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

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

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

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Chris Baum

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

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

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

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

danah boyd

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Fred Beecher

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

Keyboard

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Donna Maurer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

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

Jason Hobbs

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Jorge Arango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by: Christian Crumlish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinha recommended we in the audience try these things:

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

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

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

5 Minute Madness

Reviewed by: Jess McMullin

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

Jess McMullin

Photo credit: Javier Velasco

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

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

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

Reviews of other conference sessions are available by day:

An Open-Source Conference: BarCamp

“Think of BarCamp as the open-source equivalent to a traditional conference, in which top-down planning is replaced with bottom-up self-organizational models.”

It seemed to be an average technology conference. A hundred some web geeks gathering for a weekend of presentations and discussion at a loft-like office space in lower Manhattan. And yet, BarCamp NYC (New York City), a recent incarnation of the BarCamp “un-conferences,” was about as far as you could get from a traditional conference.

The BarCamp venue was a tangle of laptops, sleeping bags, food containers, stacks of Red Bull, and notes taped to wall space not already occupied by screen projections. The constant crisscross of discussions and presentations (of which it often was hard to tell one from the other) would likely be jarring to the uninitiated, like an orchestra musician encountering a jazz improv session for the first time.

Think of BarCamp as the open-source equivalent to a traditional conference, in which top-down planning is replaced with bottom-up self-organizational models. Instead of having committees planning the event, selecting presentations, and then charging attendance fees, the only price for attending a BarCamp is participation. Attendees have to either give a presentation or help out with one. That simple rule lends momentum to an overall sense of ownership on the part of each who attend, which in turn, fuels a desire to participate far beyond doing presentations.

Structure

At the same time, even BarCamps need an initial seed effort. At the NYC event, Amit Gupta headed up a group of volunteers who did the initial heavy lifting to provide the core ingredients of a BarCamp: a space to hang out, a decent Wi-Fi connection, and some food. In the spirit of making the event as low-cost as possible, the daytime space doubled as accommodations for out-of-towners. Describing group-effort auto-pilot in action, Amit writes that organizers “didn’t give any instructions on what to do or where to go. Everyone just figured it out on their own, found a space when they got tired, and bedded down. In the morning, people got up, showered, and were ready by 10 or 11. Again, no direction, no alarms, people took care of themselves and each other.”

Presentations

Similarly, the un-conference approach to scheduling presentations was also a community effort. Attendees were encouraged to arrive early to “get a slot on the wall,” which is BarCamp-speak for the self-organizing event scheduler. At the NYC event, this took the form a Day/Time/Room grid taped up on a wall, onto which people slapped sheets of paper with their (sometimes barely legible) presentation names in whatever slots remained open. Presentations ranged from down-and-dirty coding discussions about new or on-the-horizon tools, such as FeedPile and ideaShrub, to more activist-leaning talks with titles such as “Build your own TiVo (Myth TV) to beat the evil broadcast flag” or the more light-hearted, like “Getting your girlfriend the ‘best present ever!’ using OSS.” Below a presentation titled “Social Networks,” someone had added the presentation “Subverting Social Networks.” Very BarCamp indeed.

Chris Messina, open-source evangelist, and a co-organizer of the original BarCamp (held in Palo Alto in the fall of 2005) describes the BarCamp experience as being “emergent… in totality. The events happen in communities — and are organized by the community members *for* the community.” His presentation, “Flock, Micro formats, and Open source world domination,” was representative of the tenor of the event, intermingling intricately detailed technical discussion with larger social themes, such as the win-win proposition of sharing as much of your work as possible with as many people as possible.

Chris used his work on the Flock browser as a springboard for discussing how users can more easily create web content and engage with other users. Describing the traditional bookmarking model for maintaining a personal web history as “stupid and unintuitive,” he presented the Flock model, which takes a Gmail-like approach, indexing every page the users visits. Then, rather than having to dig through long lists of bookmarks to find the URL of that cool page you looked at last month, you can instead just search your web history to find it.

“Below a presentation titled ‘Social Networks,’ someone had added the presentation ‘Subverting Social Networks.’ Very BarCamp indeed.”

Exemplifying the playfully rebellious undertone of several presentations were Brandon Stafford and Mike Goelzer, in their presentation “Making the entire web as unreliable as Wikipedia.” They talked about a very-much-in-progress model for allowing visitors of a web page to view an alternate version of the page—written not by the original author but by someone who is part of your “micro culture,” and whose opinion you’ve defined as preferable to that of the original author. Admitting the concept definitely needed some work, they described it as an attempt to “take back the web” by allowing users to, at least in a limited way, turn the entire web into a wiki.

