Learning, Doing, Selling: 2006 IA Summit Wrapup: Sunday

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“A major point of interest in both these panels was the near total absence of discussion relating to Visio or OmniGraffle.”

Wireframes: A comparison of purposes, process, and products
Anders Ramsay, Dave Heller, Jeff Lash, Laurie Gray, Todd Warfel
Conference description


Wireframing Challenges in Modern Web Development
Nathan Curtis, Bill Scott, Livia Labate, Thomas Vander Wal, Todd Warfel
Conference description

Reviewed by: Anders Ramsay

Wireframes were the focus of two back-to-back panels at the Summit.

The first panel provided an overview of different approaches to producing wireframes, in the form of five short presentations, followed by a brief Q&A. Jeff Lash, who moderated the first panel, led off by clarifying that it was not a debate about the best wireframing methods, rather an opportunity to learn about new techniques.

Wireframe panel

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Todd Warfel started the first presentation describing the use of paper prototypes to test different designs, in which users often provide feedback by making notes directly on the printouts. Todd then presented the use of InDesign and Illustrator as a powerful combination, particularly for designers who may already know these tools and do not know html. While possibly requiring more initial setup, Todd stated that the environment allows for rapid maintenance and extensive reuse of previously specified elements.

Dave Heller continued with a discussion of using Flash as a wireframing platform for Rich Internet Applications. Describing time as “a primary piece of your canvas” in interaction design, Dave compared passive models, such as storyboarding, with more dynamic environments, such as Norpath, Visual Studio, and iRise, and then presented Flash as the strongest best-of-both-worlds alternative for designing rich interaction, with it’s powerful yet low-cost combination of a drawing environment that also supports defining complex behaviors. A key drawback to Flash, Dave clarified, was that it doesn’t print well, and is therefore not well suited for documenting design. Contrasting Dave’s rich media discussion, Anders Ramsay presented XHTML wireframes, with its focus on structure and semantic markup.

Using a visual comparison between a generic wireframe, Anders showed how a module element appearing on a drawing-based wireframe, such as the header area, would correspond to a <div> tag with the id=”header” in the corresponding xhtml, intentionally showing the code view of the xhtml to emphasize the distinction between that and html wireframes, which often use the browser page more as a whiteboard. Anders clarified that the model requires earlier involvement by visual designers, who work on look and feel in parallel with the IA, either directly in the CSS or using whatever tool is convenient for them. Anders listed annotations as a weakness in the xhtml model, but also stated that there is reduced need for annotations, since xhtml inherently is self-describing.

Jeff Lash followed with a discussion of UI specifications, describing a model based on Word documents containing screen shots and annotations. A key advantage of this model, Jeff stated, is that it can be used regardless of the technology used to produce the prototype, and that it can serve as a comprehensive record of the user interface. Downsides of the tool included that production can be time-consuming and that management of multiple iterations can be difficult.

Laurie Gray concluded the presentation portion with an overview of major prototyping tools, describing their purpose as “needing to explain concepts quickly to a variety of people.” Laurie compared open-source alternatives to more traditional tools, such as the use of The Gimp instead of Photoshop or Nvu instead of Dreamweaver, and then described how her organization had settled on using the Axure prototyping tool, with its support for generating both functional prototypes and Word-based specifications. Major issues that came up during the Q&A that followed were that of reuse and the application of the agile development concepts toward user interface design. Both Dave Heller and Anders Ramsay clarified that the models presented do not exist in a vacuum; rather they are created in the context of sitemaps, conceptual diagrams and other artifacts.

“The audience raised concerns that patterns might stifle creativity, but both Todd and Bill made the case for how patterns can specify behaviors without dictating presentation.”

Because the presentations in the first panel ran long, and little time remained for questions from the audience, the Q&A format of the second panel complemented this well. Moderated by Thomas Vander Wal, panelists responded to questions both from Thomas as well as member of the audience. A major theme revolved around documenting rich interaction. In line with this, Bill Scott presented an “Interesting Moments” grid, which serves to document micro-states, fine-grain interactions often leveraging multiple interface elements working in concert. He used the drag and drop feature, as appearing in the Yahoo! pattern library, as an example. Bill also discussed new models for prototyping rich interaction, such as creating animation using the tweening feature in Photoshop CS2.

Continuing the theme of documenting patterns, Todd Warfel presented samples from the rBuilder tool used at Message First, discussing how patterns can be integrated into wireframes, and showed how business users are able to efficiently make design changes by switching from one pattern to another. The audience raised concerns that patterns might stifle creativity, but both Todd and Bill made the case for how patterns can specify behaviors without dictating presentation.

Nathan Curtis discussed architecting one’s wireframing environment for scalability and reuse, such as only specifying elements appearing on multiple templates in one place and cross-referencing elsewhere. Nathan also stressed the importance of maintaining version histories, and recommended publishing and maintaining versions for specifications documents separately from original illustrations incorporated into the specifications.

A major point of interest in both these panels was the near total absence of discussion relating to Visio or OmniGraffle, which remain the more commonly used tools. This is likely reflective of a trend in which information architects and those in related fields are responding to increasingly complex web sites with new and more advanced models for specifying them.

Ambient Findability
Peter Morville
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

Wireframe panel

Photo credit: Erin Malone

Peter’s talk was based on (and served as an introduction to) his book Ambient Findability, an important and influential work that I (embarrassingly) admit to not having read yet. Despite his soft-spoken demeanor, Peter comes across as an engaging, witty, and highly professional presenter, and some of the ideas in his talk are a call to action for people who care about the design of information spaces in the 21st century: the increasing blurring of the lines between information environments and the “real” world, the expanding scope of search in our everyday lives, “smart” networked objects, among other things, and how information architects can help people make sense of all of this.

Clearly we need to be giving serious thought to this stuff, as it will have an important—perhaps a defining—impact on what it means to live a productive human life in the 21st century. Ambient Findability is now in my reading queue.

“How do you convince content contributors and others with different priorities that metadata should be used and should be accurate?”

Metadata Games: Cutting the Metacrap
Karen Loasby
Conference description

Reviewed by: Hallie Willfert

“People are lazy… Short of breaking fingers or sending out squads of vengeful info-ninjas to add metadata to the average user’s files, we’re never gonna get there” – Cory Doctorow

The journalists at the BBC are not lazy, says Karen Loasby, they just have different priorities. How do you convince content contributors and others with different priorities that metadata should be used and should be accurate?

Karen shared four suggestions:

  1. Convince them that metadata is for them. Let writers know they will benefit from applying good metadata to their stories because with good metadata their stories will appear more appropriately in search results.
  2. Convince them that metadata is also for the audience. Let them know that the readers of the site will find more relevant articles if the articles are tagged correctly.
  3. “Confound them.” A meeting to talk about the importance of metadata sounds really boring. Make sure it isn’t.
  4. Bribe them. Karen says doughnuts work really well.

To prove the possibility of point number 3, Karen and her team from the BBC took us through two different games to play that conveyed the importance of metadata in a fun and creative way.

Wireframe panel

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Game one: metasnap
This game involves splitting the group into two teams. Team one plays the role of the author and team two plays the role of the searcher (team two can be made up of one or more people). Each team receives a deck of matching cards that have on each a picture and space for search phrases. The authors tag each card/picture in a way that seems appropriate. Once the authors have finished tagging their cards, the searcher picks a card from their own pile and “searches” out loud for the picture on the card. The searchers goal is to just get one image as a result. The authors then tell them if they have made an exact search match to one of the terms from the authors’ cards. Yes, they win. No, they lose.

For instance, if the searcher, wanting information on Queen Elizabeth, searches just for “Queen”, then many results might appear–one for Queen a la Freddy Mercury, Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Queen of Scots….

What we learned from this game is that language is a messy affair. Free text searchs put the pressure on the searcher. Tagging content has to take into consideration homonyms, variations in language, and granularity. Considering all this, automating metadata completely would be difficult.

Game number two: metascoop
Metascoop is all about content reuse. Each team is given a blank storyboard, and some extra assets (photos, sidebars, related advertisements, related content lists). Using the assets available, the team is instructed to write a story that is supported by those assets.

Proving that a picture is worth at least 1000 words, each of the 8 teams at the Summit created stories that explored different aspects of the relationship between mutton, Sir Paul MacCartney, the Royal Family, raising sheep, formal events, Julian Lennon, organic cuisine, and weddings.

And what lessons could we learn from this game? Reusing content can be a creative activity (though I’m sure a little fact-checking goes on at the BBC) and automation that is driven by metadata could save time.

Emotion, Arousal, Attention and Flow: Chaining Emotional States to Improve Human-Computer Interaction
Trevor Van Gorp
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

Trevor’s presentation addressed an issue that I haven’t heard discussed much in our midst: the use of emotions in design. And yes, by emotions he means joy, disgust, love, longing, etc. He argues that these emotions comprise the “experience” bit of the phrase “user experience”, and presents a framework we can use to employ them in our design processes.

One of the first challenges posed by this idea is how to define emotions. Trevor proposes an “Emotional State” diagram, which places emotions on two axes: one stretching from anxiety to boredom, and the other from unpleasant to pleasant. Different emotional states fall at some point in this diagram, some quite extreme, others less so. In the middle are emotions that fall in what he defines as a “flow area”, where people are most effective.

Trevor presented examples of designs that elicit particular emotional reactions in people, contrasting products such as a huge black Dodge truck with a yellow VW Beetle. Clearly these items elicit an emotional reaction, but Trevor argues that effective design requires more than this: it requires a designed approach to state chaining, or the smooth transition between one emotional state and another. He showed an example of how one emotional state (frustration) can be transformed through planned stages to a more useful state (curiosity, motivation to learn).

