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Flash and Web-Based Applications

Nielsen's alertbox talks about web-based applications using Flash on the front end. I recently talked to Molly, a new aquaintence in NYC, about how her organization was using Flash to put a front end on a project management db. Sounded like an interesting idea, only because I haven't seen a project/client contact type db done in Flash before.

    In usability tests of 46 Flash applications, we identified several basic issues related to Web-based functionality's ephemeral nature. Some findings restate old truths about GUIs; others reflect the Net's new status as nexus of the user experience.
To digress a bit, the Flash based apps I've thought work well lately are just for fun, e.g. this Bush speech generator, tuning the world. I've come across some design sites that have all flash interfaces with databases, but at the time felt turned off by them. I'm coming around, though. For me, a Flash interface for customizing a product design, like timbuk2 bags is excellent. But what are good examples of content-heavy sites that use Flash, like Molly is talking about? Are there any portal-type sites using Flash?

Navigate on the right? The jury is still out.

Lucian pointed to the short Syntagm article by William Hudson on right-side navigation. Hudson, responding to Bob Bailey's HFI newsletter article on the topic believes that we need more data before we can know that moving navigation to the right will be a real improvement.

IA should get under the UX tent

That's what Sean Coon is saying at apperceptive's uxDesign. I agree with his contention that vocal IA's should be spending effort cross pollenating and talking big IA. Lou has been doing a lot of that lately as do some Adaptive Path who do IA as one component of their work. But even with the fiery debates that have been going on, I still feel there is a need for something like AIfIA, if only to support IA's that don't have a steady and constant lifeline of IA peers -- I suspect that isolated IA's, like those that have moved into in-house positions with small IA groups will feel this. I also feel that evangelism can make the people holding the purse strings see the light and spend money on IA where it's needed.

Apparently some people also believe that IA needs an egomaniacal figurehead. I agree with Thomas Alison on that one. I've said that a few times in the past few weeks to people I've spoken to about getting business decision makers to understand IA. When I say business decision makers, I mean in the big and maybe boring brick and mortar corporations who need in house IA's to work on stuff like enterprise IA.

Don't know where Sean's rockstar theory comes from. I never wanted to be a rockstar and I never really worked in a traditional library.

Lou on enterprise IA and search log analysis

Lou posted two presentations on his site for speaking engagements he had at the London AIGA-ED group and at ASIS&T 2002 in Philadelphia. The first is on enterprise IA presentation and the second on search log analysis. Ann Light summarizes the enterprise IA presentation at usabilitynews.com.

BBC adaptive boxes

In Auntie's facelift, Matt points to the innovative re-working of the bbc.co.uk home page. When you click a link in one of the blue boxes on the home page and then return to the homepage, that blue box will be a shade darker. The idea is that over time the boxes will adapt to show you which areas you work with most, which seems like a form of personalization to me, adapting to user behavior. Nice.

Way finding/losing in a digital library

I am in a discussion with a programmer about ways to offer navigation using a poly-hierarchical arrangement of nodes. He brought up the concept of directed acyclic graphs (DAG), which is from Mathematics. I learned from the Free Online Dictionary of Computing that the idea is that a directed graph would contain no cycles, i.e. if there is a route from node A to node B then there is no way to cycle or loop back. I can see some applications benefitting from this algorithm, such as in forward citation searching. I think I may not understand the concept entirely, but I am guessing that in an information environment, this means that you'd lose context the deeper you find yourself in a directed path. Or perhaps it simply means you navigate forward to point A from point B and has nothing to do with providing backward movement.

The problem we're experiencing is that we have been dealing with a legacy of organizing by collections/products/services, which is reinforced in our site navigation. Oddly, we don't have problems post-coordinately displaying term combinations in database search results. Rather, in search results we display other terms from the subject taxonomy to narrow results by subject. The problem we have is with the legacy of hierarchical arrangements of access points organized by: collections, services, topics (this uses slices of the subject taxonomy). It's a very library-centric view that we've been dealing with changing, and if you ever worked in a library (corporate, private, special or public) you might know how difficult it is create this type of change.

I've pointed out that the concept of surfacing more facets of index terms would be helpful for browsing. Jim Anderson at Rutgers helped me to buy into this idea while I was in library school, and before I knew much about the web, I advocated this idea in an image index I proposed in 1997. That naive and over-ambitious Filemaker Pro screen shows how I envisioned it. It's funny. Today, I'm wondering how we can support the display of polyhierachical classifications such as our subject taxonomy and other database fields. We have some ideas floating around, but I feel like a toddler trying to topple an elephant.

...

Some follow-up. We're kicking around the idea of a) showing multiple breadcrumbs, and b) showing local navigation for one of the hierarches where the node exists. With the local navigation, we're going to check where the user came from in order to determine which tree to show. If they came from a bookmark or an email (most of our pages are also lined to from email alerts) we will show nothing, unless the node only has one parent, then we will show that tree. This is the theory. We need to test, but interested in opinions. Have you done something like this in a better way?

Information Architecture is not Usability

Jeff Lash tells us why Usability is not IA in the November, 2002 IAnthything goes column of Digital Web.

    The distinction between information architecture and usability may seem like semantics, but there are significant differences between the two disciplines. Though they are often discussed interchangeably, and practitioners are often well-versed in both, information architecture and usability differ in their scope and areas of focus.
Moving beyond the Web as a single-user system

There are some instances of Web sites that begin to have interaction that extends beyond the client/server model. Tag Board for weblogs is a subtle example of it. However, the Web itself remains a single-user system. Arguably, the Web becomes more valuable as a greater number of people use and contribute to it. We see the same in Web sites. And yet, the very same Web sites lack the ability to have direct discourse with other people who are looking at the same book at an e-commerce site at the same moment.