Other great presentations included a talk by Nick Gray on empowering individuals to get their development projects implemented on the cheap using offshoring. Generally associated with how big corporations lower labor costs, Nick described a peer-to-peer version of offshoring, made possible by services such as RentACoder, from which one can find a programmer in, say, Ghana, to build an entire application for under $1,500, or even get small jobs done for as little as $10. Many of those attending initially responded with disbelief at the idea of getting even a single line of code written for $10, until we realized that this amount may in fact be a lot more money in other parts of the world.

Some presentations took on more of a sideshow-attraction feel, such as Matt Pelettier’s lunch-time challenge for anyone in the audience to pick an application for him to build in 15 minutes using the Ruby on Rails programming language. “What do you want me to build?” he asked defiantly. “Build something that searches craigslist for New York City apartments,” someone in the crowd proposed. Sure enough, fifteen-ish minutes later lists of outrageously priced Manhattan apartments from craigslist appeared on his laptop.

Planning

Saying that BarCamp NYC was a huge success is an understatement. Interest in the event was so high that the organizers had to keep the location of the event secret, only doling it out to the first 100 or so that signed up. The event buzz was in part thanks to a self-perpetuating marketing strategy similar to how the event itself was run: plant a small seed and then let community forces take over. It involved asking a few respected bloggers to write about the event, and then let news spread via word-of-blog. At the same time, a lot of free BarCamp buzz also came by way of its predecessor, Foo Camp.

Created by O’Reilly Books founder Tim O’Reilly, Foo Camp originated the unstructured event concept on which BarCamp is based, with a key difference being that Foo Camp is invitation-only. Due to an “in-hindsight-fortuitous miscommunication,” web-standards evangelist Tantek Celik thought he hadn’t been invited back to Foo Camp 2005, which led him to create an alternate open-to-all event, setting in motion what led to the first BarCamp. (By the time he learned he in fact had been invited, BarCamp planning was well underway.)

More than just an alternative model for facilitating a rich exchange of ideas, BarCamp seems to represent a generational break from conventional professional gatherings. They usually take a year or so to plan, cost tens of thousands of dollars to execute, often have some corporate backing, and are mostly planned over email. In contrast, the first BarCamp was put together in about six days, mostly via instant messaging, SMS, and ad-hoc wikis, for a cost of about $1,500, which is less than the price of a single ticket to some of the more high-end tech conferences. Stripped away are the constructs adopted by major conferences from academia, such as keynotes, posters, formal calls for papers, and peer reviews. Gone too is the presenter/attendee divide, where those not giving talks too often are passive spectators, except maybe for the occasional end-of-talk Q&A.

That model certainly has its place. Some people just want to go to a conference and listen to leaders in their field speak (and maybe get their two cents in during a 5-minute madness session.) But the detrimental side effect of this is one of virtually the same A-listers disseminating to the flock year after year. And this where BarCamp provides a democratizing alternative, where talking is just as important as listening.

The informal feel of the event also makes people less concerned about presenting fully developed ideas, instead, increasing the comfort-level of throwing out off-the-wall ideas just to see what the response is. And by the same virtue, an audience who, in a more formal setting, might politely listen quietly to a not-so-great presentation, is more comfortable speaking up, maybe even turning the presentation into a workshop to see how a bad idea can be turned into a good one.

Next

As of this writing, at least three more BarCamps are being planned. In addition, several spin-offs are in the works, including WineCamp, in which developers mingle with non-profits at a vineyard to explore how one can support the other. As with BarCamp NYC, the events have been mostly technology-centric. But there is of course no reason why this low-cost, yet amazingly fruitful, event model can’t be applied toward IA and UX-oriented events. In fact, because the work of user experience professionals is so much about listening to and communicating with technology and business groups, an event where everyone presents and participates seems tailor-made for this field. At least one such event already is being planned, with Dave Heller heading up the planning of UXCampNYC, expected to take place sometime in May.

Euro IA Summit Wrap-Up

“Since IAs are crafting and shaping the experience of millions, we have a huge responsibility. We should not forget that there is more to a profession than a title and a fee.”
(Andrew Dillon)
The first European IA Summit took place on October 15-16, 2005 in Brussels, Belgium. The theme of the conference was “Building Our Community.” Over 100 people from 18 countries attended, with a few coming from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Asia. The program consisted of a mix of papers and panels, as well as a poster session. Of course there was also plenty of time to network with people from the field.

All of the presentations deserve mentioning. In order to avoid glossing over each with a mere sentence or two, I have elected to present only a few program highlights. For more program information see the conference website: www.euroia.org.

