jess mcmullin's blog

Card sorting - too superficial?

Donna Maurer muses on a card sorting weakness - In my last few big card sorts, I have noticed that participants don't really look at the cards and try to form sensible groups based on how the information should be grouped to help them achieve a task. Instead, they try to get rid of most of the cards as quickly as possible....

Good point: almost all participatory research, from card sorting to usability testing to surveys and interviews suffer from the fact that the participants usually don't really want to participate. While our goal is to build a better system, their goal is to finish and get their incentive.

Other than longer education periods and involving users as codesigners (so they are invested in the project itself, not just the incentive), what other ways are there to get more than surface data from a card sort? One immediate thought is to make sure the card set isn't too big (or the usability script too long), since people are more likely to give cursory answers when they've spent a long time on the activity. What else?

Tog wants to use a new name for interaction design...

Bruce Tognazzini is a prinicpal at the Nielsen Norman Group, and used to publish regularly on his AskTog site. Now he's back, with a call to arms for Interaction Architects.

The tone of the article seems somewhat needy, with its "Why we get no respect" title. But that no-respect sentiment seems to echo throughout the UX community in all its niches. And Tog does identify some key considerations. I'm just not sure that a branding argument will be what gets respect, over having UX practitioners of all stripes understand business better.

Unlike some others, I do see a difference between Information Architecture and Interaction Design as practices, though perhaps not as practitioners (most IAs and IDs have significant skill overlap). And I wish Tog the best, with his Interaction Architecture Association. I'm left wondering though - will all the little splinters (information design, IA, interaction design/architecture, usability) and their overlapping landgrabs for mindshare end up creating a lot of friction - all heat and no light? Or will there be a catalyst that gets UX practitioners working in concert to make significant gains in the business world. I guess time will tell....

Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability ROI

Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability Return on Investment - In the business world, user experience endeavors are typically seen as a cost—a line item expense to be minimized to the greatest extent possible while still remaining competitive. This has led to a number of essays, articles, and books on proving the value of user experience, including a recent report by the Nielsen Norman Group.

Much more than a summary of the NNGroup ROI report, Peterme and Scott Hirsch outline key considerations for evaluating Return on Investment, and in the process discover some shortcomings of the NNGroup approach.

International Institute of Information Design

From Beth Mazur

The International Institute for Information Design, and a variety of interested
stakeholders in the ID community are coming together
to increase the relevance and awareness of
Information Design through a variety of
yet-to-be-finalized tactics.

This survey is intended for people interested in
volunteering their time or resources to the
Information Design community, or who want to
suggest other people or organizations that
might participate.

Now while I might disagree with some of the overarching themes coming from some ID folks, I think that overall the intentions of these folks are completely in line with the general user experience community, and wish the Institute all the best.

Information Design: The Understanding Discipline

Information Design: The Understanding Discipline - There is not consensus on exactly what information design is. Definitions of the discipline from stakeholders who associate themselves with the field are consistent only in that they are typically high level, not very concrete and do not offer much in the way of direct practical application.

Kneymeyer makes the "Information Design" as uber-discipline argument in a more polished way than when we first covered the discussion over at IDblog. While I completely agree that there needs to be a vision holder, I really don't think that it's in ID's best interest to claim that. And finally, what Dirk is calling "information design" I think is far better served being called "experience design"...

Usability Heuristics for Rich Internet Applications

Usability Heuristics for Rich Internet Applications - Over the coming months and years, RIAs will move from cutting edge to mainstream. That transformation will accelerate with the Flash and user experience communities working together to understand and develop best practices and shared knowledge.

Grant Skinner and I revisited Nielsen's 10 heuristics and share some thoughts on how they apply to Rich Internet Applications. Currently in the comments the debate largely reflects 2 things - animation, and what makes an RIA different than other apps.

The Power of Process, The Perils of Process

The Power of Process, The Perils of Process - In my experience, I have found that creating and documenting process has been a good exercise to help institutionalize ways of working, to help educate new team members as well as to unveil the mysteries of what we do for executives, product folks, and development teams.

Erin Malone points out that process is better thought of as a framework for thinking than a set of commandments...

DUX 2003 Case Studies

The DUX 2003 case studies are online - these are the same PDFs that were offered for human consumption on the conference CD.

I'm on a deadline right now so won't link to individual papers, but favorites include the Constraints panel (but I'm biased, since the authors are all excellent people), the Intel pervasive computing stuff (Connexus & Vineyard papers), the Business Issues panel, the blender redesign from Continuum (again, more excellent people), and a lot of the Informing DUX panel - particularly the MS personas, Bob Baxley's UI model, and a different take on card sorting in the Vacations vs. Groceries paper.