The presentation concluded with an example of a mobile application UI that iterated through different designs attempting to elicit specific emotions from users. Bottom line: this is very interesting work that holds a lot of promise for further exploration.

Communicating Concepts through Comics
Kevin Cheng and Jane Jao
Conference description

Reviewed by: Javier Velasco


Photo credit: Liz Danzico

Kevin and Jane unveiled the power of comics as a communication tool for experience design. Comics are very good at helping the readers focus either on a particular area of the interface or the off-screen emotional reaction of the user. They explained how they did this with their clients, how it allowed them to feel more free to make comments, and helped understand the design as an experience.

They then went on to explain us how we could all do these kinds of comics to develop and document our designs, even if we forgot how to draw decades ago. It was a strong and clean presentation, and very useful to take back home.

“Dan Brown’s thoughts about a different metaphor for content management systems (CMS) are revolutionary. At a conference as full of innovative ideas as the IA Summit ’06, that’s really saying something.”

New Approaches to Managing Content
Dan Brown
Conference description

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

Dan Brown’s thoughts about a different metaphor for content management systems (CMS) are revolutionary. At a conference as full of innovative ideas as the IA Summit ’06, that’s really saying something.

Dan asked the audience about our experience with CMSs, which bore out his next statement, “CMSs suck!” The reason for this, Dan said, is twofold. First, the underlying metaphor that CMSs is based on is wrong. Second, labor is not distributed appropriately between the humans and computers involved in content management. So to fix the problem, we need to replace the metaphor and redistribute the labor.

Dan then showed us how content management is currently based on the metaphor of business as a factory. There are Products which follow a Process that is guided by People who have particular responsibilities. The problem with this is that it forces us to think linearly, when business may not be linear at all. Information as a product is open, not closed and discrete as if the product were in a factory.

A more appropriate metaphor, Dan said, is an organic one. “Business is a living entity,” he said. We speak of it in terms of growing, dying, and nourishing. We can think of content as nutrients, people as catalysts, and workflow as an organic process. Despite display issues, Dan clearly described a graphic that illustrates his point. A “seed” of information is planted in the system, and a ring appears around the seed when an action is performed on that content (as the rings of a tree indicate its growth and change). We can access each “ring” to get the details of the nature of the action and the person who performed it.

Discussing the division of labor aspect of the CMS problem, Dan said that too much of the decision-making power has been given to the computer, when humans could handle that kind of responsibility much better. We need to think of computers and content management as decision-making aids not the arbiters of the decisions themselves. He gave the example of Abraham Lincoln composing the Gettysburg Address. Abe types in the speech in a single text window, and chooses contexts this content will be used in. Selecting any context allows Abe to tag any section of his content with contextually appropriate tags. Enabling the content to be handled differently in different contexts.

New Approaches to Managing Content, continued

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

Dan’s session was entitled “New approaches to managing content.” Just another content management talk? Far from it.

The underlying idea behind this session was to use some of George Lakoff’s principles to examine content management in a new way. He explained that the predominant underlying metaphor of content management is that of “business as a factory.” The use of this metaphor means that we (and content management systems) approach content creation and publishing in a particular way–that of a factory, where individuals are responsible for creating content, others for approving content and yet others for publishing it.

Dan suggested, as a way to reframe, that we could use the metaphor of business as a living entity. Using this metaphor, more than one person can be involved in content creation (without presecriptive rules), and the content can grow organically. The organisation can enforce the rules instead of the computer. Templates can become living scenarios.

The intent was not to change the metaphor of content management now, but to show that it can be reframed. A great suggestion from an audience member was to use the metaphor of a family, which could also produce interesting approaches.

This was a great session for examining a different approach to thinking about a problem.

Stone Age Information Architecture (Or, You Say Cat, I Say Cat)
Alex Wright
Conference description

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

At one time, our ancestors lived in isolated, small bands of hunter-gatherers. During the Ice Age, the lack of food drove these groups together, creating an explosion of symbolic systems to ease communication and increase chances of survival. These symbol systems became the method by which they formed increasingly complex social relationships, eventually becoming societies and nations.

In his presentation, Stone Age Information Architecture, Alex Wright wants us to be aware of how the symbolic languages formed during this time are still embedded in our thinking patterns and, as an extension, affect the practice of information architecture.

For example, if you see a picture of a feline, a quarter, or a laptop, your brain automatically creates the following hierarchical classifications:

animal > mammal > cat > tabby cat > brown mackerel tabby domestic longhair
money > coin > quarters > 1932 Quarter > 1932 D-PCGS
computer > personal computer > laptop > Toshiba laptop > Toshiba Portege R100

-from Stone Age Information, Alex Wright, IA Summit, March 26, 2006

All people will have at least the first three levels of these classifications. During his research, Wright has found that these patterns seem universal. They are not something that’s been written down or studied; the classifications are implicit in the language.

He posits that these “folk taxonomies” (not to be confused with folksonomies), or shared instinctive classifications, are the basis of how our minds structure information so that it makes sense to us instantly.

Wright’s examination highlights that while some have this utopian image of tag clouds forming magically into grassroots classifications, we need to be aware of the underlying constructs that drive our social impulses. The rise of the social network is really a resurgence of the symbolic networks–arising not from the patterns and knowledge of written history, but rather in the patterns of the oral and tribal social traditions.

We’re already seeing glimmers of these ideas in trust systems– ratings, reputation points, etc.–as we try to negotiate social situation with people who we must trust, but that we do not know well or at all.

Wright is doing the community a great service by exploring these ideas. Armed with this different angle on human cognition, analyzing user research for these patterns can help us create experiences reflective of the folk taxonomies, rather than in spite of them.

Object-Oriented Design
Ann Rockley
Conference description

Reviewed by: David Sturtz

Ann Rockley’s presentation took the concept of object-oriented design and applied it to content with an emphasis on increasing reuse of information. She suggested that this approach is particularly applicable to those organizations using XML-based systems, delivering content through multiple channels, or wishing to cut the time required to produce and deliver content. Employing object-oriented design strategies can also profoundly reduce translation costs.

The information architect’s role in the move towards increased content reuse begins with determining the structure of content through content modeling. A content audit may be then used to analyze the existing material and pinpoint those places where reuse can happen. Ann suggested creating a reuse map, charting out the various applications for each piece of content.

As a unified content framework is developed, she highlighted the importance of determining the correct level of granularity and for determining metadata relating specifically to reuse and promoting internal findability. Standardized formats, including DITA, DocBook, and SCORM, may provide a head start in some situations, but attention should be paid to the amount and type of customization necessary.

Ann closed with a number of concepts that suggest a variety of concerns in planning for content reuse. Opportunistic re-use, relies on a conscious effort made to find and reuse content objects. At the other end of the spectrum, systematic reuse draws on personalization or recommendation technology to offer up appropriate content for use. Locked and derivative re-use each allow differing levels of control over whether copies of items may be made, and how they may be used. Nested reuse involves creating larger content objects and then selectively using portions according to their context. Finally, reuse governance reminds designers to consider issues related to owners, editors, notifications, and approvals.

Mind-shift: is IA equipped for Web 2.0?
Michael Arrington, Dan Brown, Kevin Lynch, Brandon Schauer, Gene Smith
Conference description

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

The purpose of this panel was to discuss the potential impact of Web 2.0 on IAs, the changes that IAs may have to make to accommodate this new paradigm, and the mindset necessary to succeed within it. The members all represented different voices. Michael was the voice of the developer. Dan was the voice of the IA. Gene was the voice of the user experience generalist. Brandon attempted to stand in for Michael Arrington, who had to cancel, to represent the voice of the venture capitalist.

Dan felt that Web 2.0 will have negligible impact on IAs. After all, we will still be trying to meet user needs, dealing with unpredictable amounts and types of information, and attempting to make user participation meaningful through contextual structure. Michael felt that IAs would no longer be constrained to the idea of the page. Content could be an interaction or a very small, discrete chunk of information. Gene also felt that this would be the case, in addition to the observation that now we will have to account for aggregate data displays. There was some discussion about how it’s relatively frequent now for people to consume content without ever visiting the originating site.

Flickr user model

Photo credit: Liz Danzico

All the panelists agreed that IAs would still be using the same skills. However, each of them felt that we would need to add new skills as well. Michael felt that lack of trust will become an issue, and that we will need to be cognizant of technological content consumers, such as recommendation engines, that help people who have 200 RSS feeds figure out what to pay attention to. Some helpful skills he identified were database fluency and helping developers understand users. Dan felt that we would probably need to hone our skills around findability and usefulness. He also echoed Michael’s observation that we will need to better understand how the content is being used. Gene spent some time emphasizing the importance of content modeling; something the audience indicated they felt was crucial.

Addressing the question of mindset, Dan felt that, again, not much change would be required. We will have to figure out how to show our usefulness, however, in environment hostile to IA (in reference to the now infamous 37 signals “no IAs” comment). Michael felt that, in addition to thinking of places and things, we would also need to think of streams and flows. He also reiterated his point about human beings no longer being the sole meaningful consumers of content. Gene echoed this sentiment.

This panel and the discussion it raised were very eye-opening. Of the two Web 2.0 panels I attended, this one was definitely the more valuable.

