IDEA 2008: An Interview with Andrew Hinton

As IDEA 2008 draws closer, the IA Institute is conducting a series of interviews with the speakers for the conference. As Event Coordinator for IDEA, I fill a variety of roles, including the Interviewer of IDEA Presenters (which I proudly share with Liz Danzico).

This is the second interview in the series, and this time I pulled the name of Andrew Hinton, Lead Information Architect at Vanguard, from the virtual hat. You may recognize Andrew as the presenter of the closing plenary for the IA Summit in Miami this year. Andrew’s blog is Inkblurt and don’t be surprised if you end up engrossed in it and feel as if you are getting a free education!

RU: How did you get your start in Interaction/Information Design?

AH: As far as technology-based work, I did some very rudimentary interface work when I was learning a bit of Apple BASIC & Pascal back in high school. But I’d say my first real challenge was when I had a job at a small medical office as their office manager, and all they had was a typewriter and a telephone. I talked them into getting a computer (a Mac Plus), and buying a database package (something called Double Helix), and letting me build a client accounts system for them.
Trouble was, I had to design it so that my exceedingly tech-phobic co- workers could use it, which forced me to think hard about interface design.
Of course, that was just a part-time job when I was in graduate school. My academic background (Philosophy, Literature & Creative Writing) taught me a lot about making difficult ideas understandable with language — and I think that’s at the core of any information- design challenge. That background continues to be a help for me.

RU: How did you get your start as a presenter?

AH: I’ve been doing stuff in front of crowds since I was a kid. Everything from playing music in a bluegrass band when I was about ten to oratory and debate in high school. Plus drama & choir and the band I had in college. Then there’s the teaching I did while in grad school, and I won’t even go into the preaching I did as a teenager in a big suburban Southern Baptist church.
As far as speaking at conferences, I started sending in proposals to the IA Summit and got one accepted, and sort of got on a roll.

RU: What should the audience take away from your talk?

AH: Well, I suppose details are still emerging. The topic is context, and what technology is doing to upset our deeply ingrained assumptions about context — socially and otherwise. But in general, I’d say I’m more interested in asking questions than answering them. That is, I hope it gets people talking.

RU: Who do you look to for inspiration?

AH: That’s tough. I’d have to say my major inspiration is my kid. She’s the future I’m designing for, in more ways than one.
In terms of people I read or look up to, for me it’s all over the place. I grab inspiration from wherever I can find it. Lately I’ve been really into watching presentations from the Long Now Foundation, for instance. The one by Will Wright & Brian Eno is especially amazing. But I also find my imagination-head needs input from things like movies, fiction, biographies, documentaries about almost anything.

RU: You’ve mentioned your daughter before–both in presentations and at least a couple of times in some of the post-IA Summit Y! Live sessions that we were both in. She seems like a really great kid, and as a daughter-daddy myself, I think it’s great when I hear others in our community really getting in to “the future as our children”. As crazy as our worlds can be with work and other obligations, the IA / IxD / UX world seems to be ripe with really great parents.
What’s your favorite way to communicate with people who aren’t in the same room with you?

AH: I like a lot of different methods — and one thing I love about this age we live in is the great variety we now have for communicating. There seems to be a whole new species of communication cropping up every few years, and they all seem to emerge from the nuanced needs we have for how we connect. So, really it’s very contextual for me. I like whatever tool feels most suited for the kind of communicating I’m trying to do at the moment.
It’s easier to say my least favorite — that’s the garden-variety conference call. So little context, so little sense of physical reaction. Plus the awful noise-reduction circuitry on most speaker phones makes it even harder to pick up on subtle verbal cues. I always come out of conference calls feeling anxious & exhausted.

RU: And now, a 2-parter. A lot of people know your name, have heard you speak in the past, quote your blog, and you’re thought highly of (this interviewer is included in that group). How has being a presenter and conference-attendee helped you improve upon your career?

