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Knemeyer on Information Design

Dirk Knemeyer writes a great primer on Information Design and how it relates to Web design and development.

From the article:

More than its value to business, information is also the principle component to human knowledge and progress. By experiencing information -- through any of the available senses -- people are able to build knowledge. Particularly when the information is relevant and good, people are able to make better decisions, to be more effective, to be happier and to increase their well-being.

(Via Digital Web)

The Quiet Death of the Major Launch

Jared Spool published a great article, The Quiet Death of the Major Re-Launch, about the advantages of a staged redesign approach vs. a major redesign done in one shot.

Quoth Keith:

I'm sure there are many of you who will find some of what he has to say very useful and while many of the examples he uses ring very true to my own experiences, I'm not sure this approach is right for every situation. Sometimes a site just needs to be torn down and built from scratch.

(Thanks Digital Web)

CIO Article on Auto/Semi-categorization software

CIO article "Sleuthing out data" by Fred Hapgood features a couple examples of how auto-semiauto categorization enables businesses and reduce costs. There is a company list included if you're interested in this arena.

Views and Forms: Principles of Task Flow for Web Applications Part 1

Views and Forms: Principles of Task Flow for Web Applications Part 1 - One of the defining elements of web applications is their support for the editing and manipulation of stored data. Unlike the typical conversation that goes on between a user and a content-centric website however, this additional capability requires a more robust dialog between user and application. [Boxes and Arrows]

Keyword extraction and facet analysis for email archives

Kathryn La Barre and Chris Dent have been experimenting with computational methods for creating a faceted access structure of the Unrev-II mailing list archives.

The email archive of the unrev-ii list is the basis for this ongoing project, to build an access tool for an email archive that also functions as a knowledge repository. Methods utilized in future iterations of the project will include traditional semantic analysis, clustering algorithms, and facet analysis.
They have a preliminary prototype available, and have published a paper.

Chris' project page and Kathryn's project page offer more detail about the project and their hopes for their work. (thanks Bootstrap Alliance)

15 tips for working with remote teams

Indi Young shares lessons learned from working with remote teams.

One of the challenges for remote work is contact with end-users. It's ok for working with clients to come up with concepts, but human-centered design assumes face-to-face contact with users through field research, participatory design, and usability testing.

Being in Canada, I'd like to be able to easily work remotely for U.S. projects. However, I'm not sure how to handle the immersion with users that I'd hope to have.

Any thoughts on how we can be user centered, with just remote contact with users?

Data Management meets Unstructured Information

Just came back from a conference on data management(Wilshire Metadata/DAMA International 2003 Conference. A recurring topic that surfaced about data management was the relevance of their work in relation to unstructured information. A reality check for everyone was that most corporate information actually existed in semi-structured of unstructured information and not in databases. From this thought, I was directed to DM Review and in particular this article. Digging Into the Web: XML, Meta Data and Other Paths to Unstructured Data - By Robert Blumberg and Shaku Atre. I definitely see an opportunity between IA(metadata/ux) type folks cross-pollinating with data modelers and data managers. It will be interesting to see and I look forward to hearing more from here. Thoughts?

Will Plain-Text Ads Continue to Rule?

The April 21 Alertbox combines 2 old thoughts into one:

  1. Advertising in general does not work (September 97)- but Google has a winner with its contextual text ads
  2. People draw conclusions from atypical examples (June 97)- so expect other sites to try their own text ads even though they are nothing like Google

But any short-term gain from text-ads will vanish if they do not provide any value to users.

We saw this first with "banner blindness" - people visually ignoring rectangular images once they figured out most were useless ads.

I continue to see this across the board - not just with banners. If users regularly encounter a design element that is useless to them, then they quickly start to ignore it. Could be banners, or global navigation at the top, or related links on the left, or promotions on the right - does not matter.

I call this "feckless blindness" - as people discover that a part of the page is routinely useless, they become blind to it over time.

Constantine on the Magic Number 5 panel at CHI

At Usability News Larry Constantine gives a great rundown of the Magic Number 5 panel from CHI. The panel tackled the long accepted discount usability notion that 5 users will uncover 80% of the defects.

Usability testing seems to be the perceived gold standard for sites - one colleague called it the 'holy grail'. But as the panel showed, 5 users and the discount approach have some serious drawbacks.

I also find it pretty amusing that usability diehard Rolf Molich is suggesting a potential end for usability testing, while Cooper (who has long dismissed usability testing) now offers training and courses in same.

Wayfinding - it's not just for humans anymore

An article in New Scientist reports that new research shows mice "make signposts out of leaves and twigs so that they do not get lost in fields".

"The wood mice might need to use signposts because the fields where they live are very bland - one patch of ploughed field looks much like another (..) And while some other mice use scent markers, wood mice are wholly visual". Much like humans.

Relation Browsers: a GUI for IAs

Garry Marchioni and Ben Brunk have been working on GUIs for visualizing nodes and relations in web sites - what they call a Relation Browser. They've published a paper on their work about the quest for a General Relation Browser that provides a picture of IA tools of the future.

JoDI's usability of digital information page other interesting papers, but I won't list them all here.

Comparing left- and right-justified site navigation menus

A comparison between left- and right-justified site navigation menus - James Kalbach and Tim Bosenick have published the results of recent usability testing on the location of navigation menus.

