jess mcmullin's blog

User Experience Books from 2003

Every year there are more user experience books than I have time to read. This list includes both books I've read, and books I hope to. If I missed a book (published in 2003) that you think I should include, drop a line in the comments and I'll add it.

  • Universal Principles of Design

    Condensed design wisdom for capital 'D' Design. Outstanding.

  • Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment (pricy)

    Seminal collection of HCI/Engagement thinking. The academic reference for peeps who want more than "good experience needs to be engaging" platitudes.

  • Emotional Design

    In May 2002, Don Norman posted to CHI-WEB looking for beautiful and usable designs. A year and half later, this book brings together his thinking about the importance of emotion in design. Destined to be a classic, and hopefully help drag the old skool "ugly boxes everywhere - but it works" HCI crowd into the 21st century.

  • Information Architecture for Designers

    I like Peter's book. It's visual in a way that other IA books aren't, and that connects to a certain crowd in a way that another chapter on facets just won't. Recommended for quick illustrations of IA to others.

  • About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design

    Alan Cooper enlisted Robert Reimann's help with this sequel. It's a good overview of Cooper's process, but leaves out a lot of detail that I wished was there, particularly about persona creation. Still very useful as an introduction to interaction design, and a reference for particular situations. Most of the examples focus on application development. If you've read About Face 1.0, you'll find some repetition, but there's enough new material, and updated past material to make it worth the money.

  • Paper Prototyping

    Carolyn Snyder takes her years of experience with paper prototyping, and makes them available here. Very cool. I'm still not convinced that the effort to make complicated paper widgets to simulate interaction is worth it for most web sites. Where paper prototyping rocks is in managing expectations - seeing polished mockups or even clickable wireframes can give the illusion that the project is farther along than it is. If you deal with people thinking the project is ready to launch after seeing a design comp, paper prototyping is just the ticket.

  • Observing the User Experience

    Adaptive Path's Mike Kuniavsky brings together a lot of thinking on user research, with a lot of attention to usability testing, rounded out with other common techniques, from focus groups to ethnography. Solid how-to advice can provide a platform for actually going out and actually studying users.

  • Design Research : Methods and Perspectives

    Brenda Laurel brings together a stellar cast to cover a wide range of design research methods and issues. With any edited volume, the quality varies with each chapter - but overall it's very very good.

  • Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

    This book is important. Credibility and persuasion are going to become increasingly recognized issues in developing interactive products, and user experience people will be on the front lines of the debate.

Process flow meets the London Underground

Harry Beck's 1933 London Underground map is an info design classic (thanks Erin). Martin Kay has used the tube map's visual language for flow diagrams. The results are luscious and engaging in a way that vanilla boxes and arrows can't rival. More than just sample deliverables, Martin offers a short explanation, a 7 page guide on creating your own, and a PowerPoint template of map components. (thanks pencil & paper)

Of course, with any deliverable, there's usually the tradeoff between making it quickly and making it pretty. For the most part, I prefer fast diagrams over pretty. That works great for internal team communication, or for clients who are directly engaged in the process as team members. Reserve the effort of pretty deliverables for final versions or other things that need to do a sales job within the organization. The selling power of a large format color diagram shouldn't be overlooked, even if the pencil sketch version tells the same story.

Christina Wodtke on building common vision

Building a Vision of Design Success - A common view of vision is that it's something handed down by a leader to the troops. When a redesign goes awry, the troops complain, “There was no vision.” But the problem goes deeper than either scenario; the problem is that there was no shared vision. [Boxes and Arrows]

Revisiting the Visual Vocabulary

The Visual Vocabulary Three Years Later: An Interview with Jesse James Garrett - In October 2000, Jesse James Garrett introduced a site architecture documentation standard called the Visual Vocabulary. Since then, it has become widely adopted among information architects and user experience professionals. B&A chats with Jesse about the vocabulary and thoughts on IA standards and tools. [Boxes and Arrows]

New Interaction Design Site, Symposium

Molly Steenson has put up a new site at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The Interaction Design HUB offers categorized links and a blog. Excellent collection, and it will be good to hear more on the web from Ivrea folks.

Also of note - HUB launched as part of the Symposium On Foundations of Interaction Design, a small invite only conference with luminaries like Tom Erickson and Don Norman that runs Nov 12-13. Fortunately for us, there's a live video feed [Windows Media] (though the Italian timezone means you'll have to wake up early on the west side of the Atlantic). Papers will be linked up later.

HITS 2003 Presentation Slides

The HITS 2003 Presentation Slides are online. HITS (Humans, Interaction, Technology, Strategy) was a conference I really wanted to go to, but having already spent my conference budget, I'm happy to see the slides online. Thanks [InfoDesign]

Peter Merholz has also shared some of his thoughts about the conference. Of particular interest is the different takes on value and the fundamental business talks.