AH: Presenting has been a big help, mainly in my own head. By that I mean … First, the pressure of presenting on a topic forces me to grapple with it in a rigorous way I’m too lazy to do otherwise, which results in having my ideas sorted out in my work a lot better as well.
Second, it’s a decent confidence boost that helps me stick up for the user with more authority than I might otherwise be able to in the daily grind.
Even just going to conferences has been very helpful though. The User Experience Design world is so distributed and virtual — we’re all in each other’s heads, mediated through electronics and words.

Periodically being able to look each other in the eye is incredibly important to keeping all that grounded.
And I don’t know how this “thought highly of” business got going, obviously you’ve never seen me after a conference call!

RU: Part 2. What would you recommend to people who are just getting started in the field and who are interested in becoming more active in the industry—or who just want to follow in your footsteps.

AH: It means a lot to get involved in your community of practice. You don’t realize what an impact it makes on people around you, but it’s huge. Find some problem that needs solving that tickles your fancy, some skill or service that the community could benefit from that you get a kick out of working on, and dive in. Lurking is fine at times, but if you want to be “active in the industry” you have to engage. You can engage the conversation at any level, as long as you have a sense
of humor & perspective about it. And read all kinds of stuff — don’t just read “design” crap all the time. We all breathe each other’s air way too much, and it’s important to get ideas from outside the UX bubble.
As for my footsteps, I don’t recommend them — mainly because I don’t know that I could’ve walked those steps on purpose if I’d tried. Which is to say, follow what obsesses and excites you, whatever crazy path that might take you down, and there’s probably somebody somewhere willing to pay you for doing it well.

RU: I’ve said to many people that a lot of us have not come by our current roles honestly. That is, almost everything that you stated above. I’m trying to say that I think your footsteps are fairly common for the more “seasoned” folks in the industry. Do you have an opinion on where the User Experience Designer of tomorrow will evolve from?

AH:There are already formal curricula out there that are bringing older practitioner skills and learning into the User Experience space, and from what I can tell they’re doing a great job. If I hadn’t burned out on graduate education long ago, I’d consider going to a program myself. That said, I think UX is inherently a hands-on practice, and has to be done to be understood. Doing the work is the only way to get better at it. So whether newer folks get a head start on that from internships or studio work in school, it’ll be necessary eventually anyway. The other thing is that, this field is evolving so quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see people from many other fields coming into the fold and showing us new, amazing things they know how to do that we hadn’t thought of. For example, I keep running across news items from the neuroscience world (which is exploding lately with amazing new knowledge) and finding it incredibly applicable to UX work. UX design will always need cross-disciplinary input, and practitioners who adapt and evolve with the work itself.

 

About Andrew Hinton

Since 1990, Andrew Hinton has worked as a designer, instructor, writer and consultant of various stripes in the healthcare, financial, consumer and manufacturing industries. Clients have been small and large, including Fortune 500s such as American Express, Shaw, Wachovia and Kimberly-Clark. Andrew is now a Lead Information Architect in mutual-fund giant Vanguard’s User Experience Group.

From his pre-Web education, Andrew holds a BA in Philosophy, an MA in Literature and an MFA in Writing. He’s a regular speaker at conferences like the IA Summit, and sometimes writes for publications like Boxes & Arrows. His current obsessions include Communities of Practice, social design factors, what games teach us about design, and the meaning of context in digital spaces.

A co-founder of the IA Institute, he serves on its Board of Advisors. He also keeps a home on the web at inkblurt.com.

 

About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access)

This conference addresses issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world. Where “cyberspace” is a meaningless term because the online and offline worlds cannot be made distinct. Where physical spaces are so complex that detailed wayfinding is necessary to navigate them. Where work processes have become so involved, and so digitized, that we need new processes to manage those processes.

This conference brings together people who are addressing these challenges head on. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will discuss designing complex information spaces in the physical and virtual worlds.

IDEA 2008: An Interview with Bill DeRouchey

As IDEA 2008 draws closer, the IA Institute is conducting a series of interviews with the speakers for the conference. As Event Coordinator for IDEA, I fill a variety of roles, including the Interviewer of IDEA Presenters (which I proudly share with Liz Danzico).

