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Guide to ease
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Signal vs. Noise
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.
OK/Cancel has started a blog aggregating publicly available job postings found on mailing lists and websites. You can email them with new job listings and the job listings are available as an RSS feed. Here are the types of jobs they expect to post:
Adaptive Path's Simple Solution series of reports is the first widespread commoditization of user experience practice...and it's worth thinking about what IAs and others should do in a world where $49 buys the fix to a common problem.
This week Adaptive Path launched their new reports. The star of the launch is a free report - Jesse's analysis of U.S. presidential candidate sites. Upcoming reports on Search, CMS, and ROI will make a profound impact in different circles.
But the reports that will have the biggest impact are the two small ones already available from the AP Simple Solutions series - Boutique Software Sites, and Registration & Login. For $49USD, you buy 5 or 8 pages with some explanation, site structure or flow, and wireframes. Forty-nine dollars buys you an IA solution based on design patterns, best practice, and AP's experience. How to integrate that solution or develop your own is something UX practitioners will need to face in the coming months.Update:I should just add here that this is a good thing. Commodity comes from maturity, and our practice is growing up. There's plenty of other more worthwhile things to do than reinventing the basics of registration.
This full-day workshop focuses on the link between information architecture and content management. Presentations by the industry’s leading experts and relevant case studies will provide attendees with well-grounded knowledge and numerous opportunities to participate. Special emphasis will be placed on the integration of IA knowledge and deliverables into the CM process.
Update: Early registration extended for the workshop and the IA Summit - new deadline January 31st! You'll save $75 on the workshop, and $100 on the conference by registering this week. Also, AIFIA members get in with membership pricing on the Summit.
The Information Work Productivity Council are an independent group of companies and academics that have joined together to study the issue of information work productivity and profitability.
The Information Work Forum, sponsored by the Information Work Productivity Council, brings together academia, industry and government to discuss productivity as a key factor in achieving global competitive advantage; demonstrate how companies can maximize business performance and profitability through Information Work strategies; and showcase technology solutions and services that help companies achieve the greatest ROI to achieve maximum productivity. Information Work is the act of creating, using or sharing information as a part of a business process. Combined with new information technologies and tools, information work is structurally changing labor markets, business and economies around the globe. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are roughly 100 million information workers in the U.S. alone. Any broad-based improvements to information work productivity could lead to substantial benefits to both the economy and society.
The program is coming together with outstanding speakers - it's hard to pick which sessions to go to.
The pre-conference workshops on the 27th offer a range of options too. For IAs involved in content management, AIFIA is sponsoring a workshop on errr... Content Management for IAs with a roomful of incredibly smart CM people who will share their insights - from the Content Management Bible's Bob Boiko to Managing Enterprise Content's Ann Rockley and lots of others.
BayCHI presentation from Oracle's Daniel Rosenberg puts common ROI approaches through the wringer. The thing that stands out for me is that ROI calculations don't include any consideration of the end user - if the product costs more to own, but the company makes back its money faster, then ROI suggest that this is the right decision - even though long term sustainability might be compromised.
In the IA community we're fond of findability. It's a simple conceptual hook that lets business grok a key aspect of our work. However, findability also sets some arbitrary boundaries for the practice, and runs into challenges once we move beyond single web sites. Taxonomies and facets just don't scale across the web as a whole, and struggle to be globally relevant in cross-disciplinary enterprises like General Electric.
It makes most IAs cringe to think about automatic categorization tools. However, it's also the inevitable future of large scale findability efforts - no IA superhero can manage billion-document findability from traditional top-down or bottom-up approaches evolved to address site level issues.
Automated classification and semantic analysis is important for people who plan IA careers lasting into the next decade. We don't all need to become Autonomy drones, but it's worth keeping a finger on the pulse. One interesting project that is going to go commercial with Factiva is IBM's WebFountain. WebFountain is also different than many alternatives because the idea is to build a platform for findability - letting other people build modules that tailor the WebFountain base for particular uses. While most of us don't have to deal with enterprise architecture and beyond today, staying relevant in the future will require us to understand the issues at play. Rather than dismissing the advance of machine categorization and semantic analysis, we should be prepared to take advantage of new tools that further findability and ultimately the user experience.