Keynote Speech – Andrew Dillon (Dean, School of Information, University of Texas)
Always thought provoking, unwavering in his viewpoints, and ultimately inspiring, Andrew Dillon questioned whether or not IA can have a future by examining its past and present.

There were many insightful warnings. One regarded the insular and polar behavior currently existing in the field. Boundaries are being drawn and barriers erected. For example, the need by some in User Experience to define themselves by what they are not was categorically dismissed as a “nonsense argument.” Andrew made his opinion clear that “we don”t have a definition for IA and we don’t need one.”

Another interesting warning came from the academic perspective. Because fields shift, he foresees the possible demise of computer science as a discipline. This presents IAs with a “very real and present danger” once the sleeping bear of shifting fields has awakened and starts taking up IA work.

He also reminded us that five of the six billion people on this planet don’t have internet access, and the ever-expanding explosion of information is yet to come. One specific future challenge we will be facing is curation: information is being produced but not properly stored. This tied in strongly with his call for more education and research in IA, expressing it as “absolutely vital.” “There is no profession without education, and IAs must be able to say that there is a body of knowledge behind them. Not just everyone should be able to say that,” he stated.

Andrew also tackled our use of the word ‘user’: “It’s is a bad term because it’s based on some notion that people are passive recipients of technology. ‘Human’ is a better term, he challenged, noting that the idea of the participant being a part of the process from “task performer” to “task creator” is one we should consider.

He views the IA as a crafter, but recognizes that there are inherent problems in that process. There is no guarantee of consistent reproduction, for example, and crafters often can’t articulate their recipe for success well. For example, it wouldn’t matter what Picasso would say about his process: we still wouldn’t be able to paint a Picasso painting. Indeed, crafting is not about the execution of sterile, calculated steps, but rather “an intuitive response to a problem.”

Rounding out the speech, Andrew brought our attention to the topic of ethics. Every credible field questions what it does and reflects. “Since IAs are crafting and shaping the experience of millions, we have a huge responsibility. We should not forget that there is more to a profession than a title and a fee,” he said. He challenged us to take the opportunity to augment life, stating that we should be changing the world for the better.

“Putting User Experience Design at the Heart of the World’s Largest IT Project” – Kit Lewis (Oyster, UK)
The world’s largest IT project (measured in cost) is the United Kingdom’s National Health Service system. The scale of this project is beyond everyday comprehension.

This presentation really shined in the illustrative identification of ethical considerations this critical project is facing. Some examples: the tsunami of paper records, the insane storage and security problems, the hidden health risks caused by the physical presence of IT in health care settings, the overwhelmed healthcare providers having to constantly learn new user interfaces, and the distancing barrier that IT often physically creates in relation to the patient. It’s staggering.

Now for some good news: Kit showed us his user experience approach to these issues. An important part was identifying high-level design goals, defining them as needing to deliver the “best” user experience and rejecting the acceptance of “merely good enough.” The common user interaction deliverables “must be better than anything currently out there or in development.” Iterative, user-centered design was the anchor for achieving these goals involving many different components in the process.

The presentation ended with a relieving positive snapshot of what the National Healthcare Service is achieving and its scale of influence. He cited its leadership in the world of joined-up healthcare and predicted its influence on product development, especially in the areas of infection-resistant hardware, the A5 tablet PC, and in the design of next generation mobile devices.

“Shared References” – Eric Reiss (e-reiss aps)
Do you know what a szendvics is? Clue: See picture.

Gover_euroiasu_062902_1

Eric delivered a thought provoking, highly energized, and participatory presentation on the idea that when we design we should be asking the same kinds of questions as when we converse. The next time you’re having a conversation, engage in this simple, silent observation: how many times did you or your conversant say “uh-huh” or “yeah, that’s like…” These are moments when we are sharing a frame of reference.

In contrast, when the frame of reference fails to exist, comprehension stops, confusion and/or annoyance sets in, and our audiences leave. The message here is that we have to be really careful with descriptions, even when it is something we all know.

Having a size reference – especially when displaying items for sale on the web – can also make the difference in our comprehension and purchases. If we can see the handheld device in an actual human hand, we have a much better sense of its size and perhaps more. Pictures and detail build confidence and trust, and this is what Eric says ecommerce needs.

Eric also touched on the issue of culture and how it can kill individual elements. Not all cultures understand the mailbox icon or the sound icon, for instance. Conventions used by one country can often derail users in others. Examples include varied date formatting, acronyms, and names of people whose surname is indistinguishable from their first name.