For this interview, I was fortunate to draw Bill DeRouchey’s name. If his name is not familiar to you, some of his work should be. Bill’s blog is Push. Click. Touch. and his Conversations with Everyday Objects presentation is one that is well worth your time.

RU: How did you get your start in Interaction/Information Design?

BD: Like most people working in interaction design, I arrived from a lateral discipline. I had been an information architect working strictly on web projects from 2000-2004, either within an agency or as a consultant, respectively before and after the tech collapse. Prior to that, I had experience in writing, coding, product marketing, web producing, and then all the way back to my early days doing layout of computer science textbooks. So I had many angles on "tech."
In 2004, I was hired as an IA by Ziba Design, a product design company, not an obvious match. But they had a few website projects and asked me to come aboard. I quickly began working on physical products and learned interaction design along the way. Yes, I got lucky. I still take an architecture / flow / structure / behavior / systems approach to IxD, as opposed to the visual design side of it.

RU: It sounds like you’re relatively "young" to the field, but you’re well-known and well-respected in a short amount of time.  How did you get your start as a presenter?

BD: I blame/thank Christina Wodtke for starting me as a presenter. A few months after I started at Ziba, I signed up for a Future of IA retreat in Asilomar, by Monterrey, CA. During registration, Christina asked me "what are you going to present?" Uhhh… So I pitched a talk called the IA of Things discussing my transition from digital to physical products, and the challenges of documenting physical interaction. Later after gentle prodding from Dave Malouf, I finally realized I was talking about interaction design. But that weekend seriously changed my career because I got to meet 40 incredible people, many of which I now consider friends. I discovered I enjoyed pitching weird questions and wrapping presentations around them, such as, what is the history of the button?

RU: I think a lot of us put some of the blame on Christina–and she’s a self-proclaimed talent scout. I’d say she’s on the mark!
What should the audience take away from your talk?

BD: Besides their empty coffee cups? If people took only one thing away from my talk, I’d love it if people saw that they can find UI inspiration almost anywhere and expand their design eye from pure onscreen experiences to any interface out there. Gas pumps, thermostats, crosswalk, elevators, mall signage, anything. Every one of these interfaces affects how someone thinks about technology or information, so there’s always a lesson to be discovered within them. If just five people went home and really looked at their alarm clock for the first time to figure out the design decisions that were made when building it, I’d be happy. We’re going to need a lot more product UI designers in the coming years, and they’re going to come from onscreen UI designers. The job opportunities aren’t all there yet, but the opportunity to learn always is.

RU: Who do you look to for inspiration?

It may be cliche, but my parents. My dad was always the king of the many projects, but he saw most of them through and has done some really amazing things. He started programming somewhere around 1970 on DECs and VAXs and eventually started his own company whose flagship product (UAP-LINK) transferred files across different systems, DEC to VAX, VAX to IBM, etc. A few years ahead of his time. He taught me to program in C when I was still in high school and I did some coding for his company. So my first computer experience was learning CP/M on a DEC PDP-11 and playing Adventure, thanks to him. Then about 20 years later, he built his own plane. He built an RV-10 kit, riveting pieces together for three years during the day while he coded his own instrument panel at night. It’s a gorgeous piece of work and flies perfectly. And my mom will remodel her place in her spare time. Reconfigure the kitchen, build new dressers, sew up quilts, re-mud the ceiling, whatever.
Incredible to see. So I get my Get Stuff Done inspiration from my parents.

RU: Your dad sounds pretty amazing, and it’s interesting to see what other fathers in this space are starting to do with their own kids (Matt Milan and I seem to be teaching the best of the worst IA traits to ours) and how something that used to be considered pretty nerdy/geeky is starting to be viewed a bit differently.
This is a set-up question: What’s your favorite way to communicate with people who aren’t in the same room with you?

Do I have only 140 characters to say it in? Yeah, it’d have to be Twitter. It’s been an amazing tool to stay connected with people that I’ve met at various events and friends here in town. It’s really damn hard to stay connected with all the people we know, so Twitter does a fine job at maintaining that connection by hearing about their lives.