IA for Efficient Use and Reuse of Information
Thomas Vander Wal
Conference description

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

Thomas started this presentation with a reminder that people live within the real world, not on the web, and that most of their information use is in the real world. He reminded us that information is not only found and used, but re-used, and that much of the re-use takes place in the real world. In order to design for re-use we need to analyze the type of information we have, think about what people do beyond the first use, understand the context where information is used and what actions follow use.

Thomas discussed a range of standards (from open-source to proprietary) that we can use to share information.

This was a good, forward-looking presentation and I intend to explore some of the ideas and offer better information use for next year’s IA Summit.

“Theories created must fit the data, data must not be made to fit the theories.”

In Search of Common Grounds: Introducing Grounded Theory to IA
Lada Gorlenko
Conference description

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

I was excited to see this on the program as I have been using a variant on grounded theory to analyze user research data.

Lada explained how the results of grounded theory (which comes from social science research) are rooted in the behaviours, words and actions of those in the study. Theories created must fit the data, data must not be made to fit the theories.

She provided a good overview of data collection and analysis methods. The presentation slides are very detailed and will provide a good overview for those who were not able to attend the session.

Clues to the Future: What the users of tomorrow are teaching us today (Or, In Millsberry We Trust)
Andrew Hinton
Conference description

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

Presentations like Andrew Hinton’s Clues to the Future make you hope for a day when all questions are so interesting. We try to argue for “innovation” in our day-to-day work; even Business Week sports a section solely about innovation. Still, we struggle to get the “innovation” past simplifying the content, sites, and functionality over-produced during the Boom.

Hinton made a very strong case that the ground-shaking innovation is happening right now, driven by teens and their technological environment. He encouraged us to look at gaming environments, especially MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), for direction in how we design information spaces and use technology for social interaction.

After considering this seriously, holes could not be easily poked in these ideas. He presented research, backed it up with numbers (both populations and money), and examined how the interfaces innovate to let the users do what they need to do.

Throughout the talk, Hinton projected humility even as he reinforced his authority on these subjects. It was one of the most interesting and well thought-out presentations that I saw at the Summit, and his personable demeanor further reinforced his argument as he did not seem eager to convince us of his position, rather to unpeel some very intriguing ideas.

Download the presentation and leave him a note. It will be well worth your while.

Bonus Points: Hinton helped the audience “experience” his talk. He mentioned at the start that he would be providing all of the materials along with his speaker’s notes so that we could engage in the presentation rather than trying to capture it.

“There are ways to use existing, business-friendly data to make your personas into a tool that can be adopted by people outside of the UX team.”

Bringing More Science to Persona Creation
Steve Mulder, Ziv Yaar
Conference description

Reviewed by: Hallie Willfert

Steve Mulder has a confession to make: at one time he wasn’t using personas. Why not? Well, he felt that 1) he didn’t have a way to put them explicitly to use, and 2) he was “making stuff up.” His session took us through ways to bolster the qualitative data that often makes up the ‘meat’ of a persona by integrating quantitative data that will satisfy the most business-y of managers and marketers.

A typical process for building personas involves scoping out the goals and attitudes of the intended audiences and adding some behavior data that is pulled from user interviews and field studies. Steve’s process adds more concrete data that is gathered from market segmentation, log files, CRM data, and user surveys. When the hard data is added, you are able to test the assumptions that your soft data made—do the personas hold up? Are there tweaks that need to be made the personas more accurate?

I too have a confession: I am not a statistician and I will make a mess of if I try to regurgitate some of what Steve talked about. What I can say is that Steve took us through some very impressive looking analysis, and my notes tell me to “find clusters in the data that can be developed into personas” and to “force segmentation by an attribute.” However, I can’t tell you how to do that.

Nevertheless, my take-home point from this talk was that there are ways to use existing, business-friendly data to make your personas into a tool that can be adopted by people outside of the UX team. The marketing department and other business stakeholders will be much more receptive to using personas as a tool to guide the business if you can prove that they fit into the data has been relied upon for years.

The Impact of RIA on Design Processes
Matthew Moroz, Jeanine Harriman, Jenica Rangos, Christopher Follett
Conference description

Reviewed by: Tom Braman


Photo credit: Javier Velasco

I was feeling smug upon entering “The Impact of RIAs on Design Processes.” Other sessions confirmed I’d been doing information architecture right. User research? Check. Wireframes? Check. Etc? Check. Then comes Garrick Schmitt, west coast user experience lead for Avenue A | Razorfish, knocking me out of my comfort zone with his talk on Rich Internet Applications.

“RIAs challenge everything we’ve done,” Schmitt announced. In 12 to 24 months, he said, tools such as wireframes, processes such as page-by-page user flows, even roles such as information architect will cease to exist. “We believe RIAs are the future of the internet experience.”

Yikes. What’s a soon-to-be-extinct IA gonna do?

Not to worry, said Schmitt. After walking attendees through several company RIAs (including Disney Weddings, where the newly engaged apparently can reduce a nine-month offline nightmare to a nine-minute online snap), Schmitt said that the average IA will evolve into a new role, either interaction designer on steroids, interactive data strategist (determining what data goes where), or both.

But we’ll have to play taps for our tools: Sitemaps really have no place when there’s only one “web page,” to use another apparently soon-to-die metaphor. Wirefames and traditional design specs, too. In their place will be hierarchical data inventories, occasional HTML mockups, and—and here’s the critical one—crude to hi-fidelity prototypes that user-experience teams rely upon as living, morphing design specs throughout the design phase.

“Design data, not pages,” Schmitt told the audience. Dang. All this, after I’d mastered the tricks of information architecture in a page-by-page world. Alas, we evolve.

Reviews of conference sessions are available by day:

Learning, Doing, Selling: 2006 IA Summit Wrapup: Monday

by:   |  Posted on
“Even as tagging and rating functionality have migrated from augmenting the user experience (Ebay, Amazon) to co-creating content (del.icio.us, wikipedia), we underutilize the wisdom of crowds.”

Facets are fundamental: Rethinking information architecture frameworks
Abe Crystal
Conference description

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

This talk was very interesting. Abe’s argument was that information architects treat faceted classification as supplemental to topic-based organization and that we ignore or minimize non-topical methods of organizing information.

Abe cited two studies published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) to support his point. A study by A. Tombros, et. al., shows that users use different elements of a page’s structure to determine relevance. Another study by C.L. Barry suggested several other non-topical criteria that users use to judge relevance, such as depth, novelty, credibility, and more.

From here, Abe began discussing what a facet is and what it is not—something that really interested the audience that spent much time discussing. The key confusion here is between attributes and facets. Abe said that an attribute is something that is inherent to the item and has a particular value. For example an attribute of a RAM chip for a computer is how much RAM it carries. This is a value that describes something inherent to the chip. Facets, however, are different. Abe says that facets tend to be more loosely defined and that they tend to represent human attempts to make sense out of the world. “Genre” would be a facet of literature, for example.

Abe went on to describe the structure of a facet, taking pains to point out that faceted classification does not preclude hierarchical or topical organization. He said that facets are composed of two components: organization scheme and organizational structure. Going back to the literature example, the genre facet would present groups of items arranged by topic (scheme) and displayed alphabetically (structure). Now this is only a rough example, and it assumes that the topic of a literature resource determines its genre. But I hope you get the idea.

What Abe wants us as IAs to do with this is to move beyond our current topical model of sitemaps and wireframes to one that is not dominated by topic—one where we think of objects and the information space they exist within.

Tagging and Beyond: Personal, Social and Collaborative Information Architecture (Or, Social IA Live: Five Challenges for Information Architects)
Gene Smith, Danah Boyd, Scott Golder, Jane Murison, Rashmi Sinha, Mimi Yin
Conference description

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

Each presenter in this particular session played a clear role, which in the end made this thought-provoking exercise more like short sprints rather than a unified whole. Still, the presentations were interesting, and each provided a unique perspective.

Gene Smith (the Model) provided the context. Even as tagging and rating functionality have migrated from augmenting the user experience (Ebay, Amazon) to co-creating content (del.icio.us, wikipedia), we underutilize the wisdom of crowds. IA practice should encourage “good structure” rather than enforce it or expect the audiences to do all the work.

Scott Golder (the Network) discussed his ideas of social software as a rich network of disparate items and their relationships to one another. The lack of common experiences and language problems combine to make tagging for ourselves very easy (free association) and tagging for others very difficult. Over time, even we change so the associations we made previously are no longer valid. IA should help show the connections between ideas and contexts to ease these transitions.

Rashmi Sinha (the Pattern) noted that tagging encourages independence while allowing for easy aggregation. You “see” people based on their tags–while more abstract than blogs, your tags may be more telling of state of mind. IA should help migrate from software focused on existing social connections and most popular, most tagged, etc. to conceptually mediated connections that reveal the wisdom of crowds.

danah boyd

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Dana Boyd (the Sociologist) challenged IAs to explore designs that start with the individual, then encourage the social by serendipity–don’t try to control behaviors, look at barriers as incentives, make the aggregate more visible, and utilize most passionate users to improve the system for the benefit of everyone.

Mimi Yin (the Interface) chided us for trying to force tagging and social software into the way we’ve always done things. She wants us to explore what we COULD do with software that capably enables users to understand information without having to actually re-experience it.

The vignettes stoked necessary ruminations and revealed different challenges that we face as we try to create effective social software.

The strict faceted classification model: an effective alternative to free-form tagging
Travis Wilson

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

Travis began his talk with a discussion of how modern uses of faceted classification fail to leverage the power of the faceted model, that is, true orthagonality. In a strict faceted model, a given item can have only one value per facet. In many modern instances of faceted classification, each facet can have multiple values. Travis said that it may make sense for an item to have multiple values, but there are better ways to do this.