Eric ended a great presentation with the reminder that if the metaphor is good, people will get the picture.

“IA in Norway: Getting Media and Market Attention” – Are Gjertin (WM-data)
Are Gjertin, whose background is in journalism and communications, gave us a look at how IA is being practiced and promoted in Norway. He pointed out that there are about twenty IAs in Norway in comparison to approximately 80-90 User Experience professionals. IA doesn’t have a clearly defined role in the Norwegian community and IA deliverables are seen as an expensive add-on. This seems to be a roadblock for IAs struggling to get recognized as a profession within companies who feel that their IT departments already have it covered. He bolstered this argument with a maxim from Jante’s law: “you shall not think you’re anything more than us.”

In five years of trying to get the message out, Are had three main lessons for promoting IA:
1) Keep it simple
2) Documentation and quantification are powerful tools
3) Speak up! Have a clear voice but also look to others (such as the US) for
inspiration.

Another interesting angle on getting the message out was that information and findings must be “tabloid.” Are shared his “baits and hooks” that can be used to get media and market attention. He also strongly urged the IA community to publicize and participate in related arenas (e.g. World Usability Day). Finally, he made a call to blog and write in our native languages: “When you write in your own language, you support your own community.”

“Using Community Tools to Capture Knowledge in the Organization” – A Panel Discussion
Filip Borloo, Managing Director of icogs NV, moderated a riveting panel discussion with Paul Magis, Webmaster at NATO, and Euan Semple, Head of Knowledge Management at the BBC.

On the issue of how we capture knowledge, Euan pointed out that it was a strange and debatable concept. For example, he reminded us that in the Dewey Decimal Classification system the Christian religion had 150 sub-classifications, as opposed to four for the Muslim religion. He maintains that at the BBC, which has 25,000 employees, the chances are good that someone knows the answer to your questions. Bulletin boards, blogs, and wikis have been instrumental in linking questions to the right answers. He also believes that if a company supports blogging, then it has to give its employees time to blog.

Paul debated that the information explosion has produced two parts of the world: experts and newbies; and there are a lot of newbies. He joked that NATO should stand for ‘Not Able To Organize’. Paul gave a revealing example: A NATO photographer delivered pictures without any keywords. This created a three-week problem because no one knew what the pictures were or what they were for. He believes that many people are creating information, but are not caring about how it’s being used. He provoked the audience with a philosophical question: “Are you really producing information if there is no metadata?”

Euan brought up the point that managers can’t increasingly control the internet. For example, the BBC has blogging enthusiasts and activists. So when people use their own voice and patterns emerge, sometimes management takes these things into consideration. He pointed out that there is safety in numbers when expressing an opinion. The problem, Euan says, is that often people don’t get the opportunity to express their opinion.

Paul countered by questioning what companies should do when people start using time at work to produce information that isn’t producing revenue. At the end of the day, Paul argues that it’s “people making the difference, along with context.” Computers just can’t do this kind of organization, he believes. This is why, Paul points out, the important conversations and decisions take place in the corridors and the cafeteria as opposed to in the meeting rooms, wikis, and blogs.

The entire discussion eventually led us into the area of ethics. Paul relayed a story about the daily transcripts that were being produced by NATO during the Bosnian war in Sarajevo. When the transcripts stopped for three days, a father called and said he felt that something had happened to his daughter, who was serving there. The US press had stopped writing about the war. Paul reactivated it, pointing out that we are living in a global village and that translates into responsibility.

“Mobile Internet Campaigns” – Reinoud Bosman (MediaCatalyst)
This case study gave a great inside look into the complexities of IA design for the mobile environment, an area Europe is strong in. The challenge the team faced was to translate the Women’s Tennis Association Tour website (or a part of it) to a mobile service.

The issues were many: lack of browser standardization, the huge variety in screen sizes, the inability to test every page with every device, rapidly changing technology, and latency (when nothing is happening when you click on a server and the request bounces back and forth), to name a few.

The team chose a specific phone as a baseline model because of its standardized browser and big screen. The latter was perhaps a less than optimal choice, Reinoud explained, because it was “too good” for the mobile internet. Wireframes offered a quick view of what could fit on the screen as well as allowing for iterations. They also proved to be deceptive because on the mobile viewing the whole screen sometimes involves extensive scrolling. Iterations were also difficult to keep track of and created communication problems.

Accessing the mobile site was also a critical issue given that it had to be available in eight languages. To solve the language selection problem, the user is offered an educated guess for location. The user’s choices and login info were also remembered and stored in cookies.

