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 :)

UPA NYC event: Making intranet weblog data usable

The presentation slides from my discussion on Blogging in Corporate America at the NYC UPA chapter meeting are available for downloading. I've also posted some rather short afterthoughts here.

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.

Usability 101: the What, Why, and How of User-Centered Design

Nielsen's latest Alertbox entry proffers:

"Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word 'usability' also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability has five quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

There are many other important quality attributes. A key one is utility, which refers to the design's functionality: Does it do what users need? Usability and utility are equally important: It matters little that something is easy if it's not what you want. It's also no good if the system can hypothetically do what you want, but you can't make it happen because the user interface is too difficult. To study a design's utility, you can use the same user research methods that improve usability."

Netflix redesigns, shifts navigation to right without warning

Users of Netflix might have discovered a slightly changed site this week. The DVD rental company redesigned their site, simplifying the global menu and shifting the local menu from the left to the right. The design is fine, but I thought it was strange to redesign and shift the local navigation over without giving any warning to users that it was about to happen. Very different from the experience you expect on large, popular sites. For example. when Yahoo! redesigned their home page, the change was subtle, and a preview of the changes to come was available for weeks before they cut over. That, to me, seems like a better practice to uphold when redesigning.

Jared Spool on iterative design with CSS...

Jared Spool has a nice little article on Iterative design and the power of style sheets.

Hmmm... It reminds me a whole lot of my article called Prototyping with Style from last month's Digital Web Magazine. (ia/ discussion) Of course, I wasn't the first one to come up with the idea of using CSS for prototyping purposes, but I picked the topic because there wasn't anything else being written about it. But I guess now there is.

I'm just sayin'...

TIF: Thesaurus Interchange Format

Semantic Blogging Demonstrator is pointing to Alistair Miles' and Brian Matthews' Thesaurus Interchange Format RDF schema, which is designed to link thesauri.

First Wired Generation

Yahoo! teen conference on understanding the First Wired Generation. There was research presented on industry trends by Neil Howe and Dan Draf which are quite interesting. Click on Webcast for the presentations

Mobile Devices: One Generation From Useful (Alertbox)

Nielsen says: "I've been using a T-Mobile 'Sidekick' as my combined PDA and cell phone for the past half year. The Sidekick is also known as the 'Danger Device' or the 'Hiptop.' When I saw an early Danger demo two years ago, I was excited about its potential. Now, after actually using it, I've concluded that one or two more generations of device designs are needed to achieve true usability."

Information Architecture for Designers book site

The book site has been launched for Peter Van Dijck's Information Architecture for Designers: Structuring Websites for Business Success (link to pre-order from Amazon), complete with table of contents, sample chapter, and templates for producing IA deliverables. Congratulations, Peter.

keeping igloos off the beaches...

"Information architects are keeping igloos off the beaches [MS Word .doc link] by working on project teams to build the most appropriate site for a given task, balancing business goals against the needs and desires of users."

Laurie Kalmanson, the founder of Request Marketing

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]