The punchline is that there was no significant difference in task time between the two conditions. They conclude that we should rethink our devotion to left hand menus. I disagree - when there's no significance performance difference, then user expectations, de facto standards, and project goals should guide these decisions. I think that still leaves left-hand menus with the upper hand. (thanks Column Two)

Advertising: A Cry for Usability

Advertising: A Cry for Usability - Advertising is frequently interruption-based, posing a serious usability flaw. It's very obvious on the Web as pop-up ads, audio, animation, Flash ads, and exit pops make the Internet increasingly difficult to navigate and use, and its content increasingly difficult to read.

I find the idea of usable advertising interesting - there seems to be a fundamental conflict between an advertiser's goals and a user's goals. But since advertising supports the service, the overall value is greatest when the two can be aligned. ( thanks Other Blog )

One title to rule them all, one title to bind them....

Well, over on Beth Mazur's IDblog Dirk Knemeyer suggests that information design should assume a director role over all the other disciplines in a project and that IA isn't a discipline, but a tactical practice. Hope he wore asbestos undies ;-)

Seriously, I'm not sure that one can argue for ID, IA, or interaction design as the 'director' without also making the case for the other two disciplines. Experience Architecture or Design seems a better fit for said director role. I've said more to that effect in the comments on Beth's blog.

(thanks Gunnar)

Introduction to social software

Lee Bryant has compiled a fantastic introduction to social software: Smarter, Simpler, Social.

Social Software is reaching early stage critical meme mass, and is sure to be fueled by the current Etech conference being blogged right now. One thing I've noticed is that there aren't that many connectors between the social software community and the user experience community. This strikes me as a bit odd, since social software is all about the user's experience. Maybe I'm wrong and those connections are prevalent, but so far I haven't seen a lot of them.

Matt Jones has discussed social software. Lou and Peter wanted to put more social things in Polar Bear 2. Many IAs blog. My point isn't that UX people aren't interested in socialware, but that socialware folks don't seem to be reaching out to UX. Last week, in a small group of social software developers, someone said "I think we have pretty much all the major players here" which totally blew me away.

IA Tools - The Comic Book Edition

Dan Willis has done a great job distilling core IA tools into 1 page explanations complete with quirky characters. Fun, and hopefully useful in explaining what IAs can offer.

Trust By Design

Peter Morville tackles the credibility issue with his usual flair.

Since Studio Archtype and Cheskin released the first large online trust study in early 1999, I've been interested in trust, and particularly the propagation of credibility through social networks and word of mouth. While BJ Fogg has released research that includes whether or not a friend recommends a site, I have yet to see anything that addresses resonance effects within social networks. If two separate friends recommend a site, I'm more likely to visit. Whether it's word of mouth or RSS feeds, personal recommendations from people I trust are my biggest credibility factor, and I don't see credibility research addressing that as much as it could.

The collected resources in the 'see also' sidebar with Peter's article are a goldmine of recent thinking - I'll have to dig and see if there's much about resonance there.

History of Semantic Networks

Matt Webb points to this great paper describing 6 different types of semantic networks. Applicable to the ontologists among us, semantic networks also make great diagram fodder. Not sure what a semantic network is?

A semantic network or net is a graphic notation for representing knowledge in patterns of interconnected nodes and arcs. Computer implementations of semantic networks were first developed for artificial intelligence and machine translation, but earlier versions have long been used in philosophy, psychology, and linguistics.

What is common to all semantic networks is a declarative graphic representation that can be used either to represent knowledge or to support automated systems for reasoning about knowledge.

K-Logging: Supporting KM with Weblogs

I wrote an article in Library Journal that may interest some ia/ readers. Here's the abstract from Ebsco:

Discusses a type of weblogging called knowledge
logging or k-logging. Information that can easily be put onto web sites; Organizations that can communicate knowledge easily with K-logs; Software that can be used for k-logging; Librarians who should provide content, share knowledge, and provide access.

Alertbox: Paper Prototyping

I pretty much agree with Jakob's April Alertbox Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code: paper prototyping is not used as often as it should be.

I think the reasons center on fear factors -

  • People are afraid to talk directly with users, especially "naked" like this - it is much easier to have some technology between you and users
  • Some designers are afraid of the unpolished look - if the design is not 100% complete visually, they are afraid the results will be tainted.
  • Some are afraid of losing the online context, that you lose something without the user's hand on a mouse.

While losing context does happen with paper, it is generally OK to lose that for initial designs. With paper, people do see it as a more informal design and give better feedback overall.

And when you use the paper format to your advantage and let users really get creative, creating parts of the own designs on the fly, then you really get to see the benefits. You can do so many more things with paper designs - so much more than just measuring completion times and gathering opinions.

I have not read Carolyn's book yet - but I did scan it at CHI. I hope that one of her messages goes beyond Jakob's "earlier is better" article - for some design tasks, paper is just plain better than building anything with code.

This is a first in a new series for ia/ - "beat reporters" who watch an area and blog it. I volunteered to "beat Alertbox" so I will be adding my own comments to Jakob's articles.


PS I have very little association with Morgan Kaufmann - I have reviewed some proposals for them, and I eat their desserts at CHI every year, but that is all.

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