One lesson learned concerns the lack of primary or secondary navigation, causing dead-ends to lurk everywhere. The symptom for dead-end mobile IA is the “back button frenzy.” Forms are also a pain because there is no copy and paste, no keyboard, and no “smart remembering” of drop downs. Reinoud’s advice: leave them out.

Mobile users always need to be offered the possibility of a new choice or task. This provides the user with shortcuts and saves a lot of clicks. On the other hand, he also recommended leaving out what you don’t need. Every click for the mobile user is expensive and the pain is immediate. It’s therefore advisable to hide links that have nothing behind them.

For the future, Reinoud sees new phones that will support copy and paste, custom dictionaries, and richer interfaces with such technologies as Flash. This would eliminate latency and would allow for a more fluid user experience. Also, because mobile companies have been losing money, if you are designing IA mobile work you are developing standards by de facto.

We should be intensely interested in documenting these summits… Does IA really want to deliver a wheelbarrow of PowerPoint slides in ten years as the body of its work? A call for papers?
Thank you to all of those who submitted actual, full-length papers. There were three: Alan Gilchrist and Barry Mahon’s excellent paper on IA as a Means of Assessing and Creating Organizational Information Coherence , Peter Bogaards’ IA in a European Dimension: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and Simone Fuchs and Luca Rosati’s The Italian and the English Model of Information Retrieval in the Governmental Websites. Being able read these papers after the presentation not only provided a great review, but offered augmentation to the finely presented information.

If we have a call for papers and no one writes them, we aren’t documenting our work. One has to then question what historical significance these excellent summits will have. Wouldn’t it be extremely advantageous to be able to look back at the papers for all the summits, especially as time marches on and the field continues to (hopefully) develop? Wouldn’t it be a valuable teaching tool and reference for those institutions with IA programs? Wouldn’t it also be a valuable reference for companies and their IA teams? A collection of papers from past summits could also be a important tool for spreading the value and knowledge that IA has to offer.

We should be intensely interested in documenting these summits. Presenters should likewise be intensely interested in documenting what they have to say. It’s really not about making IA too stuffy, too academic, or even about who has better writing skills. It is about sharing in a dialogue, widening IA’s influence as a discipline, standing up for what we are presenting, and leaving a legacy. Does IA really want to deliver a wheelbarrow of PowerPoint slides in ten years as the body of its work?

It’s understandable that imposing a strict paper requirement might have the negative effect of a reduction in submissions. So if we aren’t going to write papers, can we offer other solutions? CNN provides transcripts of its shows on a regular basis, for instance. It’s not perfect, but it works because you can read it. Just think of the benefit this would be at the North American summit, where it is physically impossible to attend all presentations. Pod casts? There are solutions and options to this problem. Let’s get wrestling.

Final Remarks
This was an excellently organized and successful first European IA summit. It gave Europe a platform to show its unique accomplishments, raised awareness of how much IA is going on in Europe, and ultimately put European IA on the IA map without being a subset of the North America summit.

There was no mention of gurus, yet there was a definite need to recognize the European identity framed by what Europe can potentially do better than, say, the U.S., such as with mobile technology or with multilingual and multicultural issues. This awareness of a divide was perhaps the single negative aspect one could attribute to the summit, and it was also one of the most revealing. Europe needn’t live in the shadow of North American summits, but will Europeans harness their unique competencies?

Lastly, keeping with the North American Summit tradition there was also a 5-minute Madness, which was captured with a transcript-on-the-fly.

Euro IA 2005 website: www.euroia.org

New Challenges Retreat: ideas, discussion, and a call to action

“On a global scale, there are only a handful of us, and yet our work affects millions every day.”

“We’ve got a lot of questions and not so many answers,” according to opening session speaker Peter Van Dijck as he and Jorge Arango addressed the issue of global information architecture (IA). As the IA field grows, conferences and retreats provide IAs with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the possibilities.

This year’s IA Retreat, “New Challenges in Information Architecture,” took place at the Edith Macy Conference Center, just north of New York City, October 7-9, 2005. Of the many themes discussed at the retreat, those that stood out revolved around the challenges of enterprise information architecture (as in very large enterprises, such as government agencies, and Fortune 100’s), cross-cultural IA issues, and designing user experiences for evermore complex, and increasingly less, web-centric systems.

Peter and Jorge gave a “broad-strokes” perspective on the daunting challenges faced by cross-cultural multi-language sites, where even something as seemingly innocuous as how country/language is selected can set off a firestorm among users. In one great example, they explained that Flemish users protested loudly when a product site chose to set French as the default option if users selected Belgium as their country. The design was changed to accommodate the users.

