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Signal vs. Noise
The one-size-fits-all approach to the Windows user experience is becoming less useful. We're planning a new approach that recognizes a set of different models for "Longhorn" applications. We're calling these models archetypes, meaning "something that serves as the model or pattern for other things of the same type."
Interesting to see the different archetypes they've defined: Document editors, Database apps, Production/development environments, E-commerce, Information/reference, Entertainment apps, Viewer apps, and Utility applications. The most interesting part - the lines between the desktop and the web really seem to blur with some of these, and IAs and others with a web focus will need to embrace and extend to stay relevant.
As well as general guidelines, the team is working on a book of "user experience recipes" for different archetypes - taking design patterns and showing how they integrate together for a particular purpose. The recipes are heavily based on scenarios following a particular user through several tasks (I wonder if they have personas for each application archetype?) You can see the sample recipe for Database apps.
(on an interesting sidenote, check out the graph at the bottom of the article showing how people rated it. One for Widgetopia...)
This is old, but news to me: 37Signals has released their book Defensive Design for the Web. Congratulations! While "contingency design" might be more accurate, the tie in to defensive driving will help communicate the topic to non-UX geeks.
On another 37Signals note, they've released Basecamp, a web based project management tool that is clean, simple, and effective without all the headaches of Sitespring (Macromedia's discontined foray into the space) or PHPCollab (open source Sitespring attempt). Well done.
For those of you in the Bay Area that couldn't make the Summit or missed sessions, there is a Summit recap happening this week, on Saturday, March 20th. IA Summit presenters from the Bay Area like Brett Lider, Jesse James Garrett, and John Zapolski will share their sessions again. Please RSVP to Peter Merholz: peter AT peterme DOT com.
For those of us not in the Bay Area, there are video clips from the Summit up online, thanks to the hard work of Bob Doyle. Check out the AIfIA CMS Workshop, the Poster presentations, and Jared Spool (evil RealPlayer required). Presenters' slide presentations are also making their way onto the Summit site (look for handout links by presenter names).
It's been interesting over the last 6 months to notice personas escaping from the design team out into marketing. Not surprising, since personas largely derive from marketing's user archetypes. Sightings: MSN Personas and IBM print ad (thanks Brett), and the more scenario-focused Macromedia Central Portraits and Vodafone's Future Vision. Vodafone's piece isn't just about marketing - it's scenarios in the sense of prototyping the future. Most of the scenarios involve technology that only exists now as concepts or clunky kludged prototypes, not the polished integration of wearable, mobile communications into everyday life depicted in their scenarios.
One of the challenges of personas being more publicly visible is that clients or other departments may start building up preconceived ideas about how personas work, what they should include, and how they should be used. The marketing scenarios and personas shown above are all valuable, but don't have the level of detail required to make decisions about behavior. I'm not sure how well George Olsen's Persona Toolkit would be accepted by folks who already have set expectations about the deliverable and its usefulnes.
Know of more public personas? Drop a line in the comments...
I recently presented a roadmap for providing enterprise information services related to weblogs (k-logs). This is in the realm of what I think Lou calls "Guerrilla IA" in his Enterprise Information Architecture talks. The presentation, given at Computers in Libraries, is aimed at Library/Information Services organizations in corporations, but is applicable elsewhere. It's really an untested discussion starter that proposes near term goals for supporting individuals doing bottom-up knowledge creation. It also discusses a mode of progress that aims at integration of many types of enterprise information in the long term. I'd be interested in getting feedback on these ideas, especially comments that point out weaknesses.
There's a new salary survey that's open for participation until March 31, 2004 (The official announcement is available here). It's is focused on UCD & HCI but has a number of questions where Information Architecture can be selected, and it's fairly comprehensive in many other respects.
I think that it is beneficial for both practitioners and hiring managers to have accurate, realistic compensation information, and hopefully participating in this survey will help.
FYI, more salary and compensation info is available at the Salary Surveys page on the IAwiki.
I am thinking of creating some sort of Small Business IA/usability organization to promote the practice in small businesses. I've seen too many small biz websites that have really unusable websites -- since the vast majority of small biz owners have the do-it-yourself mentality (whether that's the best attitude to have is a whole different story) many, if any, do not understand that a site must be usable for it to benefit consumers.
I am not new to the idea of IA and usability, actually found out about the field a few years ago...in the past months have I have been starting to actively take a role in it.
I hope a few of you read this blog -- I'm currently looking for any organizations that exist that already fulfill the need I see...so if you are reading, and do, please let me know so I won't duplicate any work or step on any toes.
Designing and Organising Digital Information Spaces is an information architecture conference held in Paris 8-9 June 2004. Featured speaker is Peter Morville from Semantic studios. The conference takes place in conjunction with i-expo.
The IA Summit has set up a group blog where all conference-goers will have posting access. For those blogging the conference on their own sites, you can trackback to http://www.iasummit.org/cgi-bin/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/1
Mark Hurst has written an interesting discussion about web pages and how people navigate. In it, he reminds us of something he wrote in 1999,
On any given Web page, users will either… click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfillment of their goal, or click the Back button on their Web browser.
The interesting part of his message here, I think, is that the IA/designers’ focus on aspects of the UI such as navigation consistency is less important than the supporting of users in getting them to their intended goal. He says provocative things such as “users don’t care where they are in the website”. If you can get your head past that idea, 3 bullets summarize what this should mean for you in practice:
I’ve posted additonal personal opinions on this topic elsewhere on my weblog. Peterme discusses Mark’s ideas as well, pointing out that he shouldn’t dismiss the value of wayfinding cues in order to make the point that empasis should be placed on user needs and behaviors supporting those needs. Christina doesn’t see the harm in Mark’s oversimplification and suggests that informational cues such as breadcrumbs put the burden of mental strain on the user. It’s nice that she also suggests alternatives identified in her Widgetopia to helping users identify alternate paths related to their current task, addressing a point that I think is important — “Where can I go” is perhaps more important than “Where am I?”. Manu Sharma adds that both Peter and Mark are probably both right in this debate, but the difference in perspectives is explained by their different experiences.
