Oldies and Goodies: A Book List of Holiday Pairs

Written by: B&A Staff
“The source I always go to when in doubt about word usage, sentence structure, or those niggling little language problems that exist—whatever the medium.”

Still need a holiday gift for your favorite designer or writer? Current and former Boxes and Arrows staff talk about books that have thrilled them recently, as well as books they continue to go back to year after year. Holiday pairs give you something old and something new to choose from.

Jorge Arango

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“Oldie”

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden BraidDouglas Hofstadter
January 1999 (20th Anniversary edition)
A brilliant, challenging, witty study of the nature and structure of thought—human and otherwise—that draws on formal systems, zen, artificial intelligence, music, paradox, recursion, and other fascinating topics.

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“Goodie”

Universal Principles of Design
William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler
October 2003
100 design principles—concepts such as affordance, constraints, figure-ground, etc.—clearly explained. Includes many examples and illustrations. (As you’d expect, it’s also beautifully designed.)

Pat Barford

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“Oldie”

The Elements of Style
William Strunk Jr., E. B. White
July 1999 (4th edition)
Best book ever about writing well. The source I always go to when in doubt about word usage, sentence structure, or those niggling little language problems that exist—whatever the medium. Readable, compact, and jam-packed with valuable information There’s also a killer online version.
Editorial note: the online version is only half the story; it’s all Strunk and no White. Spend a couple bucks and enjoy it in print!

Liz Danzico

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“Oldie”

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Erving Goffman
May 1959
Like Henry Dreyfuss who used his background in theater design to define the field of ergonomics, Goffman relies on the metaphor of theater to reveal elements of human behavior—elements key to interaction designers. Pointing out that an interaction is not just about the performer, but about the audience as well, Goffman presents us with a text critical to any interaction designer. Although written in 1959, this book still brings new evidence about how to build coherency in interactive models today.

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“Goodie”

Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (9th Edition)
Joseph M. Williams
December 2006
You write. You write all the time: stacks of email messages, instant messages, text messages, reports, rants, and reviews. And you follow rules. You follow rules you learned in high school: don’t begin a sentence with “But,” don’t end a sentence with a preposition, and never use fragments. In a time where writing happens more often than not and where the rules no longer apply, we need a book to tell us how to break the rules elegantly. Truth is, they were never meant to be followed in the first place. Williams, in this 9th edition, presents a stunning set of guidelines on how to break the rules, and how to diagnose the problems with your own writing.

Alecia Kozbial

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“Oldie”

The Design of Everyday Things
Donald A. Norman
September 2002 (Reprint)
Norman looks at the design problems that occur in our everyday lives. This book is an excellent introduction to usability and smart design.

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“Goodie”

Designing Interfaces
Jenifer Tidwell
November 2005
I have found Designing Interfaces to be an invaluable resource. It is a collection of well-organized UI design patterns for a wide selection of platforms, desktop, web, mobile, and other digital devices.

George Olsen

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“Oldie”

Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques
Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano
December 1994
Graphic designers have had five centuries of beta testing to figure out communicate effectively. While written for designing applications (in the pre-Internet era), Mullet and Sano show (in a visual manner rather than theorizing) how to apply graphic design principles to interface design.

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“Goodie”

What Management Is: How It Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business
Joan Magretta
June 2003
A jargon-free primer on how business (and not-for-profit) organizations work from the perspective of management. More of a comprehensive exploration than traditional how-to, it’s a good way to see the bigger picture and understand the point of view of the “business side of the equation.”

Lars Pind

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“Oldie”

Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques
Kevin Mullet, Darrell Sano
(Editor’s Note: So good, that it’s on the list twice.)
I’m an engineer, not a designer, but this book has given me the vocabulary and tools and theory I need to understand and make decisions about design, not as decoration, but as an integrated part of the communication between software and people. I love it.

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“Goodie”

Against the Odds: An Autobiography
James Dyson
April 2003
A beautiful entrepreneur story. I’m a big believer in the renaissance, in the combination of art and engineering in one individual, in engineering and design being fundamentally inseparable, a belief I share with James Dyson. On top of that, the 13 years of meticulous iterations and the suffering of setbacks before the final breakthrough is just a plain old good story.

Javier Velasco

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“Oldie”

The Tree of Knowledge
Mumberto Maturana and Francisco Varela
March 1992
What is life? What is a human? How does our perception work? These are some of the questions that this brilliant team of neurobiologists confront in this book. It’s had an impact in many areas of current knowledge.

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“Goodie”

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld
November 2006
I just got my copy of the Third Edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Morville & Rosenfeld. The previous editions have always been favorites and a must-have for all of us. This is a book that has been critical for the development of our field. It seems like the book has been thoroughly revised; I see new screenshots and new subtitles everywhere. It has been updated to include social classification and navigation concepts, and all those other things we’ve been discussing since the last edition. Some advanced findability notions are also considered, as well as more depth on user needs, enterprise IA, and strategy. There’s also more on deliverables than ever before. While sticking to roughly the same amount of pages as the Second Edition, this book seems completely refreshed. I look forward to have a chance to sit down and read it cover to cover.

Emily Wilska

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“Oldie”

Chicago Manual of Style
University of Chicago Press
August 2003
So it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’d curl up with on a Sunday afternoon. It is the place to look to find the answer to any style-related writing question you’ll ever have (such as whether to hyphenate style-related).

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“Goodie”

MacBook
I know, I know: it’s not technically a book. But it’s the perfect example of the power of good, thoughtful design, and of the value of making common tasks (like connecting to a network) as simple as possible. Plus, it’s stunningly pretty.

Christina Wodtke

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“Oldie”

Managing The Professional Service Firm
David H. Maister
June 1997
Should be required reading for anyone in a service profession, including in-house service teams. Teaches you how to (among other things) navigate the treacherous waters of being paid to give advice.

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“Goodie”

Making Comics
Scott McCloud
September 2006
A strangely compelling combination of “how to”, and “philosophy of” words and pictures working together. If you loved Understanding Comics, it’s worth the perusal. It’s not quite the concise masterpiece that Understanding Comics is, but it’s so chockfull of insight, you forgive the meandering moments.

Visio Replacement? You Be the Judge

Written by: Scott McDowell
“In the same way that the Internet took us to the next level of interaction, complete with rich visuals, simulations are doing the same for application definition.”