Travis’ example of desserts was appropriate. He applied two facets to a set of desserts, the first being “confection” and the second being “flavor.” So a dessert could be a pie, a cookie, or ice cream, and it could have a flavor of chocolate, cherry, or pecan. But wait… isn’t it totally valid to have a chocolate pecan pie? Yes it is. But Travis’ point is that if we are just going to apply multiple facet values to an item, we might as well just be using a simple tagging system.

Travis’ proposed solution was to create what I’m calling “multidimensional facets” (hooray for new buzzwords!), facets that are essentially groups of binary values. Obviously, not all facets should be multidimensional, for example, a “pie-cookie” would indeed be a highly improbable confection. However, chocolate cherry pecan is a perfectly reasonable flavor. In the dessert example, “flavor” would be the multidimensional facet. It would have three binary options, cherry yes/no, chocolate yes/no, and pecan yes/no. This allows the possible values of the multidimensional facet to be orthogonal among themselves, and by extension, to any other facets the item may possess.

Montreal, Paris, Dakar: Conducting an International Intranet Needs Analysis
Isabelle Peyrichoux
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango


Photo credit: Javier Velasco

I’m usually drawn to presentations that promise to address issues of cross-cultural IA work, so I was attracted to this one early on. Isabelle Peyrichoux presented us with an engaging case study of an intranet project she helped develop for the French-Speaking University Agency, which required that she work with diverse team members in Canada, France, and Senegal. She outlined some of the challenges she faced along the way, including such potentially explosive issues as differing attitudes about gender roles in the workplace, and concrete tips on how to manage some of these situations.

While the case study was interesting, I was somewhat disappointed that the nature of the project—which was limited to three countries whose cultures are heavily influenced by France, and therefore one language—avoided some of the more common (and challenging) aspects of developing a cross-cultural site, such as bridging language barriers, or working across radically different cultures.

“It was easily the best presentation on tagging because it moved beyond rhetoric and noise and examined what may really be happening.”

From Pace Layering to Resilience Theory: the Complex Implications of Tagging for Information Architecture
D. Grant Campbell, Karl V. Fast
Conference description

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

I commented at the end of this session that it was the best I had heard. While there were many great presentations, this was one of the best as it was so thoroughly considered. It was easily the best presentation on tagging because it moved beyond rhetoric and noise and examined what may really be happening.

The idea of pace layering comes from Stewart Brand (a previous IA Summit keynote)–complex systems can be decomposed into multiple layers, where the layers change at different rates. The “fast layers” learn, absorb shocks and get attention; the “slow layers” remember, constrain and have power. One of the implications of this model is that information architects can do what they have always done–slow, deep, rich work; while tagging can spin madly on the surface. If it is worth keeping, it will seep down into the lower layers.

Resilience theory explains the role of change in complex adaptive systems. Key aspects of resilience theory include:

  • Change is neither continuous nor chaotic; it is discontinuous, patchy, and non-linear
  • The destabilizing forces as important as stabilizing forces
  • Constant yields indicate false stability

Grant and Karl discussed whether resilience theory is relevant as a way to examine the tagging phenomena.

This presentation is supported by a good set of slides and a detailed paper, both of which are a great read.

“Jason’s presentation turned out to be an impassioned call to arms to those of us who are trying to bring coherence and design to the web in underdeveloped areas of the world.”

How can information architecture address challenges to the Web in third world and developing contexts?
Jason Hobbs
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

When I first saw the title of Jason’s presentation in the Summit schedule, I knew this would be one I couldn’t afford to miss. Being from a “third world” country myself, I thought there would be much I could learn from a colleague’s experiences in a similar environment. However, I wasn’t expecting to be energized and encouraged to forge ahead in what can sometimes be a very frustrating environment. But this is exactly what I got: Jason’s presentation turned out to be an impassioned call to arms to those of us who are trying to bring coherence and design to the web in underdeveloped areas of the world.

Jason Hobbs

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Jason is originally from South Africa. He spent three years working in the UK, and recently returned to work in his country of origin. Like many others who’ve worked in “developed” countries and later return home to try to apply what they’ve learned, he seems simultaneously energized by a desire to improve things and somewhat frustrated at the harsh realities of the environment he lives in.

The audience was kept entranced as Jason showed slide after slide of South African Internet cafés, many of them in the poorest areas of Johannesburg. He also highlighted some of the challenges and obstacles he faces in his day-to-day work as an IA: a disconnect between the demands of customers and the realities of the infrastructure of the country, monopolistic—and therefore, expensive—internet access, a sense of inferiority (“why can’t we design like they do overseas?”), and more. All the while, Jason showed a deep empathy with users, and a clear desire to help improve things.

Unfortunately the audience was so wrapped up with the description of the current situation in South Africa that they started assailing Jason with questions and comments in the early stages of the presentation. While some of these sidetracks proved valuable, they caused the presentation to fall seriously behind schedule. As a result, the second half of the talk—in which Jason showed case studies of actual projects he developed in South Africa—was rushed, and eventually curtailed. The presentation had been scheduled on a pre-lunch slot, and many people left as Jason spoke well into the lunch break (he politely asked the audience if they minded this). Some of us stayed to the very end, and beyond: the conversation continued into the dining room.

There was a palpable sense of energy and wonder during this presentation. For many there, seeing the hardships many go through to access the Internet was an inspiring revelation. For me… well, as I told Jason after the session: “I feel like I’ve found a long-lost brother!”

Information Architecture for the Spatial Web
Matthew Milan, Michael MacLennan
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

The “Spatial Web,” as I learned in this presentation, has to do with maps: the representation of physical space in a virtual medium in such a way that it conveys information in a useful way.

The presentation was roughly structured in three parts: the first was an overview of developments in mapping over the past four decades. This was followed by an explanation of how these mapping tools have impacted the way geographic data is presented online, with its advantages and limitations. Matthew and Michael then moved on to the third part, which was the core of the presentation: an argument for “user-centered mapping,” which focuses on the real-world needs of users.

This concept is characterized, according to the presenters, by web mashups that employ map data to help build meaning for users by relating the geographic information to data relevant to their lives. As examples, they used the much-blogged-about Google Maps / Craigslist mashup, and the “Gawker stalker,” among other sites.

Matthew and Michael also outlined clear and succinct points on how the online map-use experience can be structured more effectively:

  • Know the user’s location
  • Understand the user’s purpose
  • Control hierarchy with scaling
  • Filter with distortion or abstraction
  • Label with effective symbology

While these points addressed concepts specific to the design of online maps, some of them (e.g., “Control hierarchy with scaling”) have broader applications in IA, and are therefore of interest to a more general audience.

“Think about when the individual should feel alone, when part of group, and how to encourage social sharing. “

Sorting in an age of tagging: How Information Architects can use sorting to address just about any research question
Rashmi Sinha
Conference description

Reviewed by: Christian Crumlish

This year’s Summit had a recurrent theme of tagging and folksonomies. Monday was tag day but there was talk of tags all weekend. Rashmi Sinha of Uzanto started her talk by asking “Who’s sick of hearing about tagging?” before plunging in.

She began by discussing how tagging is cognitively easier and more natural than categorizing. She told us about “The man who could not sort.” A man was asked to sort email into three categories. He couldn’t do it, saying, “This is a waste of time.” It didn’t represent him. The test was torturing him and he finally gave up.

People really struggle with the idea of the one correct category to place each item in. (Even we information architects struggle with this—imagine how non-webgeeks feel!)

Tagging works because it maps well to the cognitive process of free association. Also, it’s fun. There is self-feedback, social feedback. You don’t feel obliged to balance your organizational scheme in the moment.

However, findability is still the missing bit. “Here’s where IA comes in,” said Sinha. “How do you add sorting, exploration, discovery?”

She compared sorting and tagging in terms of cognitive cost, richness of data, and ease of social aggregation:

Sorting Tagging
Higher cognitive cost Lower cognitive cost
Richer data Less rich data
Harder to aggregate socially Easy to aggregate socially

To improve existing categorization interfaces, Sinha recommended not whisking away an item as soon as it’s added to a category, to aim for flatter schemes, and permit nonexclusive categories.

She said, “Categorization is going to make a comeback. These are all fashions,” and the audience applauded. She recommended an essay called Don’t take my folders away! Organizing personal information to get things done, which talks about the feeling of satisfaction that comes from filing things in folders.

She recommended trying the classic IA exercise—card sorting—with tags. Ask subjects to brainstorm tags for Apple (the computer). They might come up with:

  • mac
  • osx
  • ipod
  • software
  • itunes
  • music
  • history
  • technology
  • windows
  • macintosh
  • hardware

Then calculate co-occurrence and do hierarchical cluster analysis. Sinha pointed out that tagging works because the web has become social. She cited findings from a recent Pew Internet Report:

  1. Internet and email play important role in maintaining dispersed social networks.
  2. People use the internet to maintain contact with sizable social networks.
  3. People use the internet to seek out others in their networks when they need help.
  4. There is a concept of networked invidualism (connections are individual-to-individual).

She made an observation that may seem obvious but is actually worth really thinking about: People hang out on the web just for fun. Not just some people, 40 million people a day (in the United States). And not just men: 34% of men and 36% of women hang out on the web every day.
Tags make the web a shared experience through:

  • Community
  • Other social characteristics
  • Social play
  • Stalking
  • Imitation
  • Gossip
  • Eavesdropping (my addition)

Sinha suggests that tagging allows for shared browsing, which is a way of socializing without having to deal with the kind of strife and flamewars that arise on email lists.

