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Off the top
Signal vs. Noise
Both the SIG-IA list and a CMS list have surfaced an interesting thread today in regards to an article published at At New York, Study: Content Management Tools Fail. It discusses some high level findings from a Jupiter Research report on the dissatisfaction around the implementation and maintenance of Content Management Systems. I don't have access to the report, but very interesting.
The UPA has published a long list of return-on-investment and value-add factoids and snippets. thanks signal vs. noise.
Peter Merholz discusses having the appropriate cast of users for research.
There's an old adage that 90 percent of filmmaking is in the casting. Throughout the process of making a movie, doing the work up-front to get the right performers pays off and ultimately leads to a superior result.
We've found this adage also proves true when we're conducting user research, because the quality of the results comes from selecting the right users at the project's outset.
So true - sometimes we're so adamant about practicing user centred design methods that we get just anyone involved, instead of truly representative users, just so we can say we did user research or usability testing. Or maybe you're in a situation like this: yesterday someone suggested I use people from the project team. And that can be worse than no users at all.
There's also a lot of other interesting articles on the UIE conference site.
Change Sciences has an archive of best practices whitepapers they've produced. Free registration required. Topics include writing for the web, navigation and orientation, search, checkout, user registration, and two interesting 'design paradoxes' articles. Most interesting to me is the recent task design article, and the two older, but still valuable ROI & Investing in User Experience papers.
For those of you who might be new to the field of IA or user experience design, or almost anything related really, Marcus Haid has written a nice primer on breaking into the industry for Adaptive Path.
The advice on intranets and staff directories is useful in Jakob's latest piece Employee Directory Search: Resolving Conflicting Usability Guidelines. But that's not why I think it's the best Alertbox in recent memory. It's because it shows the complex and paradoxical issues that comes with any signficant design.
"It is very common to have conflicting usability guidelines. They are called "guidelines" rather than "specifications" for a reason: they are necessarily fuzzy because they relate to human behavior.
Interface design requires trade-offs. The challenge is in knowing how to balance the conflicting guidelines and in understanding what is most important in a given situation."
While he still suggests usability testing as the resolution to the guideline conflict (not always true), it's a refreshing dose of dogma-lite Nielsen.
Update: Christina's got an interesting take on why guidelines don't really help novices.
It looks as though Microsoft is looking into XRML for their rights management. More information at The Register:
Microsoft devs Windows Rights Management Services
By John Leyden
Ever been frustrated when what the developers built didn't match what you designed or architected? Maybe your specification had some usability problems itself. Brian Krause has useful tips in Getting Creative With Specs: Usable Software Specifications - An effective, usable spec serves two main purposes: First, it elicits feedback early, which helps to avoid problems and misunderstandings later on. It's especially important that clients are able to identify any missing functionality in the design, for example. Second, an effective spec ensures the software stays in line with the designer's intentions as it's built — in other words, the spec is precise enough that a competent engineer will build the interface as it was designed.
Rashmi describes a great technique in her latest at B&A: Beyond cardsorting: Free-listing methods to explore user categorizations - As a precursor to cardsorting or as an independent method, free-listing is a technique that can help you determine the scope of a content domain while providing some insight into how the domain is structured.
Keith Robinson has an interesting article on Evolt about Practical Persona Creation. If you've used personas before, there's not a lot new, but it's a good introduction for colleagues or others not familiar with the technique. He's also followed it up with a couple example personas.
In the final issue of New Architect JJG's article All Those Opposed refutes common objections to a user-centered design approach.
In A User-Centered Approach to Selling Information Architecture, over at Digital-Web, Jeff Lash gives a great article on not only the selling of IA, but in effect putting the goals and needs of the client first.
AIfIA has republished Dr. Louise Spiteri's article "A Simplified Model for Facet Analysis".
My sysadmin and I have been playing with graphviz today. I was playing with it on Mac OS X and he used Randal Schwartz's perl script in Web Techniques Column 58 (Feb 2001). He was able to quickly produce a diagram that shows user flow based on Apache referrer logs. The script feeds your log files to graphiviz's dot program and outputs a gif file.
We were both surprised that we didn't find more people writing about using graphviz to analyze of patterns of information-use. Graphviz seems so easy. I know James has been doing a lot of work on generating diagrams from referrer logs using OmniGraffle and Applescript.
The latest Alertbox states that only 39% of the screen elements for the web sites studied were devoted to navigation and content. But that's 39% of everything that appears on the screen, and Nielsen admits that site owners have no control over OS and browser overhead. If we look instead at elements that are controllable by site owners, the "average" site's navigation and content take up almost 49% of this "controllable" space.
That seems to be a more relevant statistic (although it doesn't make for good sound bites).
From Progressive Information Technolgies (tagline: “Information Architects for Publishing”) comes the Ten Commandments of Content Management:
These will probably be no-brainers for anyone who has worked with content management or CMSs, but there are some useful tips and helpful “Points to look for” for those trying to get their head around the whole idea.
Todd Zazelenchuk's alternatives to Nielsen's usability heuristics.
Adam takes a scenario inspired look at a new Krazy-Glue as Band-Aid product - an interesting application of daily IA tools to an everyday thing.
The InformIT article on card sorting Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses (free registration required) is an excerpt from Christina's "Blueprints" book.