Every decade, there’s a new technology that fundamentally transforms the way people do business, enhancing productivity and profitability along the way. In just the past few years, the user experience community has become captivated by the power of simulation software—the next-generation tool for requirements definition needed to build any online application. Think of it as the “flight simulator” for the IT industry.

In yesterday’s world, the typical deliverable would consist of a Visio diagram (composed of static wireframes) or a costly HTML prototype (still very static in nature)—the equivalent of drafting a car or a skyscraper in 2D. In today’s world, UX professionals can produce simulations—high-fidelity visual representations of what’s going to be built.

In the same way that the Internet took us to the next level of interaction, complete with rich visuals, simulations are doing the same for application definition. The advantage that simulations offer over traditional deliverables is that they provide interactivity without requiring the IA to know scripting or a programming language. Plus, with some packages, changes can even be propagated to all related documents.

Simulations can be used for ideation, definition, validation, development, and pre-development usability testing. Once a simulation has been modeled, its usefulness far exceeds that of any static wireframe primarily because of the simulation’s ability to look and act like the final product.

History
Simulation traces its roots to the aeronautics industry. In the early 1990s, Boeing used simulations to define requirements for aircraft like the Boeing 777 and to “test drive” requirements before building the plane. The automotive industry was also an early adopter. Manufacturers such as General Motors used simulation to test the effects of wind and road conditions in order to improve the handling and performance of both race and production vehicles. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the software industry started leveraging what many other, more stalwart, industries had been doing for decades.

Here is a review of the newest simulation products available to user experience professionals. (The list is arranged in alphabetical order, by company name.)

Product options

Axure
Product: RP4 (Product Tour)

The latest version, RP4 (there is actually a Beta of 4.3) has certainly added a number of new features compared to RP3. RP4 provides the ability to create a basic sitemap (indicating pages) and the ability to link these pages together. RP4 offers masters for rapid changes to an entire project. RP4 allows for basic annotations but doesn’t offer a robust requirements management solution. Of the products reviewed, Axure RP4 falls in the mid-range for pricing. With the addition of a true simulation engine, this RP4 could certainly gain ground against the higher-end products. However, at its current price, it’s a great entry point into the world of simulation.

Scenario Design: No
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: Yes
Dynamic Display: Yes
Data Interaction: No
Decision Logic: No
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: No
Portable Distribution: No
Requirements Management: No
Enterprise Support: No
Export to MS Word: Yes

Elegance Tech
Product: LucidSpec (Product Tour)

Much like Axure, LucidSpec offers the capability to create static “prototypes.” The product does not contain an actual simulation engine, thus limiting the product’s ability to save and reuse data at a later time. The product allows the design to “describe behaviors” or specifications in annotative form. However, it does not offer a solution for tying a non-visual requirement to visual elements.

Scenario Design: No
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: No
Dynamic Display: Partial
Data Interaction: No
Decision Logic: No
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: No
Portable Distribution: No
Requirements Management: No
Enterprise Support: No
Export to MS Word: Yes

iRise
Products: Studio, Shared Server, Manager, iDoc Express (Product Tour)

iRise offers a real simulation engine that allows users to save, edit, and delete requirements data. Of the products reviewed, iRise Manager provides the most comprehensive requirements management solution. Studio generates a portable simulation known as an iDoc, which can be reviewed with the free iRise Reader. Shared Server enables collaboration and incorporates a model for check-in/out capabilities and synchronization with the requirements management server. The shared server also provides an alternative delivery method, allowing stakeholders to view the simulation by accessing a URL. iDoc Express is a cost-effective service offering, where companies hand over requirements and receive a comprehensive simulation at a fixed price. No product purchase or installation is required. This is by far the most mature product in this space, with the most extensive list of recognizable customer names.

Scenario Design: Yes
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: Yes
Dynamic Display: Yes
Data Interaction: Yes
Decision Logic: Yes
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: Yes
Portable Distribution: Yes
Requirements Management: Yes
Enterprise Support: Yes
Export to MS Word: Yes

Serena
Product: Composer (Product Tour)

Composer fits at the lower end of the higher tier products. It offers the ability to model business processes at a very high level much like MS Visio. It then extends that ability to creating activities and detailed page designs. Composer provides greater support for requirements management; it is probably closer to iRise than any other tool. The challenge with Composer is that all users must own a licensed seat to view anything created within the product; this really limits the ability to share with stakeholders.

Scenario Design: Yes
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: Yes
Dynamic Display: Partial
Data Interaction: Partial
Decision Logic: No
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: No
Portable Distribution: No
Requirements Management: Partial
Enterprise Support: No
Export to MS Word: Yes

Simunication
Product: Enterprise Simulator (Product Tour)

Simunication is all web based. This is most likely the product’s biggest advantage over some of the lower- and middle-tier applications. Its interface, however, is quite cumbersome for the non-technical user. It offers the ability to simulate data through a scaled-down simulation engine. The workflow is driven primarily by creating use cases, then designing screens around those cases. Delivery is simplified by its all-online approach—thus anyone with a web browser can access it.

Scenario Design: Yes
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: No
Dynamic Display: Yes
Data Interaction: Yes
Decision Logic: Yes
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: Yes
Portable Distribution: No
Requirements Management: No
Enterprise Support: Yes
Export to MS Word: No

Sofea
Product(s): Profesy

Profesy is comparable to Composer in product maturity. It offers requirements management with a scaled-down simulation engine. Much like Composer, there isn’t an easy way to distribute the simulation outside of the tool/editor in which it was created.

Scenario Design: No
Page Design: Yes
Widget Library: No
Dynamic Display: Partial
Data Interaction: Partial
Decision Logic: Yes
Annotations: Yes
Centralized Server: No
Portable Distribution: No
Requirements Management: Yes
Enterprise Support: Yes
Export to MS Word: Yes

Benefits to the user experience professional
User experience professionals who leverage simulation technology are able to visualize projects much earlier within the development lifecycle, while producing requirements that are much clearer than those generated through traditional requirements gathering processes. In fact, two of these packages, iRise and Serena, were actually created to help business analysts visualize requirements when they didn’t have access to user experience professionals for that part of a project!

One key feature that static wireframes lack is the ability to interact with the interface; by using a simulation tool, this limitation is removed. Software interactivity and ease-of-use, in addition to the portability and reusability of the simulation, are key points to consider in choosing the right simulation software for your company. The next several years should be quite interesting as each of these products continues to improve, adding new features and offering tighter integration with third-party products.