On the subject of tag clouds as a navigation device or form of menu she acknowledged that they “are not the future.” Menus are structured, stable over time, comprehensive. Tag clouds are unstructured, relatively unstable, and not comprehensive, but they let current stuff bubble to top. For example, many websites wanted to respond to hurricane Katrina. To do so, most companies had to add an explicit link to their homepage, but Flickr and Delicious didn’t need to do anything different. The community did it for them.

Comment from audience: Cloud shows relative importance, something easier to assess than absolute importance.

Sinha wrapped up by discussing some ideas for designing social systems. “Serve the individual’s selfish goal,” she recommended. Create a symbiotic relation (to avoid mob behaviors, the tragedy of commons). Think about when the individual should feel alone, when part of group, and how to encourage social sharing.

These systems don’t design themselves. They just seem to do so when those above considerations are given careful thought.

Sinha recommended we in the audience try these things:

  • Create an account on MySpace
  • Read Emergence and The Wisdom of Crowds
  • Play a multiplayer online game (such as World of Warcraft or Second Life)
  • Play with an API (Google maps API for example)
  • Think about what is fun on the web (not just tasks and work)

A spirited question-and-answer session followed that invoked Erich Von Hippel’s research on lead users at MIT, Tom Coates’ article on tag drift (tracking the change in meaning of the Ajax tag on Delicious), and the search for social applications in the local space, beyond Dodgeball (one audience member mentioned a site called Socialight out of the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University which allows you to add stories to buildings, anything from “this is a great coffee shop” to “there were three murders here in 1932, and everybody says this house is haunted.”

Rashmi Sinha’s talk was one of the best ones I saw all weekend, helping further my understanding of the viral popularity of tagging and the proper design of social software.

5 Minute Madness

Reviewed by: Jess McMullin

I love 5 Minute Madness. I hate 5 Minute Madness. For those of you who haven’t been to the Summit, 5 Minute Madness is an open mic session during the conference closing. Anyone can get up, and say anything, for up to 5 minutes. And they do.

Jess McMullin

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

I love 5 Minute Madness because for me it expresses the intimacy of the IA Summit–the conference as a whole is small, and there’s a chance to connect with industry luminaries and rising stars alike in hallways, bars, and yes, during a crazy open mic where anything goes. The openness of 5 Minute Madness, the sheer lack of structure in a discipline renowned for structure, the grandeur and banality and gratitude and inspiration that emerge in simple unrehearsed words–for me, it captures the Summit, and our community, like nothing else.

And that’s why I hate 5 Minute Madness–it means that the Summit is coming to an end, and that it’s another year until I’m back again, learning, growing, and exalting in the amazing experience put together by an amazing community. I’m looking forward to next year already.

And if you want to hear just how 5 Minute Madness went in 2006, CD Evans (one of my annual 5 Minute Madness highlights) has kindly posted an MP3 of the whole thing (13 mb).

Reviews of other conference sessions are available by day:

Check It Twice: The B&A Staff Reveals the Way They Make Lists

by:   |  Posted on
”… putting something on a list legitimizes it and increases the likelihood that it might actually happen, whether you’re talking about getting a new job, having another baby, or buying Cheerios.”

Holiday lists, to-do lists, grocery lists. With the end of the year come the holidays, and holidays are usually a time for … that’s right … making lists. Take a look into the process (and obsessions) of list-making from our staff. Have a sparkling holiday season and may all your lists come true.

From the staff:
Holiday cookie list
Holiday music list
Palm lists
Online lists
Mantra box list
Buy-Me and open checkbox lists
Refrigerator lists

Holiday cookie list
Every Christmas, from as far back as I can remember, we’ve made Christmas Cookies for Santa (and us!).

If one kind is left out—even if most folks don’t really like them—there is an uproar. Tradition is important in our house, and more than ever now that my daughter Amelie has joined the world. This is one list I have to check twice!

  • Frosted sugar cookies
  • Almond pretzels
  • Pinwheel or bar shortbread cookies
  • Cream cheese spritz (colored animals and shapes)
  • Chocolate (kisses) filled bon bons
  • Meltaways (which resemble Mexican wedding cookies)
  • Bourbon balls

These last two are my favorites, and the recipes for them are here, written in my mother’s hand.


-Christina Wodtke

Holiday music list
I am a teeny bit obsessed with using iTunes to make playlists. I cannot describe how much I love music mixes. Putting together a bunch of songs in an unexpected way to set a mood or match a particular occasion just makes me all giddy. This pursuit used to take hours (when I was finding songs on record albums and taping them). Now it’s merely a matter of going through my library and dragging songs to a playlist. Such joy.


For your listening pleasure, I’ve made a new playlist in honor of the holiday season. It’s not really full of holiday songs, although there are a few–it’s more about the feelings, good and bad, that this time of year evokes.

  1. Merry Christmas, Baby / Otis Redding

    Otis just has soul. He’s one of my all time faves, so I thought I’d use his best holiday songs to bookend this list.

  2. Money (That’s What I Want) / Barrett Strong

    To get everyone presents.

  3. In My Life / The Beatles

    During the holidays I typically start thinking about the big stuff.

  4. Turn Turn Turn / The Byrds

    We sang this at my sixth grade holiday concert.

  5. It’s Getting Better / Cass Elliot

    I have to believe it too.

  6. Baby It’s Cold Outside – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan

    It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s romantic.

  7. December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) / The Four Seasons

    What a very special time for me.

  8. Blue Christmas / Elvis Presley

    Some of you may know I have a teeny teeny thing about The King. This tune is Elvis incarnate.

  9. Day By Day / Godspell

    More spiritual than religious. Besides, it’s groovy.

  10. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother / The Hollies

    I’m just getting all mushy now.

  11. Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night / Jimi Hendrix

    I’ve come back to my senses. Jimi tears into some holiday faves.

  12. Where Have All the Flowers Gone / The Kingston Trio

    I can’t help thinking about our soldiers overseas now.

  13. The Morning After / Maureen McGovern

    She sang this on New Years Eve just before the ship turned over and that guy crashed into the skylight.

  14. He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands / Nina Simone

    Yes He does.

  15. Put Your Hand In The Hand / Ocean

    Another groovy ‘70s happy peace and love song.

  16. Joy To The World / Three Dog Night

    I couldn’t avoid putting this one in. Kind of had to.

  17. What a Wonderful World / Tony Bennett & K.D. Lang

    At least I try to think it.

  18. Get Together / The Youngbloods

    Try to love one another now.

  19. White Christmas / Otis Redding

    I’m dreaming of it too.

Get Dorelle’s Holiday Mix at iTunes, and at Y! Music.

-Dorelle Rabinowitz

Palm lists
The best thing about holidays is traveling, and whenever you travel, it’s critical to bring the right gear along with you. So this is a time when lists come in handy, to help you make sure the right luggage is there.

I have a small application in my Palm Pilot that lets me make all sorts of checklists. I use Checklist by Handmark, which allows me to make several lists, sort the items, and even beam lists to my wife. Once you check an item, it can disappear, shortening a list until it’s done without the need to scroll down.


My longest list is for doing groceries, but I rarely use it–paper and memory are handier for daily stuff. But the lists I force myself to use are my packing lists. I have one for weekend escapes, holiday vacations, and another for camping trips.

Of course, they all include my camera gear, the difference is made by the food and cooking supplies, travel documentation, and kinds of clothes needed for the situation. Using these lists, it is safer to drive away without the feeling that you have to find out what you left home before it’s too late to turn around.

My camping list is:

  • Tent
  • Hooks for tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Air Mattress
  • Flashlight
  • Pans
  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove
  • Knife and big spoon
  • Swiss army knife
  • Utensils
  • Matches
  • Cups/mugs
  • Dishes
  • Tea
  • Toilet paper
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Pepper
  • Boniculars
  • Outdoor soap (the one that doesn’t need water)
  • Camera
  • Film
  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick
  • First-aid kit
  • Candles

-Javier Velasco

Online lists
Ta-da Lists, a free service from the good folks at 37 Signals, are a great way to create and manage lists online. (Really–it’s free). After a painless registration, you can create as many lists with as many items as you need. Just check an item and it moves to the bottom of the list, signaling it’s completed. Editing lists is effortless, but reordering items is a little clunky. You can also share lists with others, email them to yourself, and even set up an RSS feed.


I tend to use online lists for longer-term inventories of things like gift ideas, repairs around the house, and music I want to buy. Think of a great gift for someone six months before his or her birthday? Jot it down online. Or, if I read a review of a CD I eventually want to investigate, I’ll add it to my “Music” list. This way you can snowball ideas, thoughts, and catalogs of things over time.


The portability of Ta-da Lists is key. Anytime you’re online you can access your stuff. OK, it’s no Memex, but it can help you recall things. If you travel a lot or move between computers, it’s quite handy to have a single record. You get a simple URL in the format “yourusername.tadalist.com”–very easy to remember.

Daily to-do lists are better on paper, close at hand, in my opinion. So it’s a combination of old-fashion, handwritten to-do lists and online list management that helps me keep track of things.

-Jim Kalbach

Mantra box list
2005 was a challenging year for me; big changes in my life have forced me to reexamine some of my values and objectives. As part of this process, I’ve been trying to become better attuned to my inner voice—to approach important decisions in a more intuitive manner. One tool I’ve used during this time is what I call my “mantra box:” a list of phrases and words that I’ve come across in my reading, or in interactions with others, that resonate deeply with me.