Language and culture challenges in IA were also very much at the center of Mairi Willis’ session on designing intranets in large, distributed organizations. She described her task of deploying intranets across some 50 countries, each of which incorporated the country’s own language and cultural idiosyncrasies, all while remaining consistent with the overarching enterprise framework. Mairi told of having to mix diplomacy with sprinkles of dictatorship to provide countries as culturally and geographically disparate as Kazakhstan and Indonesia with enough freedom to ensure that locally specific needs were met without compromising enterprise-level objectives. An example of one specific issue was deploying information from headquarters to individual countries.

Dan Brown and James Melzer each took stabs at addressing enterprise-level challenges. Dan led a workshop that proposed leveraging the work of George Lakoff and the thinking behind prototype theory toward designing content management systems-which too often are more expensive than useful. He guided us through several group exercises, where workflow, roles, and content were used as the core building blocks of a CMS. Some of us felt that “context” deserved being a separate building block.

James’ session, which was based on his work for large government agencies, started with a nutshell description of Enterprise Architecture and how (surprise, surprise) user experience had mostly been left out. He presented a great diagram, which placed user experience at the center of the enterprise architecture. A discussion that simmered throughout these presentations was the absence of a formal IA theory, and how we instead find ourselves cobbling together theories from other disciplines.

Is there a need for a Ph.D. in information architecture? Is information architecture just an umbrella for other disciplines, making the need for a theory of its own moot? As Peter said, a lot of questions, not so many answers.

Marcelo Marer, Mary-Lynne Williams and Victor Lombardi took more of a strategic focus in their sessions. Marcelo and Mary-Lynne described navigating design concepts through their client’s various acquisitions of other companies, in which much of the heavy lifting in the design work, conventionally associated with the user-visible interface, took place in back-room strategy sessions with executives. They also provided a great example of high-level design “from the hip;” when, in the twelfth hour of this enterprise-wide effort they decided to discard the strategy they’d worked so hard to sell to stakeholders and instead adopt the infrastructure already in place at a newly acquired company. It was a gutsy, but ultimately, successful decision, and a great testament to the power of being open to change course, even after a fundamental design choice has been made.

Victor talked about how advertising space and value on a page-level basis can affect page design. He showed methods for calculating the value of an ad, and discussed how size and placement of the ad on the page are key factors. This led to a discussion of the trade-offs between choosing content quantity on a page and how difficult choices need to be made by stakeholders regarding usability versus income. The focus of IA is often on the structure of the content, while the big swatches of ad space, which have a direct impact on usability and usefulness (and in some cases the ads turn out to be more useful than the content), are easily forgotten. Todd Warfel pointed out that navigation and orientation are also critical factors when incorporating ad space, describing how users sometimes click on an ad link and are not aware until several pages deep in the advertiser’s site that they no longer are in the originally visited site.

As part of his presentation, Todd outlined methods for improving IA deliverables, including how to leverage grid systems. Using two different newspaper layouts with similar amounts of content as a discussion springboard, Todd showed how the one that made better use of a grid had a cleaner and more relaxed look. He explained that it improved usability during page transitions, since only content that is unique to the new page moves or changes.

Todd also showed how pattern libraries can increase productivity both for IAs as well as developers, who are keen to leverage the same code base across multiple solutions. Reminiscent of the Yahoo! pattern library presentation at this year’s IA Summit (March 2005), Todd showed several examples of solution reuse across multiple designs. As with wireframes, the ins and outs of sitemaps are a matter of continual discussion among IAs. Into that contentious mix, Todd added his hub-based model, which he described as more closely matching the user’s mental model of the site. In contrast to the tree-based approach, page clusters with user persona information associated with them radiate from a central homepage. Todd showed how the model works for content-heavy as well as interactive sites, and that many of the clients he had shown it to understood the model without need for introduction. He noted that the hub-model may be more work to maintain than other models. A lot of discussion emerged surrounding Todd’s concepts, such as questions about the role of IAs in defining page layout, or the usefulness of sitemaps. At the same time, there was agreement that there is a dire need for more innovative ideas, such as Todd’s work, and Adam Greenfield certainly brought that message home with his “Everyware” presentation.

“From the complexities of designing across cultures and languages to managing information in massive organizations, the challenges facing information architects seem to be growing more daunting every time we look around to assess them.”Due to scheduling conflicts, Adam was only able to join the retreat at very end, but as it turned out this was the perfect closing session for the retreat. Adam’s presentation was both a detailed depiction of a ubicomped world in which we’ll find ourselves in an impossibly near future, as well as a call to action for IAs to apply their skills to the mind-boggling challenges of designing user experiences for that future (which, to paraphrase William Gibson, is already here, just not evenly distributed.)