Learning, Doing, Selling: 2006 IA Summit Wrapup: Overview and Pre-conference sessions

Written by: B&A Staff
“Yes CSS is nifty, yes we like blogs, yes sitemaps are hard. But where can you go to understand an epistemology for practice, or that tags can be used to create self-organizing learning communities?”

Because Boxes and Arrows was launched at an IA Summit some years ago, we have always had a soft spot in our hearts for this conference. Because each year it grows smarter and more sophisticated, we continue to follow it. The following are impressions, reviews and reports of the 7th IA Summit. Enjoy!

Conference overview

Reviewed by: Christina Wodtke

After seven Summits, what struck me was that for many of us, the Summit is like a high school reunion—if you liked everyone in high school. Only once a year you see these people, yet they are somehow close friends. Perhaps in the past, there have been Summits where there were “in” cliques sneaking off without the “out” cliques, but each time I went to dinner, I was able to both renew an old friendship and start up a new one.

Welcome

Photo credit: Erin Malone

I think the presence of children also marked a change in our profession—we’re growing up. My daughter Amelie was the only baby dedicated to attending presentations (and disrupting them, perhaps), but I saw other babies and children around the edges of the Summit, and I hope this trend continues. I think the community is a bit special. Not the party-hearty types (although IAs can hold their drink, and do it like Irishmen); IAs adore long conversations about ideas. Perhaps that’s why the Summit continues to be one of the most intellectually challenging of the practitioners’ conferences.

Sitting in one session, I found myself hard pressed to keep up with what I was hearing, while realizing the ramifications and possible applications. I kept having to stop jotting down ideas in order to keep up with the complex concepts the speaker was sharing. The Summit is like that; you don’t dare snooze, yet you can’t help join hallway conversations, can’t help writing down how a speaker’s talk will affect your work, and you don’t dare sleep for fear of missing the concept that will shape your year.

I think the days of beginners-only conferences are numbered … and I’m glad. Yes CSS is nifty, yes we like blogs, yes sitemaps are hard. But where can you go to understand an epistemology for practice, or that tags can be used to create self-organizing learning communities? Where else can you chat with Dave Weinberger in the lobby and discover that he was afraid of the intelligence of his audience?

Hooray for Dorkstock!

Conference overview, continued

Reviewed by: Liz Danzico

“Without learning about the context of our business leaders, how are we going to reveal to them the insights we come across every day?”

The annual IA Summit turned seven this year in Vancouver, and for me personally, it marked my fifth year attending. Playing the role of a practitioner, but at times feeling more like an anthropologist, I’ve been fascinated to observe the evolution of the profession—an evolution neatly punctuated by this annual event.

Early conferences were tirelessly (and necessarily) dedicated to defining the thing, while later conferences focused on tools and methods. And while some people are still wondering about definitions, they are no longer asking the questions. Conversations such as these have moved to the hallways (and often, bars), while the presentation rooms are dominated by new interests. This year, in a word: tagging.

Welcome

Photo credit: Jorge Arango

Indeed there were seven panels on Monday alone that had “tag” in the title (thanks Peterme for pointing that out). This presence, however, may be less about concepts of tagging, and more indicative of a larger consideration of context that is unfolding. Whether that context is about the state of our content (as stated by David Weinberger), the state of our users (as suggested by the Web 2.0 and tagging panels), or the state of our process (as demonstrated by the wireframes and scientific scenario sessions), one thing is clear: we are being pushed to consider the fuzzy edges. New contexts are shaping the way we conduct our professional IA selves with our teams and with our audiences.

This year, as with any other, much of the learning took place both inside and outside the presentation rooms. Here were some of the key themes this year:

From designing interfaces to designing frameworks
Web 2.0 was 2006’s Rich Internet Application (RIA), giving way to rich discussions of new ways of working. For me, what was most interesting is an emerging shift from helping users understand applications to helping designers and developers understand users.

Game on
Between Jess McMullin’s standing-room-only discussion on incorporating game playing into the client work to Yahoo’s Communicating Concepts on Comics session on using comics in the design process, play was certainly a theme this year.

The IA is in
Not since the Baltimore chicken has there been such a present addition to the hallways of the conference. The IA Institute’s “The IA Is In” mentoring booth served as a place to get and give advice. So was it missed that Dan Brown set up a virtual booth on the IAI’s mailing list after the conference. We did, no doubt, witness the birth of a tradition.

Welcome

Photo credit: Erin Malone

A marked difference this year, importantly, is how many other people are deftly covering the IA Summit. The team at Boxes and Arrows is thrilled to see this since it allowed us to take a different approach to our typical journalist-like approach. In this year’s summaries, you should see a bit less play-by-play coverage, and a bit more commentary and opinion. Other excellent coverage is listed below. Thanks to the 30 volunteers that helped us cover the conference through writing and photos!

I look forward to continuing to watch the evolution as the Summit moves to Las Vegas next year!

Enhancing Your Strategic Influence: Understanding and Responding to Complex Business Problems (Or, O Strategy, Where Art Thou?)
Victor Lombardi, John Zapolski, Scott Hirsch, Harry Max, Mark McCormick
Conference description

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

Where was this session when we started our careers in technology? How many times were you told, “That’s a great idea, but we’ll never be able to sell it. The CEO really wants…” We could have saved untold teeth-gnashing had Management Innovation Group (MIG) existed back in The Bubble. Alas, all that pain was necessary to lead us to this point.

Most user experience professionals are still focused on outputs and practice rather than helping their organizations use our insights to transform the way they operate, grow, and change. Articles and conference programs titled “Selling User Experience” and “ROI of Usability” try to help these poor souls justify their existence and extend their influence. While well meaning, such exercises merely ossify our position as tactical participants in the business cycle.

Welcome

Photo credit: Erin Malone

In the last year or so, an interest has started to solidify around business practice and how the “design-thinking” can lead to new insights and create change within organizations. Still, many user experience professionals simply do not understand how to assert themselves in an effective manner, nor do they have empathy and familiarity for the senior executives and the challenges they face.

The session description sounds more like a semester course and sets an impossible goal for one day, but the MIG partners and their colleagues focused on a few key concepts an a detailed case study:

Reset our personal context (Scott Hirsch)
Stop thinking like practitioners that are rationalizing or begging for attention. Start creating change. Look at Accenture’s top 50 business gurus, only four are CEOs.

