Interaction Design

Sliders are the key

At dinner a couple weeks ago when I was in SF, David Weinberger and Peter Merholz came up with the silver bullet of interaction design: Sliders! All interaction that is a selection should be a slider! Amazon is on the same wavelength, their new AJAX diamond search is sliderlicious heaven! [update: this is all in fun, sliders do have issues, see comments for more.]

Seriously, it's a great AJAX example. Still seriously, there's issues (like showing active options that don't actually exist - set the price to $100-$1000, and the next slider, for carats, doesn't show you what the carat range is that intersects with the 'under a thousand dollar' price. Greying out the inapplicable options, and moving the slider to the top of the actual carat range of sub-$1000 rocks would be good).

Ajax - Rich Apps in the Browser

Jesse James Garrett writes about the new generation of rich web apps that *don't* use Flash, like Google suggest, Oddpost, etc. It's an interesting take on alternatives to Flash RIAs, using Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (hence Ajax).

Products that interaction design and information architecture methods address

I like Dan Saffer's diagram looking at interaction design and information architecture (PDF) through the lens of what kind of products each practice addresses. It's concrete, instead of the hand-waving turf war some people enjoy. It reminds me of Marti Hearst's quadrant from CHI2001 panel on measuring IA (requires IE, see slide #2 'A Simple Taxonomy'). The axes for the quadrant were complexity of content and complexity of applications...

Book Review: Digital Ground

Andrew Ottwell’s eloquent commentary on Digital Ground makes me want to buy the book.

Malcolm McCullough’s new book…is a readable and timely contribution to current interaction design. Using ideas drawn from architectural and design theory, cognitive science, and philosophy, McCullough significantly extends current ideas about pervasive computing and so-called experience design, while building on the foundation of traditional task-centered interface design. It’s the best current book on interaction design, and should appeal to both designers and theorists.

Thanks Stewart

Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/03/2003 | The Job | His work: Watching people use the Web

Here's a zen question from the weird, wired world of the Web: Can there be an architect of something that will never exist in a three-dimensional form?

This is Ben Levin's zone.

His business card says 'User Experience Architect,' and the title isn't something cutesy dreamed up by a human-resource consultant who has been to too many motivational seminars.

In the Web world, this is a common job title in the field of usability - the interaction of humans and computers.

The article gets a few things wrong here and there but it's interesting nonetheless to see how our profession is depicted in lay terms.

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...)

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.

Process flow meets the London Underground

Harry Beck's 1933 London Underground map is an info design classic (thanks Erin). Martin Kay has used the tube map's visual language for flow diagrams. The results are luscious and engaging in a way that vanilla boxes and arrows can't rival. More than just sample deliverables, Martin offers a short explanation, a 7 page guide on creating your own, and a PowerPoint template of map components. (thanks pencil & paper)

Of course, with any deliverable, there's usually the tradeoff between making it quickly and making it pretty. For the most part, I prefer fast diagrams over pretty. That works great for internal team communication, or for clients who are directly engaged in the process as team members. Reserve the effort of pretty deliverables for final versions or other things that need to do a sales job within the organization. The selling power of a large format color diagram shouldn't be overlooked, even if the pencil sketch version tells the same story.

Revisiting the Visual Vocabulary

The Visual Vocabulary Three Years Later: An Interview with Jesse James Garrett - In October 2000, Jesse James Garrett introduced a site architecture documentation standard called the Visual Vocabulary. Since then, it has become widely adopted among information architects and user experience professionals. B&A chats with Jesse about the vocabulary and thoughts on IA standards and tools. [Boxes and Arrows]


Widgetopia - Over time, Christina has pulled together a heap o' widgets... interesting... a blog being used as a notebook... ...

link [Other Blog (Tom Smith)]

New Interaction Design Site, Symposium

Molly Steenson has put up a new site at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The Interaction Design HUB offers categorized links and a blog. Excellent collection, and it will be good to hear more on the web from Ivrea folks.

Also of note - HUB launched as part of the Symposium On Foundations of Interaction Design, a small invite only conference with luminaries like Tom Erickson and Don Norman that runs Nov 12-13. Fortunately for us, there's a live video feed [Windows Media] (though the Italian timezone means you'll have to wake up early on the west side of the Atlantic). Papers will be linked up later.

Timeline collection

Matt Jones is collecting timelines.

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....

Amazon Plan to offer full-text search of some non-fiction texts

Very interesting news from Amazon today in an article in the NY Times. The retailer is planning a new full-text searching service called "Look Inside the Book II" that will combine some of the functionalities of a digital library with the retailers' current methods for helping customers find and evaluate products. The full-text service will extend the "Peak inside" service that users get when previewing TOCs, indexes, and sample pages with "Look Inside the Book". I couldn't surmise from the article whether full-text searching would be offered only when viewing a single book or if it would be possible to do full-text searching across a corpus of digitized e-texts.

The new service is being met with some wariness from publishers and authors who worry that the service will make Amazon more like an information service a la ebrary and netLibrary and undoubtedly Amazon will have to do a lot to protect copyright.

Being someone who uses e-text vendors and full-text digital libraries, I think the service could be a boon to the book selling industry. There is no reason that full-text searching of some non-fiction works can be offered without protecting copyright. If brief keyword in context (KWIC) displays of search terms are given to offer some help in filtering out and refining your search without publishing too much information, then how can this hurt publishers? No doubt, some works such as reference books would give away too much in even a brief KWIC display, but surely there must be a way to make this work. I think it's a good step in making the Amazon shopping experience even more valuable. It's amazing that they continue to innovate the experience of buying online.

So What Exactly is a Call to Action?

Grok has a nice description of "Call to Action". I've actually never heard it articulated before either. He uses a good example of how guests at a hotel are prompted to take action, or guided to their possible next steps. He goes on to say...

It is absolutely okay to ask your visitors to take action. In fact, you must ask them. Because if you don?t, all you can do is hope they?ll figure out what they are supposed to do next and then actually do it. Without well-considered, well-placed Calls to Action, you leave a lot more to chance.
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.

Interaction Design Grad School

I've started a blog to document my upcoming two years of graduate work in interaction design at Carnegie Mellon.

For those of you who want to know what design grad school is like, (but don't want to spend the time or the money!) this is for you.

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]

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