Very methodically and with sometimes frightening detail, Adam described a technological eco-system in which the web as we know it vanishes into the pervasive ether, in which privacy and ethics become paramount factors, and systems become so complex that attempting to design them at the atomic level may simply not be feasible. Instead, we may find ourselves functioning like gardeners tending plants, guiding and overseeing but not controlling detailed behavior.

As the leader of the committee organizing this event, I can say that a major motivating factor for making the retreat happen was the sense of a need for more events and opportunities for IAs to come together and discuss our work. Peter Merholz, president of the IA Institute, has raised similar sentiments about the need for more events. Too many IAs work in isolation from other IAs. On a global scale, there are only a handful of us, and yet our work affects millions every day. I know that efforts are underway to organize a retreat in the Chilean Andes sometime next year, and I hope to learn about other similar efforts. The catalyst that set me off on the path to make this event happen was Christina Wodtke’s call to attendees of last year’s amazing “Future of IA” retreat to make retreats happen in our local areas.

I can only hope that this year’s retreat will serve as an inspiration for others to create similar opportunities for IAs to come together, share and vet ideas, and continue evolving as we take on the challenges that lie ahead.

More retreat resourcesRetreat event page
Retreat wiki (where Chiara Fox and others added session notes, links to presentations, and more)
Flickr stream
Podcasts of the sessions will be posted soon…

Anders Ramsay organized this year’s IA Retreat. He is an information architect in New York City, as well as founder of New York City IA Meetups. His personal site can be found at: www.andersramsay.com.

The Art of Project Management

“Examining all ideas—even bad ones—is essential to creativity. Design is about exploration.”

Project management involves more than just what a project manager does. All team members engage in some level of project management, whether meeting deadlines, communicating with others, or estimating task durations. Ultimately, everyone on a project contributes to its success.

Scott Berkun’s book, The Art of Project Management, is not about any one specific project management methodology, but about fundamental aspects of all projects. This makes it engaging to project managers and non-project managers alike. The author recounts personal experiences while managing projects at Microsoft to provide insight into the not-so-transparent aspects of project management-the art of project management. If you don’t care for the standard, dry project management textbooks on the market, then this is for you.

The book is divided into three large sections: “Plans,” “Skills,” and “Management.” This organization provides a logical flow overall and lets topics to build on another. However, the chapters are relatively self-contained, allowing for random access, as the author recommends.

To begin, a brief history of project management exposes elements common to all projects: processes, design, constraints, dilemmas, and roles. The point here is to learn from the past and avoid repeating common errors.

Berkun then moves quickly to the basics of project management with topics such as project plans, requirements, and creating a vision. In the chapter “Figuring Out What To Do,” Berkun outlines three basic perspectives to approaching plans: The business perspective, the technology perspective and the customer perspective. About the latter, he states, “This is the most important of all three perspectives,” but also recognizes that “sadly, the customer perspective is the weakest in many organizations” (p. 63). Berkun’s insight into bringing users into the design process is comprehensive and genuine: he gets it.

Of particular interest to IAs and designers are discussions about creativity. For instance, in the chapter “Where Ideas Come From,” Berkun offers this sobering perspective on thinking outside of the box:

“Do whatever you want with the box. Think in the box, out of the box, on the box under the box, tear apart and make a fire out of the box, whatever, as long as you manage to solve the problems identified as the goals for the projects.”

He also suggests that examining all ideas—even bad ones—is essential to creativity. Design is about exploration.

In “What To Do with Ideas Once You Have Them,” Berkun recognizes a key issue in creative work: making ideas actionable. The author advocates such tactics as formally tracking ideas, using affinity diagrams to consolidate ideas, and employing iterative prototyping. Regarding prototyping he says, “Because there are so many details and perspectives, it’s impossible to predict which paths will work and which ones won’t. And that’s precisely what prototypes and iterations are for: making mistakes, learning, revising, and moving forward” (p. 157). How true.

Given the author’s active involvement in HCI communities, it is not surprising that he supports usability and design so strongly. It is unique, however, to see heavy doses of design-related topics and user-oriented thought in a book on project management.