Understand the underlying principles of strategy (John Zapolski)
Strategy is about making choices, saying NO. Companies choose their strategy by making a series of prototypes. Think about the IA special skills; big part of value creation is being conscious where you are today and what levers you can pull to get to where you want to go.

Keep the numbers in mind (Victor Lombardi)
Instead of attempting to force correlation of design activity to business metrics (ROI, etc.), we should recognize that number projections are prototypes–and finance people are the designers. Connect the business way of thinking that drives the certainty to the profits and capital analysis–it’s no more concrete than a design idea.

Show an example in practice (Mark McCormack)
Wells Fargo has created a detailed (and unfortunately proprietary) methodology allows them to treat design decisions as business choices. Anyone who has been involved with the larger organizational resource allocation processes can recognize how a model like this one could integrate design into the process–where it is desperately needed.

Focus your energy to recognize opportunities (Harry Max)
We are trained to be hyper-aware of how a user experiences our interfaces, but at times are less aware of how our organizations work or how we are perceived. Ignore the organizational chart or the stated strategy on our way to finding the right places and people to effect real change.

Welcome

Photo credit: Erin Malone

Taking the temperature of the room after the presentation, I understand why some people were able to see the impact of the resetting the context and recognizing opportunities, but had trouble with the implications for the middle three ideas. As a product manager, I have participated in these business currents for some time now, and I found great value in these discussions.

Most companies are still doing their strategies and resource allocations with vague descriptions of product directions and some numbers “prototypes.” IAs can provide more depth with our abilities to research, ideate, and prototype solutions.

Without learning about the context of our business leaders, how are we going to reveal to them the insights we come across every day? We need to translate them, not expect them to learn our language. It will be interesting to see these ideas permeate the IA community.

“We all used to draw. I just forgot to stop.”

Creating Conceptual Comics: Storytelling and Techniques
Kevin Cheng, Jane Jao, Mark Wehner
Conference description

Reviewed by: Christian Crumlish

I just spent all day in a seminar led by Kevin Cheng and Jane Jao, both currently at Yahoo! Local, on the subject of Creating Conceptual Comics: Storytelling and Techniques and I came away from it with some great ideas about how to communicate web interface and functionality ideas at the early, prototype stage of a project using comics.

Comics

Photo credit: Javier Valasco

They started the workshop by going around the room and asking everyone to say who we were, what we felt passionate about, and why we were there that day. Afterward, Kevin said that either we were lying or that we were the only workshop participants he’d every encountered in which most everyone claimed to be passionate about their work.

Kevin asked if any of us had read Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, a book about creativity in corporate structure which he recommended highly. He also asked us all how many of us considered ourselves artists (about half did, which is a higher fraction than he usually encounters). He said that in first grade most children consider themselves artists. Then with each passing year about half stop doing so. When people ask him how he got started drawing, he says “We all used to draw. I just forgot to stop.”

Jane took over the presentation for a while to discuss various tools they’ve used at Yahoo (they both currently work at Yahoo! Local) to develop site functionality, including requirements documents, personas, user scenarios, and storyboards. They found that requirements were rarely read and personas were interpreted differently by different people.

The solution offered was to use comics as a relatively cheap and easy method intermediate between video and static sketches, and avoiding the problems of traditional storyboards which, by “detailing screen by screen progressions created a focus on the interface, rather than the concept.”

They taught us some principals of communicating with comics, and some key elements of an intuitive visual vocabulary. Kevin’s slides and handouts included examples of facial expressions and body language adapted from classic comic-art texts for the context of interface development.

Welcome

Photo credit: Erin Malone

They asked us to draw each other and then they had us make smiley faces. They showed us how more abstract, less detailed faces allow the viewer’s imagination to project ideas onto the drawings. They also showed us some paneling tricks to suggest motion and the passage of time.

The next phase of the workshop was a hand’s on exercise. We were broken into groups of two or three people each and given a small assignment that would be plausible in the context of Yahoo! Local. We were told to brainstorm some solutions (with pictures), think big, and write down our assumptions. In the case of my group, we were asked to come up with ideas that would enable a person to plan a trip to Europe.

We came up with a high-level scenario in the form of a list of actions and then narrowed it down to something manageable. Then we collaborated on a script and mapped out a sequence of comic panels. Finally we drew, inked, and lettered our comics.

After lunch we paired up with other teams and acted like user focus-groups, giving feedback on the scenarios and suggesting what we found useful, confusing, etc.

The workshop inspired all kinds of thoughts about how I could employ these techniques in the early, strategic stages of an IA project. The techniques we learned could help communicate and get buy-in for hypothetical user-interfaces, both within our multidisciplinary teams at my agency and with our clients.

Reviews of other conference sessions are available by day:

Summaries elsewhere
Functioning Form, Luke Wroblewski
Glacial Erratics
graphpaper, Chris Fahey
Looks Good Works Well, Bill Scott
UX Matters

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

Written by: B&A Staff
“In a world where facts are a dime a dozen, and tags are the new black, will knowledge become a commodity?”

Opening keynote
David Weinberger
Conference description

Reviewed by: Liz Danzico

For some keynote speakers, the opening plenary is an opportunity to talk about a trend or the prediction of a new tipping point, concepts illustrated through a carefully constructed PowerPoint with charts and graphs to back up those concepts. For David Weinberger, the Summit’s 2006 keynote speaker, it was that, but it was also a unique opportunity to work through new material, material that hasn’t been figured out yet…even by him. Of note, these concepts were key themes of each Summit presentation that followed in the subsequent sessions—the implications of tagging on the creation of meaning and our definitions of authority.

Authority, in the past, appeared to be an objective concept. Merriam-Webster, Encyclopedia Britannica, the New York Times, and even the fantastical that was “Sesame Street” all offered a sense of objective truth. “Because I said so” often meant the end of the conversation when dealing with authority figures. A doctor’s diagnosis was only countered by a “second opinion,” but nothing further. These dead ends were largely a result of the lack of opportunity to discover different or alternate opinions.

David Weinberger

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Likewise, there was a time when authors might have been the best judges of what their works were about. A single person or group of persons was the automatic authority on the content because he created it. Weinberger claims this is no longer true: taggers are. Users, he boldly introduces the Summit by saying, are now determining the social order, and there are new definitions of authority.

What implications does this have? Does it matter that I want to tag a “penguin” a bird, although it may not be the best example of the commonly held definition of “bird?” Weinberger would argue, “Many,” and “Absolutely,” respectively.