[ thanks InfoDesign ]

International IA

Peter Morville tackles the biggest growth area for IA - not a new technology platform, but IA practice outside the USA.

"Now is the time to actively work on building these international relationships. IA in the US has reached a plateau. We enjoyed major investment and rapid learning in the 1990s. We developed core concepts and methodology, and we experienced the trials and tribulations of interdisciplinary collaboration. As the economy revives, we're positioned to invest real energy in cross-cultural IA."

While I'm not sure about the plateau in the States, I agree that international IA is an exciting area to watch.

Users, Content, and Context over at

I read Use a compass to implement taxonomy during Web development with some sense of deja vu since it appropriates the Users, Content, Context model of information architecture first defined by Argus. Among other places, the model also appears in the latest edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, and in diagrams I've done with Lou Rosenfeld.

While I may grumble about copyright violation, it's good to see the model reach a wider audience...

Value of Experience, Web Teams

Adaptive Path relaunches their site. Details on the redsign are at Stopdesign's blog.

Of particular interest to me is the shift to value as the key message(note the lack of the word "design" as Peterme recently discussed). Those who read ia/ regularly may have noticed my own focus on value-centered design, so it's gratifying to see others in more influential positions than myself popularize this view.

Along with a new look comes a new article detailing Jesse's web team model (first shown at the DUX open house- correction - at the AP workshops).

Team models are particularly useful because they show the different skillsets required for a project. While using the "Elements" diagram to explain that user experience works at a deeper level than pretty pictures is fine, it requires a lot of effort for business folks to absorb the staffing implications (or RFP implications). Jesse's team model breaks it down into chunks that are easier to relate to team requirements.
thanks asterisk

And the shiny-designy winners are....

The Industrial Design Excellence Awards 2003 (IDEA) - "The Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) are dedicated to fostering business and public understanding of the importance of industrial design excellence to the quality of life and the economy and showcase the best industrial design from across the US and around the world."

I actually find Industrial Design to be closer to IA and user experience practice than many visual design practices, largely because ID deals with creating artifacts that are used, while much print work is designed to create an impression, but not used. Of course, environmental design for signage, or information design for medical labelling are very much "used artifacts" rather than exercises in one-way messaging. thanks [Xplane, Xblog]

Product Research, Hypertext Cycles, and Decision Making

Peter Merholz muses on users seeking products and comes up with some intersting thoughts about hypertext patterns. Rather than getting the "lay of the land" first, users move to an actual product and then start to compare.

He ends with a foray into decision making, and looking for useful resources. While I have more thoughts on the matter, I think it boils down to Return on Experience - everyone has an intrinsic level of effort they'll invest to achieve some expected value.

Understanding information taxonomy helps build better apps article examines basic taxonomy overview.

I'm particularly interested in seeing how IA subjects like this are presented to a wider audience of non-IA specialists. I wonder if a 2 page summary dumbs things down too much, or if it offers a way for interested readers to be introduced to a subject and find resources to learn more.

Benefits of User-Centered Design

The Centers for Disease Control offer a short summary of the benefits of user-centered design (22kb PDF). It's four pages of collected UCD benefit wisdom, from Tom Landauer, Susan Dray, etc. that offers a quick hit for explaining advantages of the UCD approach.

Jesse James Garrett in Conversation

For the next couple weeks, our favorite IA named after an outlaw will be a guest on the WELL, discussing the Elements of User Experience and other tasty things.

The conversation is well worth checking out (though it's one long page that takes some investment). You can also participate: send questions by emailing the discussion hosts.

What do interaction designers do?

Christina's wondering what it really is that interaction designers do as part of her work defining roles and teams at Yahoo! She's got a list started, but is looking for feedback.

What would you add to these activities: requirements gathering, needs analysis, conceptual modeling, personas, scenarios, task analysis, user flow/use case design?

I also think of interaction designers doing screen design at the wireframe level.

Notes from 2 by Two conference

Dirk Kneymeyer shares his notes from the invite-only 2 by Two conference at the IIT Institute of Design. Lots of bright people talking about the future of design.

Metadata glossary

In an attempt to summarize the relationship among various metadata-related terms and how they relate to building Internet systems Victor Lombardi created a metadata glossary. Addressed, for example, are metadata, taxonomies, indexing, CMS, Semantic Web, and XML.

Maybe usability is rocket science, after all.

The Usability Engineering Team at NASA's Glenn Research Center have a site that offers help to teams adopting user centered design. Highlights include:

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