Christopher Fahey writes an interesting series on the “Smoke & Mirrors” of user research.

As designers look towards user research for the objective truth, Christopher questions the motives behind the research. He follows with a series of articles, the first of which discuss user research as a pseudo science pointing to absolutes that do not exist. He continues the discussion stating that tools such as eye tracking provide results that are already apparent to good UI designers. His latest article explains that a value of user research is often to cut through the politics and convince stakeholders to make good design decisions. His upcoming article: “Research as Bullshit”

10 Ways

If you haven’t already seen Getty Images' 10 Ways, it’s worth a look. Getty collaborated with 5 designers to create some very creative interactive experiences. They attempt to capture the compelling visual language of photography.

I’m not too sold on them as educational tools but they are neat interactive pieces none the less.

IAI Summary Question 1: To Content Inventory Or Not To Content Inventory

Inaugural Question of the Week for the IA Institute Member Mailing List

Leisa Reichelt of posted earlier this month against content inventories, positing that they immerse you in the status quo of the content types and approaches.

Her position is interesting, but we'd like to hear from you about how you react to this post. How have content inventories affected your process and creativity on projects? Is completing a content inventory as one of your first major IA tasks good or bad?


The responses to this question gave a nice blend of ideas, mainly that the initial runthrough of the content at the start of a project can be thorough, but likely should not be the final, detailed audit.

Also, there is a desire to clarify the terms at work here. One person’s “content survey” is another’s “content inventory.” Or, one person’s “content inventory” is another’s “content audit.”

The responses to this question suggest the following continuum for the level of detail:

(Least detail) Content survey > content inventory > content audit (More detail)

Response Summaries

  • Content inventories inspire as much as strategy and users. Understanding content helps drives the content strategy and begins the modeling process for migration to a content management system.

    They key to avoiding content myopia is to look at content produced not only for the website, but also via traditional means, feeds, competitive research, and adding in the desired additional functionality.

    Look for ways to take content, add effective markup, and allow people the ability to build upon it – very Web 2.0.

  • Use content inventory as a preliminary analysis for a more formal content analysis. Then, the latter is a validation of the observed informal patterns.

    The existing content provides lots of insight into what has come before, informs your ideation for the project, and indicates where issues may arise.

  • This issue may be one of terminology – one’s “inventory” may be another’s “survey.” The original post may be saying not to complete a formal analysis/audit first, but rather to examine all the content without getting stuck in the current paradigm.

    An IA that becomes “indoctrinated” by existing content is not doing a good job. One way to learn about your client company (not the users) is to examine what content is on the site. Time and budget are factors here.

    The interesting thing here is the discussion around the differences, if any, between a content “survey” and content “inventory.” This shows that the practices is still in the formative stages and that there should be an agreement at some point in the future.

    In the end, which you do is determined by the project and the client (whether internal or external – ed).

  • Use tangible futures and backcasting; create inventories based on user needs (internal and external) and add ideas projected by the strategic direction. Compare the current to the future inventory for a gap analysis.

    Content inventories should be considered roadmaps, and it will become apparent when old content is not needed.

  • The idea is not to START a project with a full content inventory. Get a sense of the current content, but don’t obsess with the details. Doing so could create a vortex towards waterfall thinking.

    Sketch earlier to create artifacts and shared context. Many artifacts are much simpler to create and digest than content inventories - prototypes, comics, sketches, participatory design, games, etc. Numerous UX professionals are now doing so with much success, and the idea was promoted about 50 years ago - see Henry Dreyfuss’ 1956 classic "Designing For People."

  • Any artifacts related to design research will provide evidence and help quell (fairly common) debates about decisions that don’t need to be made. Besides a shared context and language, artifacts can serve as keepers of key truths and decisions already made. If the “truth” changes, the artifacts change. They serve as the shorthand of the vision.
  • Distinguish between artifacts and deliverables. While a deliverable is part of a projects contract, the artifact is an ad hoc piece of visual information necessary to illustrate a particular point.
Information Architecture Institute: Question of the Week

Hello, Information Architecture fans.

To share the insights gleaned from years of deep dives into Information Architecture and the various User Experience areas of practice, every two weeks we will pose a question to the Information Architecture Institute's member mailing list, collect the responses, then summarize the key discussion points right here on

Look for the first summary in the next couple days.

Recordings from the IA Summit Redux in Washington, DC

This Saturday the DC-IA group organized an IA Summit Redux where many summit sessions were reviewed and discussed. You may download complete audio recordings of the discussions (on tagging, deliverables, theory and web 2.0) from Many thanks to Dan Brown and the DC area IAs for making this possible.

You'll also find the audio for the closing keynote from the last day of the summit; all these recordings make a lot more sense if you check out the original presentations.

