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iaslash Articles, essays, editorials, white papers

Articles, essays, editorials, white papers

Enhance Usability by Highlighting Search Terms

A List Apart offers a practical implementation of highlighting terms in the page that were searched for by the user. You can check out their demo search to see the script in action.

Redesigning the Personal Video Recorder

Personal Video Recorders, like Tivo, have changed their owners’ viewing habits to the point of shifting advertising strategies. However, current PVRs have some significant interface drawbacks. Teehan+Lax, a Toronto UX consultancy, recently launched a free 40 page report about the user experience of two current PVRs, and show UI comps for their improved PVR. It’s like the 37better project, but with a lot more material. With the popularity of the report, they’ve now added a blog and are looking to build business in the PVR space.

Peek inside Peter Morville's head...or at least see what he's thinking about lately

The latest issue of Digital Web Magazine gives us a chance to see some of the big picture thinking that Peter Morville has been working on in his article on Ambient Findability. Interesting glimpse of what’s going into his new book.

Forrester: User Centered Design Key for Top Interactive Agencies

Forrester Research recently completed a ranking of 17 top interactive agencies - congratulations to Dave and the rest of the IA team at Critical Mass that came out with the best overall results. User centered practices were key to Forrester’s evaluation…

Along with the overall report, there’s a free report on persona best practices based on deliverables submitted by the above agencies, though actual samples aren’t included (registration required).

Peter Morville's sweet User Experience Honeycomb

When I broadened my interest from IA to UX, I found the need for a new diagram to illustrate the facets of user experience - especially to help clients understand why they must move beyond usability - and so with a little help from my friends developed the user experience honeycomb.
The ux honey comb is a value centered description of the different aspects of the user experience (unlike the experience cycle, with ux-as-user-process, or JJG’s famous ux-as-practice model). The UX facets Peter describes are useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, and credible - and these all contribute to the central facet - valuable As a value-centered design booster, I think this is the key, and builds a bridge between business and user value - projects need to produce both ROI and Return on Experience.

Wilshire Metadata Conference 2004 Trip Report

Not all metadata are created equal as I learned last year when I attended the Wilshire Metadata & DAMA International Conference in Orlando, FL. However, when I sat in their meetings and learned this new aspect of metadata I discovered that there are some similarlities of concern, basically information organization, management, access, and retrievable.

If you come from the database modeling/administration world, I hear this is their equivalent to the IA Summit or CHI. The 2004 just concluded in Los Angeles. Their trip report is very informative, with enough information to get you to dig into new ways of thinking about information management.

Wilshire Metadata & DAMA International Conference 2004 Trip Report

Peter Merholz gets explicit

Peter’s new meme is explicit design. Peterme’s Guruhood must lie only a few dogmatic stances beyond ;-)

Seriously, the notion of explicit design is extremely valuable. Quoth Peterme: "Through my work, what I’ve observed is that the web is all about managing expectations. Setting expectations, and then fulfilling them. That’s it."

I mostly agree - in fact, I’ve been talking with clients about expectations, instead of mental models, for the last couple years. Expectation forms the foundation of my Experience Cycle model (created when I needed The Elements of the User’s Experience to explain what a good experience involves). And here’s a snippet from a 2001 presentation on the experience gap - the gap between expectations and actual experience. Take a look at the first slide for thoughts on what actually goes into creating expectations.

Like all models, these are simplifications, but I believe that the notion of user experience practice as understanding, managing, and supporting expectations will help us gain traction with decision makers. We’ll see if Peter’s label for it catches on. Having a great tag for a simple concept can help spread the meme - let’s hope we see more awareness about user experience practice from this.

Best Buy uses Personas to shape retail experience

Electronics giant Best Buy is using personas to focus its stores on particular customer segments -

From USA Today:
Best Buy’s plan is to revamp its stores according to the types of customers they serve, a strategy it calls customer centricity. The company came up with five prototypical customers, all of whom have been given names: “Jill,” a busy suburban mom; “Buzz,” a focused, active younger male; “Ray,” a family man who likes his technology practical; “BB4B” (short for Best Buy for Business), a small employer; and “Barry,” an affluent professional male who’s likely to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a home theater system.