It seems, he lets us know that we are seeing an externalization of meaning in a way that not only hasn’t happened before, but wasn’t possible before. If you were to understand a hammer in the past, you would have to understand not only nails, but the economy, the sun, the et cetera, creating referential context. Now, none of that is necessary. Whereas once books externalized knowledge and calculators externalized arithmetic, now new systems are allowing the externalization of meaning.

But, sure, it’s not perfect.

We create messy playlists; we create our own “poorly designed” homepages. And, without question, they’re not perfect, but they are good enough. “Good-enough information,” as Weinberger calls it, is, in fact, pretty good.

We’ve spent a long time creating knowledge; now we’re building meaning. In a world where facts are a dime a dozen, and tags are the new black, will knowledge become a commodity? We just may need to wait for his upcoming book Everything is Miscellaneous, to find out.

Opening keynote, continued

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

In this inspiring keynote, David Weinberger drew on work from a range of philosophers and linguists to answer the question “What’s up with knowledge?” He discussed the fact that the data, information, knowledge, wisdom continuum is the wrong way around; the seven properties of knowledge; and the differences between knowledge in the real and digital world. He also discussed the nature of authority and finally, the topic of this year’s summit, tagging.

He noted that despite tagging’s current popularity, we will still have hierarchies, we still have the semantic web, and we will continue blogging to pull together rich information.
Although minor, one thing that stuck with me beyond the session was a comment about a recent attempt at defining tagging. David suggested that instead of defining it, just point at del.icio.us and flickr (both prototypical examples of tagging)–that’s tagging. It doesn’t need to be defined when we have such strong examples.

I can’t wait until his next book comes out and I have a chance at understanding all this…

We Are Not Alone: IA’s Role in the Optimal Design Team
Jared Spool
Conference description

Reviewed by: Hallie Wilfert

Why is the iPod miles more popular than any other mp3 player? What makes Netflix more popular than Blockbuster? It’s not the features or functionality of these products, but rather the experience that they provide their users that drive their popularity. Jared Spool’s presentation centered on UIE’s current research that is looking at how to build the “iPod of user experience teams.”

When people talk about how much they love Netflix, they don’t talk about the amazing information architecture (IA) or the seamless use of AJAX. Experience design, when done well, is invisible—which can sometimes make it difficult to sell. However, when done poorly, experience design can have a huge impact on a business.

The skills required for a good experience design team are multidisciplinary. A great team has expertise in analytics, copy writing, IA, usability, ethnographic research, understanding of social networks…the list goes on.

In their research, UIE has discovered that there are three ways to build an experience design team:

  1. Consulting. Often defined as getting in the “guy from the east coast with charts.” This approach only works in a small organization with a few projects.
  2. Review and approve. A consulting team cannot touch everything, so policies to review and approve designs are implemented. This approach moves very slowly and bottlenecks are created.
  3. Educate and administrate. The team does not touch every design. Instead, by giving people the resources and education they need up front to create a good design, the team can ensure understanding and commitment to UX throughout the project

The Educate and Administrate model is an empowering approach and it allows for the entire organization (including the boardroom) to become engaged in designing the experience. This approach is made up of a few key elements:

Educate

  • Have a clear vision of success
  • Disseminate user knowledge—talk and share what works and what doesn’t work
  • Embrace the teachable moments. When a problem occurs, look at it as a chance to learn.
  • Build a communication path to all design agents

Administrate

  • Make it cheap to collect feedback on new design ideas
  • Share learnings across the organization—don’t just keep the knowledge within the design team.
  • Make good design the path of least resistance. If it’s easy, then people are more likely to comply.

So what is the role of the IA in the experience design team? Just as not every hospital can afford to employ someone who just performs hand surgery, few design teams can afford a person who specializes only in IA. Jared stated that information architecture is a skill set within UX design and does not have to be done by an information architect.

Jared Spool

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Flexibility is essential for practitioners since the need for specialization is driven by the economy. Specialists, that is, people who can dive deep into a specific discipline, exist and survive only when there is demand, while generalists, people who can bounce between disciplines, serve lower-demand economies. Both generalists and specialists can gain experience and skills through repetition and study and both are required for UX to succeed.

Lest the IAs become uncomfortable with this pigeonholing, Jared made it clear that specialization is not equivalent to compartmentalization. Specialists, he said, have enough experience with other skills to understand and interact in those areas whereas compartmentalists only work in what they know. In this light, he stated that IAs must be versed in other UX disciplines.

Additionally, Jared’s talk ended with a call out to the IA community who should support:

  • Information architecture as a skill set for the UX generalist,
  • IA as a specialty, and
  • Moving to the Educate and Administrate model to build a successful UX design team.

Setting the Agenda for IA Research
Don Turnbull, Peter Morville, Jamie Bluestein, Keith Instone
Conference description

Reviewed by: Donna Mauer

Keith Instone

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

Don Turnbull introduced the discussion by outlining what they mean by research, providing ideas on possible areas of IA research and discussing the forthcoming Journal of IA. Keith Instone talked about what a research agenda is, comparing it to research agendas for other fields. Jamie Bluestein discussed some of the types of hypertext research that had been undertaken and were still continuing and some of the viewpoints considered at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) hypertext conference.

Peter Morville, who spoke naked (i.e., without using PowerPoint), talked about the uses for research–as a weapon, to ask the big questions and looking at other dimensions of our field. Peter highlighted that there is value not only in having IA research, but also that there is value in the labeling of it as IA research–this label adds authority to the research conducted and the field as a whole. This, to me, was the most important point as I have long felt that there were already many areas of research that informed IA. I think this is the real value in IA research–that it is ‘ours’, focused for our community and labeled as such.

There were no big conclusions from this panel, but it did provide an interesting perspective on the role of research for the IA field.

IA: Not Just for the Web Anymore
Dan Brown, Lou Rosenfeld, James Melzer, James Robertson, Seth Earley
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

This panel brought together four experts in the area of Enterprise Information Architecture to have an open conversation about some of the most relevant issues about this topic today. As moderator, Dan Brown did a great job of keeping things on track, while encouraging audience participation. The four panelists were knowledgeable and held strong points of view, which they presented clearly and passionately. However, I find that panels are most engaging when the panelists disagree somewhat, and that didn’t seem to be the case here.

Some of the topics covered included:

  • Defining enterprise information architecture
  • How to plan and budget for it
  • Which other members of the organization can help
  • How to effect cultural change within the organization
  • Technology issues
  • Tips on how to implement EIAs

As with most panels, these issues were addressed from a variety of perspectives and the conversations were peppered with concrete examples from real-world situations.