Defining Feature Sets Through Prototyping

by Laura S. Quinn, in Boxes and Arrows.

    Defining requirements and features can be a daunting task under the best of circumstances. The Vision Prototype allows the user-centered vision to be seen and discussed by all team members and then easily translated into a set of functional requirements.
Introducing Interaction Design

by Bob Baxley in Boxes and Arrows.

    Well-designed interactive products allow people and technology to carry on a complex and elegant dance relying on multiple, simultaneous forms of communication. A new 12-part series will discuss the activity of interaction design as it relates to the Web, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the Web as an interactive medium.
Bottoms Up: Designing complex, adaptive systems

In the December 2002 issue of New Architect, Peter Morville discusses how you can use bottom-up IA methods while still keeping a view of the bigger picture. In the article, Peter discusses the dangers of severing the ties to larger business or project goals when fragmenting system components in order to manage growth. He suggests how to use bottom-up methodologies to support top-down ideas.

The Definition of Information Architecture

Peter discusses why there is a need for the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture.

    If nothing else, AIfIA presents an opportunity for us to join forces and speak out. We must focus our message. We must carefully select our target audiences. And then we must speak loudly and clearly.

    But we hope to go much further than that. If we listen carefully to people's reactions, if we involve outsiders in the discussion, if we make connections to other communities and disciplines, then we can learn how to improve the practice of information architecture.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Peter has to say and am not surprised by the amount of feedback along the lines of "what the hell is IA?". In my mind, there is a great need to evangelize the value that IA brings to businesses. I see business decision makers -- the people who pay for IA -- as a very important target for this organization. For a lot of people out there, there is a great need to establish the IA meme in the heads of the people holding the purse strings in corporations. If we can collectively educate these kinds of people, we may help to sustain and develop the growing body of IA knowledge.

IA has not garnered the attention of the business world as Usability has. We have not had a provocative figure head that instill fear in business decision makers that if you don't consider IA, you will lose money -- not that I think this is a good idea. We do have some provocative people out there, but they haven't had as long a history as Jakob and haven't been as prolific in the mainstream business/management rags. This is where we have to make some great inroads. We generally tend not to be as loud individually (unless your name is Zia) so the collective voice of the AIfIA will hopefully help to get our message out there better.

14 Principles of Polite Apps

Matt Webb pointed to this Spring 2000 article in DevX by Alan Cooper, an excerpt from the Inmates book.

Software should respond to your obvious needs, not just your commands. Use these 14 principles to create accommodating software.

Sites that Don't Click

37 Signals research brief (2MB PDF).

[W]e reviewed the home pages of 10 prominent retailers and found that all of them displayed product images that were either non-clickable or were clickable but did not lead to a page where the featured product could be bought.

Taxonomy & Content Classification

Mike Lee points to and discusses the Delphi white paper, "Taxonomy & Content Classification" 1.3mb PDF, which is apparently licensed to every vendor mentioned in the paper -- my office mate Dave (the taxonomy guy) has seen three differently branded versions of the paper. It's apparently a good summary of why you should employ a taxonomy in your CMS. Mike says, "sheds some light on the misconceptions on the definition of a taxonomy, describes the benefits of systematic content classifcation, and surveys the currently available technology tools". They apparently also give some kind of seminar, "Proving Ground for Taxonomy & Information Architecture", but when I looked at the

OWL Guide 1.0

Web Ontology Language (OWL) Guide Version 1.0, W3C Working Draft 4 November 2002.

Patterns For Personal Websites and Design of Sites book

A few design pattern resources gleaned from WebWord. The first is a site by Mark L. Irons that collects patterns for creating personal Web sites. The second is the book, "The Design of Sites: Patterns, principles and processes for crafting a customer-centered web experience", by D. Van Duyne, J. Landay and J. Hong, which utilizes design patterns in order to recommend principles and best practices.

Spanking Jakob

John S. Rhodes reviews Jakob's latest Alertbox, Intranet Usability: The Trillion-Dollar Question", where he says, "The average mid-sized company could gain $5 million per year in employee productivity by improving its intranet design to the top quartile level of a cross-company intranet usability study. The return on investment? One thousand percent or more.". The Alertbox shows some good recommendations based on usability tests done by NN/g. Rhodes is taking issue with his ROI figures, which make the claim that usability results in millions in savings per year. Rhodes says, "Jakob Nielsen is selling us a dream," that usability is the magic pill to cure all intranet ills.

INUSE 6.2: Handbook of user-centred design

From the Nectar Project: This handbook on user-centred design is intended for those responsible for commissioning or carrying out usability work during the development of interactive systems. It consists of 5 chapters which are summarised below.

  1. A user-centred approach to design and assessment
  2. Introduction to usability methods
  3. Individual method descriptions
  4. Selecting an appropriate method
  5. Standards and guidelines in user-centred design
Thanks, Column Two: KM/CM blog

Top reasons ease of use doesn't happen†on engineering projects

Scott Berkun gives us his top 14 reasons and some possible solutions.

    In reviewing all the email I've received at this website, and the experiences I've had teaching and consulting, Iíve tried to catalog the different reasons why projects didnít result in easy to use designs. Below Iíve compiled the top ten reasons into a short list, with some brief suggestions on how to approach fixing the problem.
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