now. One thing I've noticed is that there aren't that many connectors between the social software community and the user experience community. This strikes me as a bit odd, since social software is all about the user's experience. Maybe I'm wrong and those connections are prevalent, but so far I haven't seen a lot of them.

Matt Jones has discussed social software. Lou and Peter wanted to put more social things in Polar Bear 2. Many IAs blog. My point isn't that UX people aren't interested in socialware, but that socialware folks don't seem to be reaching out to UX. Last week, in a small group of social software developers, someone said "I think we have pretty much all the major players here" which totally blew me away.

Building a Metadata-Based Website

From Boxes and Arrows: Building a Metadata-Based Website - The online world has been flooded in recent years with talk of metadata, structured authoring, and cascading style sheets. The idea of a semantic web is gaining momentum. At the confluence of these two broad categories of activity, new models of websites are emerging.

Brett Lider's talk at the Summit was great - now folks who couldn't make it can see the early horizon for next-generation CMS.

IA Tools - The Comic Book Edition

Dan Willis has done a great job distilling core IA tools into 1 page explanations complete with quirky characters. Fun, and hopefully useful in explaining what IAs can offer.

Data visualization through facets

Pointed out by Steve Mulder on SIGIA: Iokio has a demo of a product selection tool that uses different facets to choose a digital camera. Sliders allow the user to adjust cost, weight, and resolution with real time feedback on available models. Thanks to Joe, who discovered a direct link to their Camera Finder Demo.

Trust By Design

Peter Morville tackles the credibility issue with his usual flair.

Since Studio Archtype and Cheskin released the first large online trust study in early 1999, I've been interested in trust, and particularly the propagation of credibility through social networks and word of mouth. While BJ Fogg has released research that includes whether or not a friend recommends a site, I have yet to see anything that addresses resonance effects within social networks. If two separate friends recommend a site, I'm more likely to visit. Whether it's word of mouth or RSS feeds, personal recommendations from people I trust are my biggest credibility factor, and I don't see credibility research addressing that as much as it could.

The collected resources in the 'see also' sidebar with Peter's article are a goldmine of recent thinking - I'll have to dig and see if there's much about resonance there.

Paper prototyping discussion

In case you missed it, author Carolyn Snyder has weighed in on Keith Instone's earlier paper prototyping post about her book and paper prototyping in general. The discussion is well worth a read. Thanks for stopping in Carolyn! :)

History of Semantic Networks

Matt Webb points to this great paper describing 6 different types of semantic networks. Applicable to the ontologists among us, semantic networks also make great diagram fodder. Not sure what a semantic network is?

A semantic network or net is a graphic notation for representing knowledge in patterns of interconnected nodes and arcs. Computer implementations of semantic networks were first developed for artificial intelligence and machine translation, but earlier versions have long been used in philosophy, psychology, and linguistics.

What is common to all semantic networks is a declarative graphic representation that can be used either to represent knowledge or to support automated systems for reasoning about knowledge.

Poynter Online: The Art of Explanation

Poynter has started a site to show infographics created by journalists covering the war. Much as I dislike the subject matter and war in general, the idea of getting the designers and journalists to explain how they developed the infographics is a great educational tool. More about the site:

The Art of Explanation showcases the efforts of visual journalists as they help readers find clarity. This is a place to share ideas and processes to improve the credibility and necessity of information graphics.

Alertbox: Low-End Media for User Empowerment

The April 21 Alertbox is about keeping it simple - not a simple user interface, but simple media for the content.

In short, the fancy audio and videos are not worth the effort.

This reminds me of the old-time Alertboxes - nothing too surprising, but good to keep this article handy so that I can reference it the next time someone gets gung-ho on the rich media.

K-Logging: Supporting KM with Weblogs

I wrote an article in Library Journal that may interest some ia/ readers. Here's the abstract from Ebsco:

Discusses a type of weblogging called knowledge
logging or k-logging. Information that can easily be put onto web sites; Organizations that can communicate knowledge easily with K-logs; Software that can be used for k-logging; Librarians who should provide content, share knowledge, and provide access.

Alertbox: Paper Prototyping

I pretty much agree with Jakob's April Alertbox Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code: paper prototyping is not used as often as it should be.

I think the reasons center on fear factors -

  • People are afraid to talk directly with users, especially "naked" like this - it is much easier to have some technology between you and users
  • Some designers are afraid of the unpolished look - if the design is not 100% complete visually, they are afraid the results will be tainted.
  • Some are afraid of losing the online context, that you lose something without the user's hand on a mouse.

While losing context does happen with paper, it is generally OK to lose that for initial designs. With paper, people do see it as a more informal design and give better feedback overall.

And when you use the paper format to your advantage and let users really get creative, creating parts of the own designs on the fly, then you really get to see the benefits. You can do so many more things with paper designs - so much more than just measuring completion times and gathering opinions.

I have not read Carolyn's book yet - but I did scan it at CHI. I hope that one of her messages goes beyond Jakob's "earlier is better" article - for some design tasks, paper is just plain better than building anything with code.

This is a first in a new series for ia/ - "beat reporters" who watch an area and blog it. I volunteered to "beat Alertbox" so I will be adding my own comments to Jakob's articles.


PS I have very little association with Morgan Kaufmann - I have reviewed some proposals for them, and I eat their desserts at CHI every year, but that is all.


MetaMap is an interesting visualization of metadata initiatives.

With the exponential development of the World Wide Web, there are so many metadata initiatives, so many organisations involved, and so many new standards that it's hard to get our bearings in this new environment.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the names of most of these new standards are represented by acronyms. The MetaMap exists to help gather in one place information about these metadata initiatives, to try to show relationships among them, and to connect them with the various players involved in their creation and use.

The MetaMap takes the form of a subway map, using the metaphor of helping users navigate in "metaspace", the environment of metadata.

Thanks, Catalogablog (David Bigwood)

IA is like...Dating!

Keith Instone pointed me to this great poster from CHI:
Dating Example for Information Architecture. Clever, humorous, and good for explaining IA to people who have no idea what a sitemap is, but have bought or received a dozen roses.

There's also a short write-up of the piece (280kb PDF) that Keith sent by email. If you know where the "official" location of the write-up is, please let me know in the comments.

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