Here is how it works: I keep a stack of 3” x 5” index cards and a Sharpie marker with me most of the time. When I come across a phrase that “calls” to me, I immediately write it on a single card in large block letters. It goes into my mantra box—one of those cheap card boxes you can find at drugstores.

I try to keep my “judging mind” out of the collection process; some phrases are trivial, obvious, or tacky. Others are quotes from personal heroes. Still others are somewhat mysterious at first; the full reason for their attractiveness is only revealed to me at a later time, when I’m in a more contemplative mood. All of them go into the box—the sole criteria for admission is having struck a deep chord in me.

Sometimes—when I’m feeling introspective—I review the contents of the box. If a particular mantra feels relevant to my current situation, I copy it to my day planner where I can refer to it frequently, and bring it into my daily life. (I don’t throw out mantras: it may turn out that even the stupid ones have a reason for being there.)

Here are, in no particular order, some of the phrases and words that have spoken to me—and merited a place in my mantra box—in 2005:

  • Simplify
  • He who owns little is little owned
  • Smaller, smaller
  • Do only what you love, love everything that you do
  • Collaborate
  • Underpromise, overdeliver
  • Embrace constraints
  • Less
  • Business is personal—not an abstraction
  • Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
  • Context
  • Honor your mistake as a hidden intention
  • Disrupt business as usual
  • Convert talent into code
  • Anchor
  • Yes or no?
  • Eat like a bird, shit like an elephant
  • Axis thinking
  • Tenacity
  • Style—happiness—emotional appeal
  • Disorganize (for renewal and innovation)
  • Storytelling
  • As simple as possible, but not simpler
  • Nobody knows what they really want before they get it

-Jorge Arango

Buy me and open checkbox lists
Every day, I use at least two lists:

1. The Buy-Me method
While I pretend not to be cautious about music, I do tend to try a track or two before I buy an album. About once a month, I view the handy “Buy Me” smart playlist I created in iTunes. In it, neatly sorted by Play Count, are the tracks I’ve been listening to most often. No need to think about value of the purchase or an album’s potential for pleasuring. Chances are, if I’ve listened to a track at least once every three days for three weeks (roughly), I should buy the album. The Buy-Me recommendations are often a surprise to me, which is kind of a fun by-product of the system (no pun intended).

Smart playlists do the list making for me

2. Open checkbox method
Although I’ve tried all kinds, paper-based to-do list works best for me. Even though it’s analog, a consistent visual vocabulary helps me get things done. Here’s how it works:

When I need to get something done, I create a new list item. Each list item gets an open checkbox and a name. Other variables might include:

* Checkbox and asterisk: Indicates open task that is urgent
* Checkbox and “f/u:” Indicates an open task that needs additional follow-up before I can complete it.
* Checkbox and circled letter: Indicates that an open task needs to be performed in a specific location. Adding the location makes the list easy to scan to chunk potential errands. (“T” below indicates that the three tasks must all be performed at Target, for example.)


When a task is complete, I put a check in the checkbox, allowing the satisfaction of crossing something out without rendering the item illegible. Oftentimes, I must refer back to completed items, so I prefer to have them available. Sometimes, a task is still unchecked after a significant period of time or several pages in the notebook. In these cases, a strikethrough is necessary, and the unchecked item gets moved to a new page. When an entire list is complete, I put a strike through the entire page.

-Liz Danzico

Refrigerator lists
I write lists for lots of things, though I wouldn’t call myself obsessive. I like the legitimacy of putting something on a list. It means a commitment of some sort—something to be bought, a task to be completed, a thoughtful intention to do something.

I have the daily-weekly-monthly lists for work, but for the rest of my life, I mainly make lists for must-dos such as groceries, Christmas gifts, and errands. There is no formality to my lists. They are as basic as can be—words on paper. Often they’re written on small scraps or Post-Its with whatever I can get my hands on, pen if I’m lucky, pencil crayon if I’m not.

The grocery list is my most formalized list. It lives under a magnet on the side of the fridge. It’s simple, accessible. Everyone in my house knows what it is, and why it’s there. And to my great annoyance, I’m the only one who uses it. That means that even after a $300 grocery bender, I can still come home to someone asking why I didn’t buy Cheerios. “Because you didn’t put it on the list!!” Big sigh.


My favorite lists are ones I do most infrequently—life goals and ambitions. The list of big dreams. I’ve done these off and on for years, and they follow a fairly strict format. Things can’t be as simple as “win the lottery.” Items on this list have a certain amount of thought behind them that address the particulars of how to make something happen. My practice has been to spend time creating these lists, and then promptly forget about them. I now tend to save them on my computer, which means I could look at them occasionally, but I never do. Since I’m rather disorganized elsewhere in my life, these lists are usually lost, then turn up accidentally while I’m going through old notebooks or papers and files. The best thing about these occasional findings is remembering what I dreamt about long ago, and what I can check off.

Much to my surprise, I seem to have had a plan for how I wanted things to be. I have the two kids, a house by the ravine, work I can do from home, a Master’s degree—all things that have appeared on my life’s grocery lists over the years. I think it comes back to the notion that putting something on a list legitimizes it and increases the likelihood that it might actually happen, whether you’re talking about getting a new job, having another baby, or buying Cheerios.

-Pat Barford

Interview: Steve Krug

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“Wow! What an interesting notion: consciously making myself into not-Jakob and not-Jared.”In April 2004, Boxes and Arrows sent a set of questions to Steve Krug for an interview to be published in the June edition. What we didn’t know at the time was that Steve is a notoriously slow and methodical writer. Eleven months later, to our great delight, this interview turned up. Thanks Steve!

BA: So Steve, what have you been up to since you wrote Don’t Make Me Think?

SK: Well, it’s going on five years. How much detail would you like?

I still spend some of my time doing the same client work I’ve always done, mostly expert reviews. But the nicest change for me is that now I also get to travel around with Lou Rosenfeld, teaching our public workshops, and I really love doing them. This spring, we’re going to San Diego, Boston, and Denver.

The other big change is that I have a lot more email to answer (or to try to answer). Maybe this would be a good chance for me to offer a public apology to anyone who’s ever tried to reach me by email and not heard back, especially in the last year. If you write me again, I promise I’ll get back to you. The problem is I can’t seem to bring myself to use canned replies, so I end up writing the same answer from scratch again and again, so I always have a backlog. It’d be fine if I was avoiding boilerplate on principle, but it’s really more of a character defect thing.

BA: What was the trigger for your book?

SK: Honestly? I wrote it so I could double my consulting rates.

I’d been doing usability consulting for almost years, and a lot of my clients had taken to introducing me as a usability “guru.” (Don’t get me started on the whole guru thing.) But when it came to billing, I felt a little like the Scarecrow in Oz: if only I had a certificate or a testimonial or something, I would have felt more comfortable charging high-end rates.

So when Roger Black asked me if I wanted to write a book (his design firm, Circle.com, was going to do a whole series of books about web design subjects), I more or less jumped at the chance. I’d always felt that a big part of my consulting work was educating my clients, so I knew I had a book about usability in me—as long as it was a short book. Of course, I was completely unclear on the concept that writing it would eat up an entire year of my life, otherwise I never would’ve started.

The funny thing is, not long after I finished the book I learned from several people who I trusted in the business that I could have doubled my rates anyway, since I was seriously undercharging. Live and learn.

BA: OK, so now you to tell me about the guru thing. How do you feel about being called a guru?

SK: Don’t get me wrong: I think I’m pretty good at this usability stuff. I’ve always been interested in how people learn to use things, and I’ve been at it for a long time now, so at this point I have no qualms about thinking of myself as an expert—saying I do “expert reviews,” for instance. And believe me, it’s a very flattering to have somebody call you a guru. I highly recommend it, if you ever have the chance.

But I think the reason why you hear so much about usability “gurus” goes back to the point I was trying to make in the “Religious Debates” cartoon in Don’t Make Me Think. One of the problems web teams face is that we all have a lot of personal experience as web users, so we all think we know what makes a site good (i.e., the kinds of things we like). As a result, most design discussions are full of strong (to put it mildly) personal opinions, usually disguised as facts (“Nobody like pull-downs”).

And if you’re trying to settle a religious debate (so you can just get the darned thing built), it’s very appealing to have someone you can turn to for definitive answers (hence the quasi-religious term “guru”).

The odd thing is, I wrote a book that spends most of its time explaining that there aren’t many definitive answers, just a few useful guiding principles. But maybe that’s what people really expect from gurus, anyway.

BA: You have a very different persona than the other big gurus of usability: Jakob Nielsen and Jared Spool. Have you consciously shaped your image as a complement/contrast to them?

SK: Wow! What an interesting notion: consciously making myself into not-Jakob and not-Jared.

Not that I haven’t been concerned about my public image. Since the book came out, it’s been important to me that whatever image people have is pretty much like me. I always feel good, for instance, when I meet someone who’s read the book and they end up saying, “Oh, you’re just like your book.”

I guess you’re right, though: if you did the user research on the three of us and came up with personas, they’d be pretty different. (Although I did learn recently from one of Jakob’s interviews that that we were both big fans of Donald Duck comics when we were kids. Of course, Jakob was reading them in Copenhagen and I was in suburban Long Island.)

But I tend to think that all three of our public personas are just reflections of who we really are. (Jakob’s really smart and opinionated and not afraid to stick to his guns, for instance, and I think Jared really enjoys being irascible.)

BA: Have you considered writing another book?