As David Weinberger said, "intimacy is in the details."

RU: Last question, and this is a doozy: Over the course of 2008, you and I have become “friends”–at least I’d say that, and I believe you’ve said that. We most likely will not meet face-to-face until October at IDEA in Chicago, yet I’d say we have built a level of trust and respect for each other–we’ve even worked “virtually” on putting together a panel presentation for SXSW together. How do you think that happened, and who should we blame?

This fascinates me too. It’s true. We’ve never met face to face and we’ve only talked on the phone once, but we’ve had enough online interaction to build both trust and friendship. How the hell is that possible? Tracing it back is an interesting case study. On Twitter, I noticed a few friends (people I have met f2f and trust) keep talking to @russu. Okay, I’ll see what this guy is up to. Seems harmless enough, okay, follow. Then we made some connection on music, and the conversation developed from there. But is this really different at all from meeting people in the “real world”? You meet through mutual friends, connect on something simple, and then just keep talking. That’s the beauty of Twitter. People are giving you many opportunities to connect in some way. Sometimes it clicks and you make a new friend. If you never actually meet, so what? Yes, it’d be a shame, but geography should never be a barrier to connecting with other people.

 

About Bill DeRouchey

Bill has over fifteen years experience as a writer, information architect, product manager and now senior interaction designer with Ziba Design in Portland, Oregon. With Ziba, he frames and details the experience, flow, and interaction on consumer and medical products. Bill also writes about the variety and history of interaction design in everyday experiences on his blog, Push Click Touch, and is a frequent speaker at industry events. He is determined to stretch how people think about interaction design, from beyond the pure digital to any interaction between humans and the artifacts they create. Bill is on the Board of Directors of IxDA, the Interaction Design Association, and serves as Treasurer.

 

About IDEA (Information Design Experience Access)

This conference addresses issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world. Where “cyberspace” is a meaningless term because the online and offline worlds cannot be made distinct. Where physical spaces are so complex that detailed wayfinding is necessary to navigate them. Where work processes have become so involved, and so digitized, that we need new processes to manage those processes.

This conference brings together people who are addressing these challenges head on. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will discuss designing complex information spaces in the physical and virtual worlds.

Leading Designers to New Frontiers

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Adaptive Path’s “MX San Francisco”:http://www.adaptivepath.com/events/2008/apr/: Managing Experience through Creative Leadership took place in San Francisco between April 20-22. The conference focused on helping managers and designers deal with the complexity, challenges, and opportunities that make every day so entertaining.

Jeff Parks and Chris Baum sat down with several of the conference speakers and organizers to further examine the issues that the sessions revealed.

You can also follow the Boxes and Arrows podcasts on:
iTunes     Del.icio.us     B&A MX podcast theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Creating the Next iPodCordell Ratzlaff
I had the pleasure of speaking with Cordell Ratzlaff about his presentation “Creating the next iPod”. Cordell is leading product design for Cisco’s voice, video, and web collaboration products. We discuss the necessity of creating a great corporate culture in order to create great products.


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Interactions and RelationshipsRichard Anderson
Chris Baum, editor-in-chief for Boxes and Arrows sits down with editor-in-chief for Interactions Magazine, Richard Anderson at MX San Francisco to discuss the different techniques, and skill sets it takes to develop and publish to the IA and UX communities.


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New Interactions: Enlightened Trial and ErrorBjörn Hartmann
Björn Hartmann and I discuss his presentation entitled New Interactions: Enlightened Trial And Error. and how he is leading work in design tools for pervasive computing, sensor based interactions, and design by modifications. Björn is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction at Stanford University and Editor-in-Chief of Ambidextrous magazine, Stanford’s Journal of Design.


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Chocolate and User ExperienceMichael Recchiuti
Michael Recchiuti talks about the experience of making chocolate and how different flavors inspire new creations for the business and his customers. Looking at different professions outside of the web world in which most UX practitioners work can inspire innovation and creativity.