One of the panel’s highlights was a James Robertson’s impassioned plea for getting down to basics: helping people accomplish their goals more easily, “cutting the crap”. Throughout the panel, he remained a champion of a more humane EIA, arguing for common sense and a focus on benefiting people (something that can be a challenge in enterprise settings).

Exploring patterns in website content structure
Svetlana Symonenko
Conference description

Reviewed by: Christian Crumlish

Svetlana Symonenko discussed prelimary findings from her research into emerging common practices among large-scale websites. She began with some statistics: 16% of the global population is online, 21% of users find the information they’re looking for more than 80% of the time. Most site visitors like to browse. Even self-declared searchers tend to browse first to look around a new site and get their bearings.

Symonenko’s study arose out of observations she made while working for an information vendor, indexing and abstracting websites. Because she was paid per site, she had an incentive to cover as many sites as possible. In doing so, she learned to recognize some patterns.

Her study is designed to look for signs of “conventionalization” in the observable structure of website content. A website is created by its sponsor with an audience in mind. Together, the sponsor and audience form what she called the website’s discourse community.

Symonenko presented preliminary results from the pilot phase of her study, which examined 15 websites (five each .edu, .com, and .gov). Her approach was to spider the sites “breadth first,” gathering title, link URL, link label, and level of each link going three levels down from the home page, recording only links at the original domain, and excluding dynamic pages.

She used analytical induction and grounded theory to analyze her data, meaning she didn’t apply preexisting categories to her data. She combined synonyms (such as “academics” and “school” at education websites, and various terms for product pages at commercial websites).

Categories found in 80% or more of the sites she studied were considered standard, categories found in 50 to 80% of the sites she considered conventional, and categories found in fewer than 50% of the sites she considered unconventional.

Navigation links comprised 1/5 of all links, with “Home” being the most common (“About” and “Contact” were next). Clear patterns were discerned in the three types of sites examined. A larger follow-up study is underway.

Symonenko feels that there are a lot of guidelines and best practices extant for design but not many for content. She is hoping that her study will make best practices apparent.

An audience member asked if she had done ethnographic research in her user study and whether she trusted users to report accurately on their own browsing and searching habits. She said that in her study users were “forced to browse” and then debriefed, and that she did take what they said at face value.

While the preliminary results from the study were somewhat skimpy and not particularly surprising to anyone who has browsed the web or built large websites, I’m looking forward to the results of the larger study to see whether there really are any de-facto content and navigation standards emerging.

“Is it really possible to re-introduce playfulness and creativity into the serious and stressful environments that seem to be the norm in the corporate world?”

Game Changing: How You Can Transform Client Mindsets Through Play
Jess McMullin
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

The promise of this presentation’s subtitle—transforming client mindsets through play—was very alluring. Is it really possible to re-introduce playfulness and creativity into the serious and stressful environments that seem to be the norm in the corporate world? Apparently I wasn’t the only one enticed by the title to join the fun: Jess was speaking to a standing-room-only audience. The anticipation and excitement in the room was palpable.

Jess McMullin

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

We were not let down. With his trademark humor and intelligence (traits that often go hand-in-hand), Jess presented the conceptual framework that underlies his ideas regarding the use of play as a catalyst for organizational change. These concepts, which can easily become very abstract, were kept clear by the use of very appropriate visuals and amusing metaphors. (At one point he described his game-playing technique as a “Mary Poppins moment”, an allusion to that character’s use of sugar to help children swallow their medicine.)

Jess described some games that he and his team at nForm have used successfully in the past, and even invited us to play one of them (“MetaMemes”). Unfortunately, the size of the audience and the limited time available muffled the impact of this exercise. However, including a game as part of the presentation allowed us a glimpse of the possibilities—and sheer fun value—of play in a professional environment.

Game Changing: How You Can Transform Client Mindsets Through Play, continued

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

Jess presented an incredibly useful and entertaining session on “Game playing: Changing client mindsets through play.”

The primary reasons for game playing are to communicate in a different way with clients and to create effective shared references via shared stories or experiences.

Some of the ways to create games are to modify existing activities, use existing games and formats, create new games, and use improvization exercises. He pointed out that you don’t need to call them games, but can use them within existing activities and processes.

We played a simple game with a neighbor: Using two of the following ideas (drawn from a card deck), we had to come up with an idea or concept to better connect children and a financial institution: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anti-aging gene, gross out, connection, swarm intelligence (off you go, brainstorm…)

The session was well presented and entertaining and a great one to do just before heading into the IA Slam.

Architecting self-organizing learning communities
Faison “Bud” Gibson
Conference description

Reviewed by: Christian Crumlish

Bud Gibson, who teaches programming to business school students, presented about two-way learning communities using Web 2.0. He started off with a few observations: Teaching is broadcasting. No information gets back to the broadcaster and only partial info to audience. He hypothesized that collaboration would yield richer information for everyone involved, but two-way flow is hard for a person (the teacher) to organize, so the solution must be self-organizing. People need to feel they are in a shared space to collaborate.

Bud experimented with text-only software for collaboration/sharing. He wanted to use a standards-based approach (using RSS and HTML) to avoid lock-in. He wondered if people would want to share. The guinea pigs were a class of business school students who were very competitive. Given the choice people will only do what provides value back to them
The first time he tried this, he set his students up with Typepad blogs and the re-aggregated the feeds at a single site (one-stop shopping), making all of the blog feeds available in the form of an OPML list. He also invited “guests” via syndication, including Microsoft blogging evangelist Robert Scoble (Scobleizer blog) and Asa Dotzler (Firefox) as examplars. Their blog feeds were included in the syndicated mix and OPML list.

The blog entries were served up in a River-of-News style aggregator, showing the last seven days’ entries. He required his students to post two times a week, and he did see some conversations emerging. People would comment on topics on their own blogs and use trackback to thread the conversation together.

The first time the system ran on a backend provided by a host called MYST. The server farm ran on J2EE with Java servlets and a SOAP interface to a Java API, with lightweight interfaces using XML over HTTP (REST), RSS, and HTML. In the end, Bud determined that this model was heavier than necessary, involving a layered enterprise architecture. He later re-hacked the backend with Perl and PHP and found that the lightweight approach was better.

To ensure participation, Bud based 20% of his students’ grades on participating. Any posts were acceptable as long as they were class-related. He did not judge the posts in terms of content, spelling, etc.