SK: I’ve had another one rattling around in my head for a long time, but given that I practically bankrupted us while writing Think, it’s always been up to Melanie whether I’d do another one. A few months ago she finally said it was up to me (I guess it’s a little like childbirth: the memory had finally faded enough), so I’m working on one now. Another short book.

BA: About?

SK: A how-to book that explains how to do low-cost/no-cost do-it-yourself usability testing.

BA: But that isn’t really true, is it?

SK: Well, no, you’re right. It was true eight months ago when I wrote that answer. But in the meantime I’ve had a change of heart, and decided to do an updated edition of Don’t Make Me Think first, then write the how-to testing book. The second edition of Think is due out later this year.

BA: How is a seminar different from a book? How is your seminar different from your book?

SK: Is this a riddle? Or a wossname…a conundrum? “How is a seminar different from a book?” Like “When is a door not a door?”

I guess the difference is that in the book, I tried to explain how I think about usability problems, and in the workshop I try to demonstrate how I think about them. I do a live usability test to show how you can get lots of valuable insights—usually more than you can use—in very little time, with very little skill. And I do a lot of quick (ten minute) expert reviews of URLs submitted by attendees. People seem to find them very useful.

I think watching somebody do what they do and explain how they do it is a great way to learn how to do it yourself. I used to love watching Pablo Casals teaching master classes on public television back in the early sixties (I guess it was actually called “educational television” at the time), even though I had no interest in ever playing the cello.

One of the things I think is most useful about the workshop is that people see that there really isn’t that much to what I do (as my corporate motto says, “It’s not rocket surgeryTM“), which encourages them to try it themselves. Also, almost every topic that people want me to discuss comes up in the URLs that we look at, and a lot of people get a “free” expert review out of it.

BA: How has the field changed (or not) since your book was published?

SK: Well, a lot of people who got dragooned into doing usability and IA by big web design shops during the tulip mania ended up marooned when it collapsed. So it’s been a tough few years for a lot of people.

I think all of Jakob’s hard work over the years has had an enormously valuable effect: most people in the computer world are at least aware of usability.

On the other hand, though, there’s one thing I don’t think has happened: I don’t think most companies have decided that usability spending should be part of every development budget. I think there’s more usability work going on than there was four years ago, but for the most part companies still don’t expect to spend real time or money on it.

BA: If someone wrote you (and I’ll bet they do) to ask how they can break into the usability field, what advice would you give?

SK: I do get a lot of email asking how to break into the glamorous, high-paying field of web usability. Since the market has been so bad, though, unless they seem to have a fair amount of experience under their belt already, I’ve usually tried to gently explain that this might not be the best time to enter the field, given the number of experienced people who seem to be having a hard time keeping themselves busy.

But I suppose it’s about time for that advice to change again, since the market seems to have thinned out the herd quite a bit. The best advice I can give is to spend a bunch of time watching people try to use stuff (i.e., do some informal usability testing). And I send them to the UPA site, which has some pretty good lists of resources, and tell them to attend the UPA conference, which tends to be excellent. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the degree programs to tell people anything useful about them.

BA: I’ve heard a complaint that the “anyone can do it” approach to usability discredits the value that trained user researchers bring to the table, and causes over-reliance on what may be faulty data gathered badly. What’s your take on this contention?

SK: Hey, what happened to the softball questions? And who said that, anyway? I want names. This will probably end up being a whole chapter in the how-to testing book, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

  • Frequent, iterative, small-sample testing is almost always one of the most valuable things you can do to improve the quality of a design. But this happens not to be something that fits very well into the consultant model (especially the “frequent, iterative” part), and most companies don’t have the budget for a full-time usability person.
  • On any project, there are several (or dozens) of usability-related design questions to be decided every day, so having a consultant review things occasionally just isn’t enough. It’s important for team members (and stakeholders) to have some basic knowledge of usability.
  • My experience is that the most significant problems tend to surface in even the worst-run tests, as long as you iterate a few times. (You usually almost can’t help tripping over them.) And since most organizations rarely have time to fix even the most significant problems, finding more than that is often a waste of time.
  • I’ve seen very little evidence that “amateurs” make their products worse by watching people use what they’re building. (I’ve also had some usability professionals tell me that they’re sometimes horrified by the work they see some other “professionals” deliver. I haven’t had that experience myself, but I don’t see that many other people’s work products.)

That said, I always recommend that any organization that can afford to hire a usability professional should hire one, even if it’s only to train [people within the company] to do it themselves.

BA: There has been a lot of buzz lately on ROI of design and usability. What’s your take on that?

SK: Uh, oh. In every interview, there’s one question where I think, “Now I’m going to get myself in real trouble.” My personal take?

“Proving” usability ROI is really hard work. There are good reasons why you don’t see very many usability ROI case studies: they’re very time-consuming and expensive to create, especially one that legitimately controls for confounding variables. And if a company does go to the trouble of creating one, it’s probably going to be proprietary anyway.

But more importantly, I think most companies that need ROI-style “proof” to convince them to “do usability” probably aren’t going to do great work anyway.

BA: You have attended almost every IA summit, and are now touring with Lou Rosenfeld, one of the papas of IA. How do you see IA and Usability fitting together?

SK: Like a lot of people, my knowledge of IA dates back to the day when I first encountered the polar bear book. I read about two-thirds of it at one sitting, and when I was done, the pages were dripping yellow highlighter fluid (literally). Lou and Peter were talking about website design in a way that no one else had, so it was a real page-turner.

For me, one of the differences between the two fields is that information architects can actually build things, whereas usability folks mostly help people tweak things they’ve designed. (Although I have to admit that I get annoyed sometimes when people suggest that usability is just criticism. Most of the practitioners I know are very good at helping people figure out the best design solutions.)

As far as fitting together, I think there’s a lot of overlap. I’d certainly trust Lou to do a usability review of any website, and I think he’d trust me to advise a client on uncomplicated IA issues. But I think I’d also recognize where the issues are over my head, where I need to suggest calling in a pro. If you put me on a desert island with a laptop for a hundred years, for instance (with solar batteries), I still couldn’t construct a faceted classification scheme.

BA: In your opinion, what is one of the most usable sites out there today? Why?

SK: Completely predictable and boring answer, I’m afraid: Google. Someone asked me around the time of their IPO why Google is such a big deal, and I realized that I think it’s because the people who created it were more interested in coming up with something useful than something they could market.

They had a bright idea, and they created something that solves a real problem really well. Not perfect, but practical. And they’re restrained. Like Jeff Hawkins with the Palm Pilot, they fought off feature creep really well. Microsoft seems to have brilliant people and they do great research, but they never seem to have great ideas and carry them out with restraint. They always seem to be looking for the ideal (but cumbersome and buggy) solution rather than something “good enough” and workable. A lot of companies get suckered into trying to solve a huge problem (such as creating robot cars) when what most people really want and need is an adequate solution to a lesser problem (like power steering, or a robust, non-distracting navigation system…or maybe just road maps that are easier to fold up).

Plus I really like Google’s corporate motto “Do no evil.” It helps for your company to be a mensch.

BA: I hear you are using a new Tablet PC. What’re your thoughts on its usability?

SK: It’s actually the first new technology I’ve gotten excited about in years. As my wife will tell you, I’ve always had a pretty serious gadget jones. But for quite a while now, I’ve been pretty jaded. New technology always seems to eat up far more of my time than it’s worth.

I’ve always thought Tablet PCs were a great idea, ever since I wrote the user manual for one back in the late eighties. But it was one of those technologies that always seemed like it was five to ten years away, like artificial intelligence and speech recognition.

When I decided to do another book, somehow suddenly the idea of a Tablet PC seemed attractive for one reason: when I’m writing, I like to sketch lots and lots of illustrations as part of the process of figuring out what I mean. But the sketches always end up on random scraps of paper in the stacks around my office. Somehow, I felt like if I could actually sketch on the computer screen and insert the sketches right in the middle of what I was writing, it would help…somehow.

Adopting the Tablet PC did end up being a lot of work (it always takes a week out of my life when I switch to a new computer), but it’s really changed the way I work with the computer.

As usual, though, it turns out that the most valuable part isn’t what I expected (drawing) but something unanticipated. I’ve been trying to get speech recognition to work for me for years, through half a dozen upgrades of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and ViaVoice, and they’ve come a long way in increasing accuracy. But it turns out that no matter what you do speech recognition is always going to be n% inaccurate, so you’re always going to be making some corrections, which eats up any time you save by dictating. But it turns out that the solution (at least for me) isn’t to raise the bridge (make fewer errors) but to lower the water (make correcting them easier). Being able to select the errors with a pen makes correcting them much, much easier, to the point where it’s almost fun. I dictate all my email now, and I’m trying to use it while writing book chapters. And the handwriting recognition on the Tablet PC is eerily accurate.

I could go on for an hour about the Tablet PC. But I’ve already spent enough time on this interview to write a book chapter, so….

Crossing Boundaries: 2005 IA Summit Wrapup: Overview and Pre-Sessions

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“Overall, the goals of many IAs seem to be maturing with the practitioners themselves, from simple classification to reorganizing business, and perhaps society itself.”This year marks the sixth IA Summit; it was also my sixth summit. I was lucky enough to have attended the first one in Boston, and it is almost amusing to consider that at the time, the main question seemed to be “is this IA thing going to hang around, and should it?” Later conferences, we would flagellate ourselves endlessly about what IA was; but at that moment, IA was like a scent of a freshly baked pie floating in the air, and we all wondered if it would still be there by the time we could track down where it was located.