Enterprise IA Roadmap from Lou Rosenfeld

Lou Rosenfeld shares some thoughts from his current Enterprise Information Architecture seminars with his EIA Roadmap - a diagram showing the progression of IA within the enterprise. As well as laying out a course for pursuing IA within an organization, it acts as an interesting measure of capability and maturity of IA within the organization.

Speaking of EIA, I've been thinking about the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) that measures competence in software development. When there finally is a central UX advocacy organization, it would be interesting to see what kind of UXCMM would be possible. There is already the Usability Maturity Model but that lacks integration across UX disciplines (IA, ID, etc.) If you're interested, here's more details on the UM model. [34 pg pdf]

Putting it Together: Taxonomy, Classification & Search

A good overview of the current state of the art in combining taxonomies and search from Jeff Morris in Transform magazine. Combining taxonomy and classification with search gives people a map of the resources available to them. This kind of taxonomy, classification and search combination is becoming essential for the major search vendors. [thanks Infodesign]

AIfIA Tools section launches!

Wow! Erin Malone throws down and gets the AIfIA tools initiative rolling with a great collection of tools that can be used in everyday practice. Thanks Erin and all who worked on this!

Document templates, process map posters and other tools to help you in your practice. The documents, which have been donated by various people in the organization, have been found to be useful at one time or another. Items can be used in combination or alone as needed.

If you have templates and documents that you would like to share with AIfIA and other members of the community, contact iatools@aifia.org. A Tools initiative volunteer will work with you to "cleanse" your submission(s) of proprietary logos and language and add it to this page.

Breaking New Ground - the 2004 IA Summit Call for Papers

The IA Summit looms closer with today's call for papers:
Some of us in the IA field are solidifying the IA foundation, digging deeper, while others are pushing the boundaries working with other fields and platforms. In both cases, we are breaking new ground. The ASIS&T IA Summit 2004 is seeking submissions from information architecture practitioners and researchers that support this theme. If you are developing the IA practice in your organisation by documenting methods, applying IA principles to new platforms and devices like interactive TV or handheld devices, using techniques from related disciplines in your day-to day work or researching the latest ways to connect people and content, we want to hear from you.

Paper deadline is October 31, poster deadline is December 5th. And oh yeah - the Summit itself is February 27-29th 2004, in Austin, Texas. Hope to see you there :)

Starting with the easy steps

Synonym Rings and Authority Files - In part 3 of the continuing series on controlled vocabularies and faceted classification, the CV tagteam champs Karl Fast, Mike Steckel, and Fred Leise explain synonym rings and authority files and how their use can bridge the gap between natural language and complex controlled vocabularies (taxonomies and thesauri). The techniques presented, unlike the complications of full faceted schemes or ontologies, are accessible and feasible for a wide variety of projects. Worth checking out if you're wanting to implement a lightweight approach to vocabulary control. [Boxes and Arrows]

Card sorting roundup

Over at Boxes and Arrows, Joe Lamentia gives the rundown on analyzing card sort results in Excel. This is great, because as good as dedicated card sorting tools are, there isn't a great candidate that is dependable in all situations.

Speaking of which, this is a good time to link up the card sorting tools that I know of...if I've missed any drop a line in the comments [list taken from Andy Edmonds @ Uzilla].

  • Uzilla's UCardSort is under development and works in the Mozilla browser. Update:I neglected to mention a key difference for UCardSort - it's open source, so you can hack away and add features if it doesn't yet do what you need it to do. (thanks for the reminder Andy).
  • IBM's EZ Sort was an early tool that hasn't been further developed. The author has been very helpful in the past when things haven't worked quite right.
  • WebSort is a Flash UI web-deployed tool created by Larry Wood of BYU. I'm not sure what commercial licensing arrangements are available.
  • WebCAT requires server-side Java, and is free from NIST
  • CardZort is a graduate project from Jorge Toro that we've linked up before, and is still under development. He asks that commercial users donate $50

So - did I miss any? If you've used any of these, I'd be curious to hear your experience (I've used EzSort, looked at CardZort, I'm going to install Uzilla's tools and have a look).

Web Design Practices

Heidi Adkisson is launching webdesignpractices.com this month. She has a sneak peek up for navigation practices (linked above).

Basically, the site takes her Masters thesis study of 75 ecommerce sites and makes it more accessible online. (For the impatient, you can download the 8mb pdf of Heidi's thesis).

I met Heidi at the IA Summit in Portland, and think that this will be a great resource for the community. I'm hesitant about considering common practice to be best practice (as gets implied in surveys like this), but it's good to consider if something really is a de facto standard, and what reasons your own project has for doing things differently.