IA Summit summaries

So, summaries from the IA Summit have been coming out - the most recent at Boxes and Arrows, now in its 5th year of Summit coverage. See session-by-session descriptions and reflection for
- Overview and Preconferences
- Saturday
- Sunday
- Monday

UXMatters also has a summary posted, a reflective take from one summit attendee that's illuminating.

Finally many presentation slide decks and posters have been linked on the IA Summit site itself (with many thanks to Donna Maurer).

Austin Govella sparks a conversation about the Come to Me Web

With the idea of the Internet of Things, emergent architecture, and other things being proposed as the 'Come to Me' web, Austin Govella writes a great post and gets awesome commentary from the likes of Adam Greenfield, Dan Brown, and Thomas Vanderwal.

30 Years of Apple - UI Retrospective

C|net is running four galleries of early Apple UI evolution, from the early days documented in Andy Hertzfeld's Revolution in the Valley

Video: SXSW interview with Peter Morville

The extraordinary Liz Danzico interviewed Peter Morville at SXSW. If you want to dig into some Ambient Findability goodness, there are 3 flavors of QuickTime video of the event.

Realtime IA Advice

So, at the IA Summit we had an open-mic mentoring booth, where anyone could sit down and offer advice, and anyone could sit down and ask. A conversation there was one of the highpoints of my Summit.

Today, Tues. March 29 Dan Brown is trying an experiment where he's got a campfire chat open in the same vein - pop on in and ask IA advice in realtime. The room will be up for a few hours, and may make its return if it's successful (which means y'all should go ask Dan a question, instead of just smalltalk chatting).

UPDATE: the room has moved to another location that I'm still tracking down, and there is a transcript from yesterday that I'm still trying to pick up too. Dan? Pointers?

IAI Annual Report 2004-2005 Has Been Released

View the IAI 2004-2005 Annual Report at:

IAI Announces Salary Survey 2005 Results

IAI's 2005 Salary Survey Results are available at:

Costs of Badly Done Customer Research?

In light of growing acceptance of user or customer research, it's worth considering the costs of poorly done research. For retailers, it seems especially important to make sure every contact with customers reinforces the values associated with a brand.

I just had a negative experience with customer research, that impacted my perception of the retailer and the associated brand. I spent some time thinking about it from my own viewpoint as a customer, and it seemed the most important cost to the retailer is in terms of closing a channel for business. In this case, the botched online survey I walked through makes me unwilling to engage with them on the web again.

I posted a quick writeup, with screenshots of the survey, here.

I know there's material on these costs from marketing perspectives, but I'm wondering if anyone's working on this from the point of view of IA and UX, when they're focused on better connecting the business with its customers and user?

Game-like Elicitation Methods (GEMS) for user research

So the brilliant Rashmi Sinha of Uzanto has launched MindCanvas, a new user research tool that uses game-like activities instead of traditional surveys to gather user research data. This is combined with expert data analysis from Uzanto (which will limit scalability of the service, but provide significant insights well beyond an automated collection of graphs).

I've been thinking about design games from a business stakeholder perspective for the past year or so, and it's interesting to see Rashmi's take on design games for participatory design with users.

Congrats to the Uzanto team for shipping, best of luck!

Visual Complexity

Scrumptious information visualization from the Visual Complexity website...found via xblog, I think. (I confess, it's just a tab that's been open for over a week in FireFox, so I'm not sure.)

UXMatters, a new publication for user experience professionals

So the launch of UXMatters happened during DUX...there's some good content from familiar names there...check it out, particularly Dan Brown's article on IA 2.0 (as ridiculous as version numbers are unless there was an actual v. 1.0, there's a lot to think about how IA responds to new mindsets and technologies.)

Registration open for User Interfaces for Physical Spaces

This is an event I wish I could make - User Interfaces for Physical Spaces is a day long workshop detailing MAYA Design's work with the Carnegie Library to transform the physical and information spaces. In the process, they also had to tackle culture and business strategy, too. Fascinating case study, with field trips to project sites and detailed explanations at MAYA's offices. Coproduced by the IA Institute, the event is $200 for members, and $250 for non-members, and runs Monday, December 12.

IA Event in Italy

Luca Rosetti and Emanuele Quintarelli have gotten together to organize an Italian IA Summit (Italian only) - looks like a good follow on to the EuroIA conference where not a lot of Latin countries were represented.

Tagging tags to create synonyms

Gene Smith talks about a project we did at work that actually uses tagging tags for good use.

DUX 2005 underway

The second DUX conference is underway in San Francisco. The opening plenary was amazing, with a fascinating talk on the Language of the Body by Tony award winning actor Bill Irwin. We're in sessions now, and there's lots of intersting cases and questions.

There's a growing pool of photos on Flickr, and podcasts are coming.

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