Group

Photo credit: Jorge Arango

He also suggested topics to post, such as problems the class was working on and proposed solutions. After the class was over and the grades had been handed out, Bud surveyed the students and 26 out of 32 responded. About 21% checked the blogs once a day or more. Just over 40% checked twice a week. Another 25% checked occasionally and about 12% checked rarely.

Most students were unwilling to expose themselves in this way, which Bud attributed to their being “status conscious.” Some students wanted their blog entries taken down when the class was over. He did allow the students to be semi-anonymous, choosing Internet handles, although they were expected to let their classmates know who they were. Bud himself used the nickname “Blogonaut” for the class.

About 20% blogged two times a week or more. About 55% blogged twice a week (as required), 12% blogged several times a month, and about 5% blogged just a few times during the semester.

When surveyed to find out why they had blogged, 68% said to understand concepts, 75% to get feedback, 50% to clarify ideas, 41% to hear multiple perspectives, 68% as a source of technical experites and 9% for other reasons.

Students were more interested in writing than responding. Bud blogged about good blog entries by students on his own class blog, sent trackback links, and pointed to good examples in class to model behavior.

The tagging permitted the students to easily create self-organizing categories. He noticed evidence of “follow the leader” tagging, including idiosyncratic tags, such as one called OpinionSlug which was pioneered by one student to tag an opinion post and was adopted by the entire community.

The most popular tags were, in descending order:

  • technology
  • opinionslug
  • classquestions
  • blogging
  • microsoft
  • XML
  • blog
  • remixing

He noted that opinionslug and classquestions were “type” facet categories. HE wasn’t sure you could say that blog and blogging were synonyms the way they were used here.

There were also a lot of singleton tags.

In the future Bud would like to analyze the spread of memes from individual origination to group adoption, and the way tags are used as social cues. He encountered many usability issues for participants, including the fact that it was hard to type the tags in the WordPress interface.

Bud recommended taking a “guerilla approach” to such experiments to deal with sometimes restrictive university bureaucracies. Asked what he learned from this approach, Bud said he learned to have a light hand in moderating the discussion.
The lesson I drew from this talk was that creating feedback loops and a shared space for conversation can enhance the learning experience of a group of people and represents a step forward from the one-to-many teacher-to-student broadcast model.

Selling IA – Getting Execs to say Yes
Samantha Starmer
Conference description

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

Much in the corporate world boils down to one question: “how can we get the most bang for our buck here?” As any information architect knows, IA can be a powerful tool to help businesses create value and reduce inefficiencies. However, this value is sometimes difficult to explain in terms that are understandable to business folks, and unfortunately many information architects are ill prepared for this task. The inevitable result is IA teams that are either underfunded, ineffective, or both.

Samantha’s talk attempted to fill this educational void by presenting a series of recommendations on how to become more effective IA sales agents. Wisely, she kicked things off by exposing us to our own biases against the concept of “sales:” she projected a photo of a sleazy used car salesman, and asked how many of us associated this image with the concept of sales. Many hands went up.

We were presented with the “top five recommendations for selling IA”:

  • Show the problem – do your research beforehand, and present it effectively
  • Benefit the bottom line – learn to sound comfortable discussing return on investment
  • Manage the politics – pay attention to the organization’s culture
  • Don’t promise a silver bullet – be clear about costs and benefits
  • Pay attention to style – specifically, presentation style: tell stories, know your audience, etc.

Many of these concepts will be familiar to anyone who’s been in any type of managerial position in a large company. This, added to the presentation’s reliance on highly structured “bullet” slides, could have made the talk somewhat tedious. However, Samantha enlivened things greatly with candid examples culled from her recent experiences at successfully funding her IA team at Microsoft.

The International information architecture Slam
Eric L. Reiss, Matthew Fetchko, Chris Chandler, Lynn Boyden
Conference description

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

The IA slam was awesome! As a first-time Summit attendee and a (obviously) first time slammer, I have to say that I had an absolute blast and definitely plan on slamming again!

When we arrived, we were handed manila envelopes that we were not to open until told to do so. I managed to comply, despite the temptation not to. After a few minutes, the panel briefly described the rules of the slam. We were to be separated into groups of 8 and we would have 45 minutes to respond to a proposal from a hypothetical client. This response would need to be in the form of a “big idea” with supporting documentation. In this case, the documentation we needed to produce was a user flow, data architecture, and a project plan. In 45 minutes.

Eric Reiss

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

After their explanation of the logistics of the slam, the panel assumed their role as the client. They gave a presentation about their company, its background, and their current business goals. This company, led by “A. A. Haffner,” obviously drew heavily upon the history and business model of the Playboy empire. In our scenario, “Bon Vivant” was a company that had its heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but business slumped in the ‘80s and they were forced to close their clubs. In the ‘90s, the online channel allowed them to recover, and now their online brand is well-established. What they wanted to do, they said, was to re-open the clubs and integrate the online experience with the offline. Our job, they said, was present to them a strategy for accomplishing this goal.

Team Red presented first, and as they began to discuss their project plan, my heart sunk. I realized we’d completely neglected that part of the proposal. Ah well, Team Blue shall prevail another day. The presentations were all very good and represented some quality thinking. But after all the teams had presented, I had it in my mind that Team Red or Team Green would take the glory. Of course, it would have been Team Blue had we bothered to make a project plan. Ahem.

The next day at lunch, the winner was announced. Team Green! The crowd broke out into a round of enthusiastic applause, and Team Green certainly deserved it! They got medals too (also well-deserved), and I couldn’t fail to notice that the individual members kept them on all day. But hey, they deserve their bragging rights!

The International information architecture Slam, continued

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

The IA Slam is one of my favorite parts of Summit. In this three-hour session, participants are grouped (randomly) into teams of eight, given a design problem to solve within 45 minutes and later present their solution to the audience. The design problem is presented as a story and supported with richly detailed materials.

Group

Photo credit: Erin Malone

The idea is always outrageous, and this year was no different. Bon Vivant (loosely modeled on Playboy) wished to take a new direction into exclusive clubs for high-income professionals. The challenge was to offer a strongly customizable and customized client experience and integrate the online and offline aspects of the clubs. The team had to come up with a “big idea” and supporting material such as use cases, functions, and project plans.