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Round Table Discussion with Adaptive Path and Boxes and ArrowsChris Baum, Brandon Schauer, Sarah Nelson, Henning Fischer, and Ryan Freitas
We start with a mash-up of these brief interviews followed by a round table discussion with editor-in-cheif at Boxes and Arrows Chris Baum, and four members of the Adaptive Path team including Brandon Schauer, Henning Fischer, Sarah Nelson, and Ryan Freitas about these comments and their own impressions of MX.


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Thanks to “Adaptive Path”:http://www.adaptivepath.com/ for sponsoring these podcasts.

IA Summit 2008, Day 1

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The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2008/sessioncal.html) starting on April 12.

Day 1, April 12 | “Day 2, April 13”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-2 | “Day 3, April 14”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-3

Podcasts will appear on this page as we produce them from the audio files so please check back regularly or subscribe to the iTunes feed below.

iTunes     Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Journey to the Center of DesignJared Spool
There’s a growing sentiment that spending limited resources on user research takes away from essential design activities. Is it time for user- centered design to evolve into something else? Or is there something else happening in our world of experience design that makes UCD obsolete? Jared Spool gives and entertaining and enlightening key note address at the 2008 IA Summit.(published 05/01/08)(published 04/25/08)


Download audio   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

Tagging: Five Emerging TrendsGene Smith
Tagging has been the subject of much discussion over the last several years. But recent trends show that tagging is evolving quickly, and that today’s conventional wisdom might not be accurate for long. nForms’ Gene Smith explores five counterintuitive tagging trends that provide a glimpse into the next generation of user-generated classification.(published 05/01/08)


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The Business of Experience: The Experience Impact FrameworkJess McMullin
nForm’s Jess McMullin outlines three dimensions of The Experience Impact Framework including: the elements of business, the fundamentals of user experience practice and the kinds of impact we can have.(published 05/02/08)


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The Long WowBrandon Schauer
Brandon Schauer lays out an experience centric approach to fostering and creating loyalty by systematically impressing your customers again and again.(published 05/05/08)


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Content Page Design Best PracticesLuke Wroblewski
Luke Wroblewski discusses a set of best practices for Web content page design that focuses on appropriate presentation of content, context, and calls to action. (published 05/05/08)


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Blind Ambition: How the Accessibility Movement Overlooks Sensory ExperiencesClaude Steinberg
In this presentation Claude Steinberg argues that you’ll have a better grasp of user experience when you can translate it into something even a blind person would recognize. (published 05/05/08)


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Inspiration from the Edge: New Patterns for Interaction DesignStephen Anderson
To increase our own field of vision, Stephen Anderson takes a macro view of interface design, focusing on alternative UIs – and emphasizing patterns that can be leveraged in a business context.(published 05/05/08)


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How to be a User Experience Team of OneLeah Buley
Leah teaches techniques that any individual can use to generate and refine ideas, outlining flexible, simple activities that can be used quickly, wherever they’re needed.(published 05/06/08)


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A management fable: The little UX that went a long wayDan Willis
UX Management often feels like a mystic art. It can entail moving people and processes within an organization without the enchantment of an official mandate. This presentation by Dan Willis deconstructs an illustrated fable about an intrepid creature who introduces user goals to a development process that would have otherwise been dominated by royal business owners and technological black magic. (published 06/07/08)


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Thanks to Jeff Parks, Jackie Wu, and Kit Seeborg of the B&A/V Podcast team for working their hearts out, as well as ASIS&T and the IA Summit organizers for their support.

IA Summit 2008, Day 2

iasummit_logo.png


The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2008/sessioncal.html) starting on April 12.