I wrote about some research we're doing in my organization to observe user interaction with navigation by tracking where users click on the page (body, local navigation, breadcrumbs, global navigation). Our observations aren't dissimilar to what Michael Bernard observes in usability testing -- links to content are most often searched for/clicked in the body of pages. Navigating our site (a digital library) consists mainly of browsing through a directory (a-z lists are available as are a poly-hierarchical directory listing), so what we were mainly interested in was how people made use of the links in the local navigation. I'd be interested in seeing if other people have done this and what they were looking for. I find, as an in-house site developer, that being responsible for a site for a long term (as opposed to just launching one and going on to a new project) gives one good opportunity to observe and assess the site for usability. Your can assess patterns of use over long periods of time. You can make contact with users and keep the lines of feedback open with them over time. Clearly there is something unique about being involved in the evolution of a singular site, which I am only beginning to appreciate.
Online magazines vs. printed magazines, I recently found that paper print does not provide the most recent info I want. Here is where I learned about online magazines that are way more up to date than regular printed issues.
Here are my latest findings:
Hintmag- Dedicated to fashion trends and lifestyles.
Melomag-Creative art content: music, interviews, reviews.
Groove Manifesto-Focused on design, visual culture and new media.
Please add other online magazines that you think are interesting.
ContentPeople has a review of Peter Van Dijck's book "Information architecture for designers".
First we had Don Norman's The Psychology of Everyday Things(aka Design of Everyday Things) and now we have Stanford Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing How Everyday Things are Made. I wasn't going to contribute this item but I started thinking about how someone would view the UE/IA practice and try to create a video describing how a website/web application is developed. For instance, how do we describe to our parents what we do for a living. At least people in the various industries profiled in this educational site would have something to show & tell about their work to the common person. Do we have an equivalent?
So are we really a sum of all our deliverables? How do we capture our dialogues and conversations which really contains the value of our work? I believe there are various projects out there that is trying to solve this problem by literally capturing the brainstorming sessions into digital format. If there is something out there that is a packaged description of what we do, I would love to see people post links to those types of projects.
Interesting article on Yahoo:
Some of the new questions in a very young field: How do you judge a game? As you would a novel? Should we think up a whole new vocabulary for evaluating games? What do the social dynamics of online worlds -- those massively multiplayer games -- tell us about human behavior?
In Copenhagen, Denmark, the IT University has established the Center of Computer Games Research, which just graduated its first Ph.D., Jesper Juul.
Juul appears to be the first person anywhere to ever get his doctorate exclusively in video game studies. His dissertation 'Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds' seeks to define what video games are, and how academics ought to go about studying them.
...and here are some simultaneously interesting and heartbreaking quotes from old coworker Eric Zimmerman and Chris Crawford:
"What we try to do is provide not a single way of looking at games but a whole series of ways," Zimmerman said. "We would like to have an audience that thinks about games as more than boy power fantasies."
Some in the industry, however, are not so sure that games will ever mature. They fear games could be a dead end like comic books -- valuable as a social phenomenon, but outside a select few titles like Art Spiegelman's "Maus," not worth a great deal of individual study.
"I seldom play computer games, because it's such a depressing experience," said Chris Crawford, a game designer who is building a program to create interactive stories. "I end up shaking my head in dismay at how stuck the designers are in a rut."
The history of the 80-20 Rule: Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who, in 1906, observed that twenty percent of the Italian people owned eighty percent of their country's accumulated wealth. Over time, this theory came to be called Pareto's Principle. It states that a small number of causes is responsible for a large percentage of the effect, in a ratio of about 20:80.
comments at Signal v. Noise.
Our objective is to create a place for people in the industry, or interested in the industry, to hold discussions. Granted, we're not the first to offer such a service. Mailing likes such as CHI-Web and SigIA are great places to hold discussions as well and they go straight to your inbox.
The difference is that we're here primarily to have fun. People in the industry have started taking themselves too seriously and forgotten the fun in our profession. Also, we are starting this off from the start with a few moderators to help the forums along. The intent is not to rule over the discussions with an iron fist but to ensure things are running smoothly and the signal is where the signal should be while the noise is where the noise should be.
I attended the Information Work Productivity Forum and posted some thoughts (lengthy notes) about the presentations. The day consisted of sponsors of the council and some academics presenting their thoughts on Information Work productivity. A few speakers took the opportunity to talk about their products, which was unfortunate, but some individuals stayed on topic and discussed the real issues related to measuring information work productivity at a high level.
A friend and I were surfing Ben Fry's site today, where we played with these interesting visualization experiments.
zipdecode (requires Java), a nice little visualization tool that Fry created to learn how the zip code system works in the U.S. When it loads, click on the map to activate it and start typing the first numbers of zip codes one at a time. Would be nice if it also included a way to zoom in to understand what geographic area (state/town boundaries) you are looking at.
anemone (requires java) is an example of organic information design that gives a visualization of the changing structure of a web site, juxtaposed with usage information.
A hypothetical design project brings together small teams of IAs to share thoughts on process and deliverables as they come up with "big ideas" and specific solutions. The fictitious Company X, represented by the moderators, will get input from teams formed from workshop participants. It looks like a great break from the standard PowerPoint drill, and there will even be fabulous prizes...Because it's shorter (2 hours) the IA Slam is also cheaper than other preconference activities...something to consider if you'll be in Austin on the 26th but don't have $575 for a full day.