Not so this year in Montreal. While some people might be still wondering how to define it; no one is asking if it will last. The canon is solid, the tools are recognized, the methods enshrined and the goals shared. IAs read the Polar Bear and a few others, they use Visio and a few others, they do personas and card sorts and they all care deeply about retrieval. It’s this platform of agreement that is precious, in my opinion, because it allows for practitioners and researchers to then go beyond the platform. The canon admittedly hasn’t added much new work since the odd bubbling up of books that happened a few years ago, but perhaps that will change soon since everything else is alive and mutating. Tools and methods are steadily growing to include many new approaches and occasionally new software. This year, folksonomies and RIA’s1 both generated lively discussion, creating camps of black and white “yer either fer us or agin us” debate.

5 LessonsThe contentious attitude of many of the boosters and detractors of folksonomies distracted from the fact that a truly new categorization method rose out of engineering communtiy rather than the IA community that spends every waking hour thinking about organization systems. Nevertheless, the IAs named it (natch) and at the moment they look to be the ones who will figure out how to take the best of the world of tagging and world of controlled vocabularies to make an even more powerful system. After an energetic boostering of folksonomies by Thomas Vanderwal, and a razor-sharp dissection of their weakness by Peter Morville, Peter Merholtz—who has been known in the past to take extreme positions with much handwaving—offered up a wonderfully balanced perspective on the nature of the folksonomy that pointed to a best-of-both worlds solution of blending strength. He also waxed poetic as he appreciated moments of beauty in collaborative classification choices, epitomized by the Flickr categories “color” and “me.” I have hopes for the future of folksonomies, with champions like these.

The RIA panel, thankfully, has moved on from warring between the “flash” and “dhtml” camps, to a more inclusive and sensibly contextual perspective on the application of RIA. They have even embraced the newly minted term “ajax” into their vocabulary. I’m pleased to see the IA community grabbing onto technologies and approaches originally seen as being purely the domain of interaction design and adopting them to the benefit of all. Also from the category of “not actually IA, but… ” Karl Fast’s compelling talk on information visualization experiments fueled the fire for those who believe that, as the title of the Summit suggests, boundaries are made to be crossed. Rats and the mazeAs an aside, I would like to say that in my opinion, Karl’s talks are among the most compelling given at this and previous Summits and his research promotes the creative brain to bubble with innovative ideas. I hope more academics will bring their emerging research to practitioner forums such as the Summit and B&A, so that their ideas can manifest themselves into new products for humans.

Beyond technology and technique, this summit revealed the goals of information architecture are evolving beyond the usual ones of retrieval via search and browse. I suppose that a conference that opens with a keynote speech from B.J. Fogg, groundbreaker in the new science of persuasive technology, would throw traditional findability goals into question. In recent Summits, IAs have admitted that the idea of a platonic organization system is a false one; our choices in categorization always reflect our own biases and values; for example, the Dewey decimal’s religion category. But this Summit was the first time where I heard IAs talk of actively shaping world views via taxonomies as opposed to merely passively reflecting user values.

A talk on global IA reveals that the Maori are not offended as much as displaced by Dewey’s organization system, which ignores their traditional ancestor-categories. Another talk spoke of creating environments that would promote organizational rigor or creativity via labeling and hierarchy choices. It doesn’t take much imagination to theorize the future lies in various countries’ websites designed to promote their values, from freedom to collectivism. Sitting next to Norwegian and Japanese IAs, I overheard low murmurs of concern over the “disneyification” of classification via the web, where organizations would be as flat and stereotypical as the small world ride in Anaheim. Could something as innocuous as classification be a form of propaganda?

Additionally, persuasion approaches was reflected on a personal scale in talks such as Dan Willis’s motivating talk on evangelism (which I sadly missed, but experienced via the buzz over “poets” and “pirates” in the hall.), Jess Mcullin’ personal scenario planning, and Thom Haller’s special brand of IA actualization techniques. Its clear IAs are questioning their identity and reaching out to other disciplines to learn, much in the way a tree explores the neighbor’s property with its root system as it looks to feed its growth.

Beyond the hearts-and-minds goals of IA, I also noticed a rising pragmatism, most clearly manifested in the well attended Business Design BOF. Admittedly, the conversation degenerated into the usual “how do I get people to take me seriously”, but a few intriguing ideas also arose, such as contextual value of approaches within different markets, and the opportunity to apply design/IA thinking to business problems (perhaps not a new concept to the growing number of IA’s who carry HBR and Business Week around, but a compelling one)2. Solving a classic business problem was addressed in a terrific presentation by Richard Dalton, in which the popular mental model process3 was transformed to analyze weaknesses and opportunities in business strategy. It worked so well and seemed to be so eminently sensible I felt myself briefly wondering if I had seen it before. It was a glorious duh moment, the kind that makes you change what you do when you get back to the office.

Overall, the goals of many IAs seem to be maturing with the practitioners themselves, from simple classification to reorganizing business, and perhaps society itself. It’s unsurprising then, that the summit itself came under scrutiny by many attendees. Many many talks were so deeply entrenched in the typical “canon” of knowledge, that this was the first Summit where there were fair numbers of folks chatting during the presentations as well as breaks. With four talks being given simultaneously, I think this should be cause for concern by next years’ Summit committee. While 60% of the attendees are new and certainly will love another talk on taxonomies or faceted classification (especially if it is as taut and intriguing as the one given by the Yahoo folks, finally sharing their stockpile of knowledge), the Summit should consider how to serve its earliest audience who are now maturing in their practice. Should it give them up, letting them grow into other conferences and events–such as the IA retreat, the newest forum for conversations of edge topics–or should it look hard at themed tracking, perhaps adding an advanced and/or “weird” experimental track? I can imagine inviting IxD to design a track. or even consider an industrial design track. Of course, the Summit could simply concentrate on serving the new folks who are hungry to learn this now proven discipline, and continue to build out on the proven themes.

So were boundaries crossed, at the Summit, as the theme promised? I would say that the many boundaries of IA were discovered; it will be up to next year’s planning committee to decide if they should build walls on them, or erase the lines and let the next generation continue to move the edges of IA farther and farther out.
Christina Wodtke

1Rich Internet Application: website/pages that use rich technologies such as flash and dhtml and take advantage of late-release browser penetration to recreate desktop functionality online.
2New Business and Design mailing list
3Documented in Re-Architecting PeopleSoft from the Top Down by Janice Fraser

Overview & Pre-sessions | Saturday Sessions | Sunday & Monday Sessions

Pre-Session Summaries

Thursday, March 3

Paper, Scotch Tape, and Post-Its – a Recipe for Paper Prototyping
Todd Warfel

Todd Warfel led a great four-hour workshop on the first day on paper prototyping. The workshop began with a presentation on the advantages and disadvantages of paper prototyping: the advantages being focused on cost and efficiency and the disadvantages on incompleteness of design. Then the presentation moved towards more practicalities such as tools of the trade and the dos and don’ts of paper prototyping. Todd takes a very hands-off practice to usability testing, and encouraged us all to try to be as invisible as possible when moderating any usability testing, let a lone a paper prototyping session. After the presentation the audience of close to 15 had a chance to do the work ourselves. We were given a problem, had to make a quick design, and then create a paper prototype that we would ask another participant not on our design team to try out. Todd’s presentation was quite good. It was fairly organized, and he demonstrated a keen expertise of the subject matter.
David Heller

Oxygen Meetings: How to Get Diverse Teams to Solve Difficult Problems
Daniel Willis

This, by far, was the best of the three pre-conference workshops I went to. Dan presents and teaches an invaluable tool for anyone who has to lead meetings where the goal is not presentation, but rather extraction of information towards a decision. Dan is also a very up-beat and interactive presenter, always articulating his points well, and engaging his audience/students throughout.

An “oxygen meeting” is a meeting where a cross-functional team is brought together to complete an objective. The workshop was meant to teach the students when to use such a meeting and how to lead such a meeting. The objective of an oxygen meeting and more importantly for its leader is to create a common language among the group, extract (not supply) expertise, and then focus on solving a tangible and well-defined problem.

We were separated into pairs, and each dyad had to facilitate a meeting around a supplied problem. All four teams did great, and we had a lot of material to dissect and learn from. Dan demonstrated a keen ability to observe and dissect behavior and thus was really able to give strong and accurate direction to the group.
David Heller

Friday, March 4

Leveraging Business Value: The ROI of UX
Janice Fraser

This workshop was a presentation of the work that Adaptive Path and students from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted and published. The central theme of this research is that the more an organization attempts to measure ROI and bring user experience efforts and outcomes into that measurement, the more of a return user experience professionals can provide to the organization. The primary outcome of the research was a great means of articulating the maturity of an organizations relationship with user experience in the form of a staircase model with criteria, so that you can evaluate your own organization against that model to determine how far you have to go towards really gaining value from your user experience design team.

This work is connected to the issue of speaking the language of stakeholders in order to better make the case for bringing design from merely a tactical service agency in the organization to a true contributor of the strategy development at the executive level. The presentation further went into how we might ourselves do this work of measuring value. First, we find an indicator that shows the behavioral change that is being addressed in the problem statement. Then, we measure for that indicator and compare the value of that change against the investment made to create it.

A key phrase that stuck with me as we were leaving was a discussion on the value of Research & Development. Janice said, “You can’t put an ROI on R&D. ROI process will squash innovation.”
David Heller

Overview & Pre-sessions | Saturday Sessions | Sunday & Monday Sessions