Over the next few years, each of Best Buy’s 608 stores will focus on one or two of the five segments…

It’s interesting that they are focusing stores on just one or two segments - that there is a primary persona for a retail location. While we know that each primary persona needs an interface tailored for them, creating a new interface usually doesn’t take the same capital costs as opening a store. What does a store’s focus on soccer mom Jill mean for the Best Buy customer who is more like Buzz, the young active geek? Thanks IDBlog

Formal knowledge management ontology: Conduct, activities, resources, and influences

This article by CW Holsapple and KD Joshi describes an ontology for knowledge management. The abstract below is taken from the JASIST TOC for Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology V55, 7, MAY, 2004, p593-612.

This article describes a collaboratively engineered general-purpose knowledge management (KM) ontology that can be used by practitioners, researchers, and educators. The ontology is formally characterized in terms of nearly one hundred definitions and axioms that evolved from a Delphi-like process involving a diverse panel of over 30 KM practitioners and researchers. The ontology identifies and relates knowledge manipulation activities that an entity (e.g., an organization) can perform to operate on knowledge resources. It introduces a taxonomy for these resources, which indicates classes of knowledge that may be stored, embedded, and/or represented in an entity. It recognizes factors that influence the conduct of KM both within and across KM episodes. The Delphi panelists judge the ontology favorably overall: its ability to unify KM concepts, its comprehensiveness, and utility. Moreover, various implications of the ontology for the KM field are examined as indicators of its utility for practitioners, educators, and researchers.

KnowItAll: New list compiling search engine

New Scientist reports on a search engine being developed at the University of Washington, called KnowItAll.

Using search engines to compile a list - like the top 50 greatest blues guitarists by record sales, say - involves a lot of drudge work because you have to visit many web pages to gather the data you need. But the next step in search engine technology could make creating such lists possible with a single mouse click.

KnowItAll, a search engine under development at the University of Washington, Seattle, trawls the web for data and then collates it in the form of a list. The approach is unique, says its developer, Oren Etzioni, because it generates information that probably does not exist on any single web page.

The US Department of Defense’s research arm, DARPA, and Google, are so impressed that they are providing funding for the project.

Tony Byrne writes about Enterprise Information Architecture in EContent

In the May issue of EContent Tony Byrne discusses Enterprise Information Architecture. He begins to ask two questions: “Why do Enterprise Content Management (ECM) projects take so long to implement? And why do they fail with such alarming frequency?” He quotes both Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville and stresses in his own words:”…there are no textbooks for practicing IA in large, decentralized environments made up of content silos” and “There is a bit of a tendency in the IA community to over-invest precious energy in KM-esque intellectual debates about ontologies and topic maps, when thought and research could better be applied to more pressing issues, like how to build compelling business cases for a corporate EIA team”.

Using KWIC and KWOC displays on A-Z indexes

Keyword in context (KWIC) and keyword out of context (KWOC) displays might be a useful way to make more of the items in an AZ index findable without necessitating too much human interaction using thesauri. This might benefit organizations that have a CIO handling the site's CMS, for example, but don't have an IA or other dedicated content person to work on creating alternative labels for pages. I haven't noticed IA articles on AZ indexes that discuss the use of keyword in context, so I've posted some notes about some quick modifications my developer did for us to make our AZ index work a little harder.

Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps! - Making Sense of It All

Lars Garshol, Development Manager at Ontopia posted a fantastic article on the relationships between different classification tools - topic maps, ontologies, taxonomies, and more. Well worth the read, since it's a clear explanation that separates similar concepts that too often get muddled.

Microsoft Application Archetypes - developing guidelines around types of application

Microsoft is working on expanding their user experience guidelines for the next generation of Windows "Longhorn" with a concept called application archetypes.

The one-size-fits-all approach to the Windows user experience is becoming less useful. We're planning a new approach that recognizes a set of different models for "Longhorn" applications. We're calling these models archetypes, meaning "something that serves as the model or pattern for other things of the same type."

Interesting to see the different archetypes they've defined: Document editors, Database apps, Production/development environments, E-commerce, Information/reference, Entertainment apps, Viewer apps, and Utility applications. The most interesting part - the lines between the desktop and the web really seem to blur with some of these, and IAs and others with a web focus will need to embrace and extend to stay relevant.