The origin of personas

Alan Cooper shares the background of Cooper's personas, but fails to acknowledge the considerable contributions of others to the concept. In particular, Geoffrey Moore describes very clearly the technique of archetypal users working through scenarios in 1991's Crossing the Chasm, and Victor points out other contributors to the technique from within the Bay Area's HCI community.

Whatever the origin, personas provide a valuable tool, and while I don't think they take weeks of study and months of practice to apply, we too often just "make them up". That sort of fictionalization can actually be worse than no personas at all.

Free Forrester Paper - web usability downfalls; personas; more

Forrester Research has made their TechStrategy Brief Web Sites Continue to Fail the Usability Test available for guest users on the site. For the price of your time signing up for a guest account, you'll get a 7 page article they would normally charge $200 or more for. Don't be deceived by the title - the paper addresses more than usability testing, and is a good-but-brief introduction to personas and scenarios from a recognized industry source (good for the boss or a client - you might want to download the 'briefcase' - a zip file with the PDF article, some source data, and ready-made slides).

Kuniavsky in the house

Adaptive Path's Mike Kuniavsky has started a blog over at Orange Cone, and that reminded me of all the links I've been saving up about his new book Observing the User Experience.

What being user-centered means for UX professional groups...

Tog's initial branding argument for Interaction Architects has touched off a lot of discussion (even a mailing list dedicated to defining the damn thing). So far, it's generated a lot of heat and little light.

However, three more formal responses have been interesting:

  • Lou Rosenfeld discusses how defining the damn thing is a waste of time. (Not) Defining the damn thing - Discussions of how we should label ourselves and define our work are like flu epidemics. They break out from time to time, follow a fairly predictable course, and often make us want to barf. [Boxes and Arrows] Update: Lou dropped a note to let us know that he wrote this article before Tog's article was posted. Still very applicable.
  • Mark Hurst thinks that usability professionals should disappear...that a good UX professional is invisible like a good interface - we just facilitate things. While the point that the whole defining the damn thing discussion is narcissistic and not user centered at all, the notion of a disappearing act seems naive - unseen functions become re-engineered functions.
  • Finally, and most interesting, is Beth Mazur's notion that the key need is not a new dedicated specialist organization (as Tog is proposing), but an umbrella organization to evangelize user experience with executives, analysts, government, and media. Her nominee: spin off AIGA-ED from AIGA.
    I completely agree - the Interaction Architecture Association is all well and good, as is a new Information Design professional group, if some people have their way. But they don't address the real reasons the UX disciplines are seen as tactical. It's not a branding problem. It's an understanding problem...and largely for UX professionals not understanding business, and not speaking to business on its own terms.
    An umbrella organization can address executives and other decision makers and influencers with language and messages tailored to those audiences, and educate practitioners about how to do the same. That's being user-centered, instead of navel-gazing terminology debates. That's something to get excited about. I hope it happens soon.
Semiotics - signology for dummi...er...designers

Semiotics: A Primer for Designers - Semiotics teaches us as designers that our work has no meaning outside the complex set of factors that define it. The deeper our understanding and awareness of these factors, the better our control over the success of the work products we create. [Boxes and Arrows]

As well as Challis' article, Peterme has also been musing about semiotics. While most of us on SIGIA are 'sick' of scare quotes, critical theory and semiotics offer fertile ground for IA cross-training.

Cognitive Psychology & IA: From Theory to Practice

Cognitive Psychology & IA: From Theory to Practice - What do cognitive psychology and information architecture have in common? Actually there is a good deal of common ground between the two disciplines. Certainly, having a background in cognitive psychology supports the practice of information architecture, and it is precisely those interconnections and support that will be explored. [Boxes and Arrows]

Using CSS for prototyping

Jeff Lash takes on the perennial question of what prototyping tool should IAs use. While not abandoning Visio or Omnigraffle, in Prototyping with Style Jeff suggests that Cascading Style Sheets have a lot to offer and should be looked at seriously as a prototyping medium.

One advantage Jeff offers is that basic content can be laid out, with headings, body copy, navigation, supplementary information like disclaimers. This lets the team focus on the content first, and then CSS can be used to create a number of alternative layouts and visual styles.

While this may work with a mature team, many of the people I work with have a very difficult type grasping abstract presentation...whether it's sticky notes on a page, or vanilla XHTML, text only lists of page content. I've used mood boards, design the box exercises, and rapid throwaway photoshop comps to address these peoples' need to have something more visual to comment on, while still working to separate those stylistic inputs from actual IA and interaction design. I'm not sure CSS will help me there, but I'll see when I next have the chance to try something different than the usual wireframe fare.

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