“Day 1, April 12”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-1 | Day 2, April 13 | “Day 3, April 14”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-3

Podcasts will appear on this page as we produce them from the audio files so please check back regularly or subscribe to the iTunes feed below.
iTunes     Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Search patternsPeter Morville
Peter describes a pattern language for search that explains user psychology and information seeking behavior, highlights emerging technologies and interaction models, illustrates repeatable solutions to common problems, and positions us all to design better search interfaces and applications. (published 04/25/08)


Download audio   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

The information Architect and the Fighter PilotMatthew Milan
Matthew argues that fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd can teach us a great deal about how to understand, interpret and design for human decision making. (published 04/25/08)


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E-service: What we can learn from the customer-service gurusEric Reiss
In this passionate and entertaining presentation, Eric Reiss talks about the design and execution of a system of activities – people, processes, and technology – that ultimately build brand, revenues, and customer satisfaction. (published 04/25/08)


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Practical Prototyping
Todd Zaki Warfel, Chris Conley, Anders Ramsay, and Jed Wood

The panel discuss various methods for prototyping with a focus on why we don’t prototype in software as much as we should and why we should be doing it more. (published 04/25/08)


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The Impact of Social Ethics on IA and Interactive DesignKarl Johan Saeth and Ingrid Tofte
Karl Johan Saeth, and Ingrid Tofte illustrate four cases showing that interactive design in one way or another is always based on interpretation of ethical rules, expressed or latent. IA and design are bound by cultural imperatives and this, Karl and Ingrid argue, is a fact we cannot ignore. (published 04/28/08)


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What do Innovative Intranets Look Like?James Robertson
James’ presentation provides highlights into the winning entries from the 2007 Intranet Innovation Awards and provides “lessons learnt” for organizations looking to drive innovation via their intranet. (published 04/28/08)


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Panel: Presence, identity, and attention in social web architecutreChristian Crumlish, Christina Wodtke, Andrew Hinton, and Gene Smith
In this discussion about presence, identity, and attention in social web architecture the panel talks about core IA related issues including: Structure of social sites, tagging and folksonomies, data models for people and their relationships, and navigating in a community site(published 04/28/08)


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UX in the Wind: Finding Experience on a MotorcycleJoe Sokohl
Keane’s director of user experience, Joe Sokohl, brings together his passions for motorcycling and user experience design in this talk about the intersection of industrial and interaction design in motorcycling.(published 04/29/08)


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Placemaking and Information ArchitectureDennis Schleicher
Dennis Schieicher explores how we as IAs can learn from placemaking in the physical world and investigates markets and public places around the use of mobile technologies and how they add another layer of communication and sense-making on top of physical public places.(published 05/08/08)


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Code blue: How service design can revolutionize patient care in hospitalsAaron Martlage
In this presentation, Aaron Martlage explores techniques for leveraging the varied skill sets of those in the UX design field to provide service design in a complex environment. Aaron argues that experts must balance the social dynamics between different personas; capture and sift vast amounts of data in an attempt to distill pertinent information; and visualize their findings with precision to ensure that the experience is improved.(published 06/07/08)


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Taxonomy is User ExperienceDave Cooksey
It appears that taxonomies are becoming more important to the work we do as metadata and ontologies extend their reach further into user experience. Dave Cooksey demonstrates the virtues of thinking of taxonomy in terms of the user experience, ways of talking about taxonomies that communicate it’s value, and how to craft a user-centric taxonomy by examining several e-commerce redesign case studies.(published 06/07/08)


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Hotel YeovilleJason Hobbs
In this presentation entitled, “Hotel Yeoville” South Africa’s Jason Hobbs talks about how ethnographic research methods and an empathetic approach to users can form the basis for information architecture solutions that attempt to directly address and improve the lives of people in developing countries.(published 06/07/08)


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Extending the gaming experience to conventional UI’sJohn Ferrara
The video game industry produces an enormous volume of highly innovative user interface experiences, but this rich source of creative thinking is largely unseen by communities dedicated to conventional software or Web design. Vanguards’ John Ferrara argues that as gaming becomes a ubiquitous activity among a vast worldwide customer base, its direction and conventions will become not merely relevant to HCI design, but indeed impossible to ignore.(published 06/08/08)


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Thanks to Jeff Parks, Jackie Wu, and Kit Seeborg of the B&A/V Podcast team for working their hearts out, as well as ASIS&T and the IA Summit organizers for their support.