This year’s winning team’s was Team Green (James Kalbach, Matthew Frederick, Alecia Kozbial, Eva Miller, Blair Neufeld, Sarah Dilling, Kathy Mirescu, Michael Kopcsak). Their big idea was “It’s who you know and where you go!” The judges awarded it because it had:

  • A “social sliding scale” for privacy, so a client could disclose personal information according to her level of comfort.
  • Initial user flow for clients of BOTH sexes
  • Effective presentation style and very effective use of time limits and timekeeper
  • Phased rollout with each phase clearly identified
  • Their big picture of data architecture had our clients in the center of the diagram.

Thanks again to Eric Reiss, Lynn Boyden, Chris Chandler, and Matthew Fetchko for running the slam. I can’t wait to see what you come up with in Vegas!

Re-invoking Culture and Context in Digital Libraries and Museums
Ramesh Srinivasan
Conference description

Reviewed by: David Sturtz

Ramesh Srinivasan described his recent work with several Native American reservations on TribalPeace.org. This digital library system was designed for sharing media with the goal of re-linking groups that were physically disconnected. Ramesh noted the unique requirements of systems for communities like this due to the great emphasis placed on storytelling. The digital library system must allow multiple accounts and viewpoints to coexist.

To organize the collection, he has facilitated the creation of “fluid ontologies.” These structures encompass the local culture’s evolving self-understanding and identity. Working within the community, he sets in motion the construction of an “ethnomethodological architecture.” Building on the ethnomethodology approach to sociology, this process relies on the actual members of a social group to understand and formalize the relationships and patterns of their society.

Ramesh reminded the audience that both this fluid ontology and externally developed and applied classification systems are boundary objects. As such, they include or exclude members of particular groups. While a locally created ontology results in greater engagement of the community and more complete description of items, an external classification system allows greater interoperability with other repositories, and improved findability in a larger context. Balancing these conflicting demands is central to Ramesh’s research, and results in interesting insights. As he noted, “tension between multiple perspectives allows dialogue to emerge.”

Intranets BOF
James Robertson

Reviewed by: Pat Barford

Working on an intranet then meeting people who do the same at the Summit struck me as somewhat like having a drunken uncle. Just about everyone has one, but no one talks about it until one day you bump into others with the same problem. The dam breaks and you can’t believe you’re actually sharing the same stories. And it’s hard to stop. The Intranets BOF was something like that.

Eric Reiss

Photo credit: Liz Danzico

More than two-dozen people showed up to share their stories, their problems and look for answers. For almost two hours, people put their problems on the table for discussion, feedback and suggestions. James Robertson of Step Two Designs played host, much as he had the day before during his Strategic Intranet Planning workshop. There was no shortage of talk, problems, or willingness to share the pain and pleasure of working on intranets. From those in the process of setting up an open source intranet to others dealing with hundreds of thousands of pages and employees speaking multiple languages in dozens of countries; people were there to talk, listen and learn as much as they could.

It seems that intranets are an area with few, if any vehicles for communication among those working on them. For many in the group, it seemed almost a relief to be able to talk with people doing the same job. One thing that became apparent is that intranet IAs are looking for a forum to share information as well as pose questions to others in the business. It was rumored that Yahoo! Groups has a little used intranet UX group that we should consider reviving. What happens there remains to be seen. The session wrapped up well after its allotted hour. I couldn’t help get the feeling that this was just the beginning of a whole other area of IA ripe for exploration, communication, and networking.

Business & Design BOF (Or, Up, Up, and Away)
Jeff Lash
Conference description

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

Initially, the Business and Design BOF seemed more like oil and water rather than a flock–firms and consultants trying to figure out how to sell their services; internal employees looking for ways to innovate from within.

Then, Harry Max reminded us why we inhabit the same professional space–it’s all about consultative selling. No matter the size of your organization, the project, or your position, in the end you have to sell your ideas and methods.

All folks who practice IA, regardless of their title or type of organization, deal from the same deck. Over the course of the discussion, a few tenets emerged. If we learn to ask the right questions, and really listen to the answers, our practices will help businesses better understand the problem they are trying to solve, find a path to resolution that works for their customers, and make the right choices when allocating resources.
We also need to be aware of the business climate when we are trying to sell our ideas. Pure metrics (ROI, NPV) are most important in times of contraction, when resources are scarce. One participant had a great idea for a “revenue-generating machine” back in 2000, but could not sell it because Silicon Valley was in cost-cutting mode.

Livia Labate deals with this problem by mapping her projects to both numbers and the soft measures (customer satisfaction), so she is ready with ammunition no matter the environment.

After the slow start, the session acted as more of a showcase of the various perspectives, in the end overlaying these approaches in a way that showed us standing in the same place looking out in different. One participant protested our pragmatism, but in the end I hope he realizes that we are in the midst of an attempt to turn businesses into the art he so passionately desires.

Posters and reception

Reviewed by: Jess McMullin

Poster session

Photo credit: Erin Malone

Coming after a full day of sessions, I started out tired and hungry. But walking in the entrance, the poster session immediately set the right tone, mixing the chance to browse displays of cutting-edge thinking combined with the opportunity to socialize with cutting edge thinkers. Held in a huge ballroom, the space was open enough to circulate by the posters on the perimeter, or take a discussion to the center of the room.

Poster session

Photo credit: Erin Malone

The overall quality of the posters was high, and I found myself wishing I had more time to digest it all. I started at the back by the bar, and didn’t make it even halfway around the room–every few steps another poster full of smart thinking punctuated my meander, challenging me to think even more. And you know what? I did – the takeaway for me was that great ideas energize, and I left renewed and invigorated, looking forward to more from the rest of the Summit.

Of the posters I managed to catch, three still stand out in my memory:

  • Billie Mandel’s Enterprise IA Toolkit Under the Hood
    Whimsical and profound, all at the same time. Billie tackles the journey of EIA effectiveness.
  • Stephen Anderson’s Sorting, Organzing, and Labeling the Experience
    Incredibly elegant visualization of experience. Gorgeous. I’m printing my own poster-size version.
  • BranchLogic’s and Yahoo’s Yahoo! Network Diagram
    The largest poster I saw, showing all the elements of the Yahoo! Network. Impressive not just for its sheer size, but for Yahoo! to share it. Fantastic example of a company being open and raising the bar for everyone in industry to share their own experience.

The above posters, and many more, can be found at the IA Summit site.

Reviews of other conference sessions are available by day:

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

Written by: B&A Staff
“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

and

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

Figures

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

Mentoring

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.

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