As well as general guidelines, the team is working on a book of "user experience recipes" for different archetypes - taking design patterns and showing how they integrate together for a particular purpose. The recipes are heavily based on scenarios following a particular user through several tasks (I wonder if they have personas for each application archetype?) You can see the sample recipe for Database apps.

(on an interesting sidenote, check out the graph at the bottom of the article showing how people rated it. One for Widgetopia...)

A roadmap for enterprise weblog services

I recently presented a roadmap for providing enterprise information services related to weblogs (k-logs). This is in the realm of what I think Lou calls "Guerrilla IA" in his Enterprise Information Architecture talks. The presentation, given at Computers in Libraries, is aimed at Library/Information Services organizations in corporations, but is applicable elsewhere. It's really an untested discussion starter that proposes near term goals for supporting individuals doing bottom-up knowledge creation. It also discusses a mode of progress that aims at integration of many types of enterprise information in the long term. I'd be interested in getting feedback on these ideas, especially comments that point out weaknesses.

The Page Paradigm

Mark Hurst has written an interesting discussion about web pages and how people navigate. In it, he reminds us of something he wrote in 1999,

On any given Web page, users will either… click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfillment of their goal, or click the Back button on their Web browser.

The interesting part of his message here, I think, is that the IA/designers’ focus on aspects of the UI such as navigation consistency is less important than the supporting of users in getting them to their intended goal. He says provocative things such as “users don’t care where they are in the website”. If you can get your head past that idea, 3 bullets summarize what this should mean for you in practice:

  1. Identify users’ goals on each page.
  2. De-emphasize or remove any page elements (or areas of a site) that don’t help to accomplish the goal.
  3. Emphasize (or insert) those links, forms, or other elements that either take users closer to their goal, or finally accomplish it.

I’ve posted additonal personal opinions on this topic elsewhere on my weblog. Peterme discusses Mark’s ideas as well, pointing out that he shouldn’t dismiss the value of wayfinding cues in order to make the point that empasis should be placed on user needs and behaviors supporting those needs. Christina doesn’t see the harm in Mark’s oversimplification and suggests that informational cues such as breadcrumbs put the burden of mental strain on the user. It’s nice that she also suggests alternatives identified in her Widgetopia to helping users identify alternate paths related to their current task, addressing a point that I think is important — “Where can I go” is perhaps more important than “Where am I?”. Manu Sharma adds that both Peter and Mark are probably both right in this debate, but the difference in perspectives is explained by their different experiences.

Tracking user navigation methods by logging where users click on web pages

I wrote about some research we're doing in my organization to observe user interaction with navigation by tracking where users click on the page (body, local navigation, breadcrumbs, global navigation). Our observations aren't dissimilar to what Michael Bernard observes in usability testing -- links to content are most often searched for/clicked in the body of pages. Navigating our site (a digital library) consists mainly of browsing through a directory (a-z lists are available as are a poly-hierarchical directory listing), so what we were mainly interested in was how people made use of the links in the local navigation. I'd be interested in seeing if other people have done this and what they were looking for. I find, as an in-house site developer, that being responsible for a site for a long term (as opposed to just launching one and going on to a new project) gives one good opportunity to observe and assess the site for usability. Your can assess patterns of use over long periods of time. You can make contact with users and keep the lines of feedback open with them over time. Clearly there is something unique about being involved in the evolution of a singular site, which I am only beginning to appreciate.

Online Magazines, the invasion.

Online magazines vs. printed magazines, I recently found that paper print does not provide the most recent info I want. Here is where I learned about online magazines that are way more up to date than regular printed issues.

Here are my latest findings:

Hintmag- Dedicated to fashion trends and lifestyles.

Web Site

Melomag-Creative art content: music, interviews, reviews.

Web Site

Groove Manifesto-Focused on design, visual culture and new media.

Web Site

Please add other online magazines that you think are interesting.

Information Work Productivity Forum Notes

I attended the Information Work Productivity Forum and posted some thoughts (lengthy notes) about the presentations. The day consisted of sponsors of the council and some academics presenting their thoughts on Information Work productivity. A few speakers took the opportunity to talk about their products, which was unfortunate, but some individuals stayed on topic and discussed the real issues related to measuring information work productivity at a high level.

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