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Vocabulary, taxonomy, thesaurus, ontology and meta-model

Woody Pidcock of the Boeing company gives an excellent overview of the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and a meta-model on metamodel.com. He summarizes the differences as such:

    Bottom line: Taxonomies and Thesauri may relate terms in a controlled vocabulary via parent-child and associative relationships, but do not contain explicit grammar rules to constrain how to use controlled vocabulary terms to express (model) something meaningful within a domain of interest. A meta-model is an ontology used by modelers. People make commitments to use a specific controlled vocabulary or ontology for a domain of interest.

Thanks, Matt Webb.

The SIGIA Highlight Reel

This week's hightlights from SIGIA, the central IA discussion list:

Unfortunately, posts like the shop talk Marc is looking for were rare this week...we'll see next week how things went.

Location-based interaction design

Wired News reports on using a Bluetooth wireless enabled cell phone to interact with an Apple Powerbook. The interesting thing is using existing devices (the phone) to extend the interaction possible with the computer, rather than relying on yet another gadget. Examples from the article include controlling Keynote/PowerPoint presentations, or locking/unlocking the computer based on leaving or sitting down.

The implication is that design for mobile/wireless isn't just about tiny screens and impoverished keypads, as so many assume - it's about interaction with connected devices, connected services, and with movement through space. This might seem a no-brainer, but it certainly requires new thinking and techniques in addition to our traditional IA toolbox. Marc Rettig's Designing for Small Screens 1.4MB PDF touches on some of this, but I still think we've got a huge amount to learn about mobile user experience.

NY IA salon: books we love

NY IA salon: books we love - At Peter's place last night, this month's information architecture salon guests brought some of their favorite books to show or share...

I'm still struck by the fact that to get beyond first principles, we must range far and wide across disciplines. And I'm curious - what book faves do iaslash readers have? Post 'em in the comments.

Macromedia tagline: Experience Matters

Macromedia has launched a new design with a corresponding marketing message about creating great experiences. The new tagline 'experience matters' has its own website with example experiential flash sites.

I alternate between loving the increased exposure of user experience, and hating the dilution of something tangible and valuable to buzz-compliant marketing copy.

Update: Jerry Knight's article on the new UI and interaction design is worth checking out.

Designing Contact Forms

A practical application of captology (persuasive technology) is encouraging site visitors to contact the company. Miles Burke tackles design for contact forms and provides useful thoughts on getting more feedback and interaction from site visitors.

The rest of SitePoint's usability section is well worth browsing.

Information Layers Model from Karl Fast

On SIGIA, Karl Fast proposed a rough 5 layered model for information. The layers are content, metadata, semantic, representational, and interaction.

Librarians kick ass on the metadata and semantic layers. They suck on the representational and interaction layers.

Content Management Dissatisfaction

Both the SIG-IA list and a CMS list have surfaced an interesting thread today in regards to an article published at At New York, Study: Content Management Tools Fail. It discusses some high level findings from a Jupiter Research report on the dissatisfaction around the implementation and maintenance of Content Management Systems. I don't have access to the report, but very interesting.

Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug roadshow.

They're each offering full day workshops in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Krug's are the day after Rosenfeld's.

Lou's tackling the ugly problem of creating unified IA across departments and business units in large organizations in Enterprise IA: Because Users Don't Care About Your Org Chart and Steve offers Don't Make Me Think: The Workshop

I'm particularly impressed by Steve's comment about Lou's workshop:

If you're involved in a large, politics-ridden enterprise site (does the word “silo” ring a bell?), you owe it to yourself and your company to spend a day with Lou—even more than with me.

Peterme: Casting your User Research

Peter Merholz discusses having the appropriate cast of users for research.

There's an old adage that 90 percent of filmmaking is in the casting. Throughout the process of making a movie, doing the work up-front to get the right performers pays off and ultimately leads to a superior result.

We've found this adage also proves true when we're conducting user research, because the quality of the results comes from selecting the right users at the project's outset.

So true - sometimes we're so adamant about practicing user centred design methods that we get just anyone involved, instead of truly representative users, just so we can say we did user research or usability testing. Or maybe you're in a situation like this: yesterday someone suggested I use people from the project team. And that can be worse than no users at all.

There's also a lot of other interesting articles on the UIE conference site.

Customer Experience Whitepapers

Change Sciences has an archive of best practices whitepapers they've produced. Free registration required. Topics include writing for the web, navigation and orientation, search, checkout, user registration, and two interesting 'design paradoxes' articles. Most interesting to me is the recent task design article, and the two older, but still valuable ROI & Investing in User Experience papers.

Door of Perception 7: Flow

there is literally a wealth of fascinating presentation material and cutting edge theory of experience design to be found in the collected talks available online from the Doors 7: Flow conference

this one by London's Design Council on Humanising Technology was particularly intriguing

Design Council's Humanising Technology effort

Design creates space for common language between disciplines.

One company we are working with is developing highly complex software for large businesses in the energy industry. The company moved from being knowledge consultants in the industry to developers of a new technology that will allow real time financial modelling. Even before they have a UI the small, highly specialised team realised that there was no shared representation of the technology and therefore different perceptions of the benefits it will bring.

OmniGraffle UI palette

Robert Silverman's OmniGraffle GUI palette is nice. Is meant for designing cross-platform interfaces although you can see hints of Mac OS X in the shapes. Contains most of the standard widgets you'd expect in an application builder.

Getting Started with a Career in User Experience

For those of you who might be new to the field of IA or user experience design, or almost anything related really, Marcus Haid has written a nice primer on breaking into the industry for Adaptive Path.

Jakob's best Alertbox in a long time.

The advice on intranets and staff directories is useful in Jakob's latest piece Employee Directory Search: Resolving Conflicting Usability Guidelines. But that's not why I think it's the best Alertbox in recent memory. It's because it shows the complex and paradoxical issues that comes with any signficant design.

"It is very common to have conflicting usability guidelines. They are called "guidelines" rather than "specifications" for a reason: they are necessarily fuzzy because they relate to human behavior.
Interface design requires trade-offs. The challenge is in knowing how to balance the conflicting guidelines and in understanding what is most important in a given situation."

While he still suggests usability testing as the resolution to the guideline conflict (not always true), it's a refreshing dose of dogma-lite Nielsen.

Update: Christina's got an interesting take on why guidelines don't really help novices.

Microsoft & Digital Permissions Management

It looks as though Microsoft is looking into XRML for their rights management. More information at The Register:

Microsoft devs Windows Rights Management Services
By John Leyden

Usability of Specs?

Ever been frustrated when what the developers built didn't match what you designed or architected? Maybe your specification had some usability problems itself. Brian Krause has useful tips in Getting Creative With Specs: Usable Software Specifications - An effective, usable spec serves two main purposes: First, it elicits feedback early, which helps to avoid problems and misunderstandings later on. It's especially important that clients are able to identify any missing functionality in the design, for example. Second, an effective spec ensures the software stays in line with the designer's intentions as it's built — in other words, the spec is precise enough that a competent engineer will build the interface as it was designed.

Beyond cardsorting: Free-listing to explore user categorization

Rashmi describes a great technique in her latest at B&A: Beyond cardsorting: Free-listing methods to explore user categorizations - As a precursor to cardsorting or as an independent method, free-listing is a technique that can help you determine the scope of a content domain while providing some insight into how the domain is structured.

ControlledVocabulary.com

David Riecks pointed me to his site on controlled vocabularies. David discusses the benefits of using CVs and offers a lot of examples of heavily-used controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Since David is a photographer, he also has a special interest in image indexing and devotes a special section to image databases and CVs.

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