The middle section of the book, “Skills,” gives hard advice on a range of practical topics: from how to write good specifications to making decisions to writing appropriate emails. The chapter “How Not To Annoy People: Process, Email, and Meeting” offers down-to-earth recommendations through witty anecdotes. Berkun sees five key annoying behaviors– when others:

  • when others assume you’re an idiot,
  • don’t trust you,
  • waste you time,
  • manage you without respect, and
  • make you listen to or read stupid things.
“Leaders must develop enough trust that people will bring issues to them during crises instead of hiding them. Trust, then, is at the core of leadership.”The final section of the book deals with more general, overarching issues of management. With such chapters as “Why Leadership Is Based On Trust” the author once again touches on the softer side of project management. Trust is built through commitment but lost through inconsistent behavior, he believes. Leaders must develop enough trust that people will bring issues to them during crises instead of hiding them. Trust, then, is at the core of leadership.

Another chapter interest is “Power and Politics.” Here, the author dissects that ever-frustrating political game underlying many projects. He puts the abuse of power in plain words: “The misuse of power occurs when an individual is working toward his own interests … Much of his energy will be spent doing what is best for him, instead of what is best for the project as a whole” (p. 427). Berkun also details various strategies to navigate political problems. This involves knowing the political playing field: who has the power, how is it obtained and applied, and how can individuals get what then need for the project. Ultimately, the amount and type of politics in a given project comes from the top down.

The tone of this book is personal and from the heart, with tough and direct statements. The unfortunate side effect of his chatty writing style, however, is a long book. Weighing in at 488 pages, it is long-winded. Berkun could have covered the same ground in half the space. Ironically, the author stresses concise writing in project documentation (see p. 99). Luckily his causal presentation is fast-paced and the reading goes quickly.

The excellent annotated bibliography not only shows that Berkun has done his homework, it also provides a very helpful guide to identifying additional key sources on the topic. The index at the back of the book is also quite good and allows the book to function as a quasi-reference book.

This is a comprehensive, how-to book devoid of jargon and theory. The author gives direct advice from his own experience. The real value of this book, though, is that it is not about a single methodology for project management, nor is it just for project managers. Instead, Berkun is able to speak about project management at its highest-level without filtering it through a given approach. It is deep enough to keep seasoned project managers reading, but also appealing to non-project managers. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to improve general project skills.

Random, yet selected, quotations of interest

“Note that because design skill is distributed in the universe independent of political power, people granted design authority might not be people with much design talent” (p. 55)

“There are many different ways to abuse information about customers. Simply claiming that customers are important doesn’t signify much” (p. 75)

“When ideas aren’t accessible or kept in the light, the fade away” (p. 107)

“I do not know where the phrase ‘there are no bad ideas’ came from, but I’m certain it’s wrong…I have incontrovertible evidence that there are an infinite number of awful, horrible, useless, comically stupid, and embarrassingly bad ideas” (pp. 119-120)

“The most common mistake is to treat the design process as if it were a big light switch – you can just turn it on and off whenever you like” (p. 144)

“Don’t fall in love with Visio or flowcharts. Maintain platonic relationships with all tools. Usually, diagrams are interesting only to the person who made them, and they are often not as effective in helping the project as their creator things. Sometimes, a good paragraph or a sloppy, hand-drawn sketch is better than a 500-element UML diagram. (Just because a diagram is the only way for the author to understand something doesn’t guarantee it’s the best way to explain it to someone else).” (p. 179)

“When you spend hours pounding away at the same issues, you eventually lose perspective. When all the choices start looking the same, it’s time to get away.” (p. 210)

“The funny thing about childhood development is that we all get hand-me-down belief and emotional systems. Most of the behaviors we follow are by and large learned from our parents…Until someone stops and examines the value of their behaviors and emotional responses, independent of where they learned them from, it’s difficult to grow in emotional maturity – or even to know how emotionally mature and healthy we are.” (p. 298)

“Calling ‘bullshit’ makes things happen. If people expect you will ask them tough questions, and not hesitate to push them hard until you get answers, they will prepare for them before they meet with you. They will not waste your or your teams’ time.” (p. 343)

About the book

The Art of Project Management, Scott Berkun
O’Reilly Media Inc.
2005
ISBN 0-596-007868

View book site, including a sample chapter

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • A brief history of project management
  • Part I: Plans
    • The truth about schedules
    • How to figure out what to do
    • Writing the good vision
    • Where ideas come from
    • What to do with ideas once you have them
  • Part II: Skills
    • Writing good specifications
    • How to make good decisions
    • Communication and relationships
    • How not to annoy people: process, email, and meetings
    • What to do when things go wrong
  • Part III: Management
    • Why leadership is based on trust
    • How to make things happen
    • Middle-game strategy
    • End-game strategy
    • Power and politics
  • Notes
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Acknowledgements
  • Photo credits
  • Index
    James Kalbach, assistant editor for Boxes and Arrows, holds a degree in library science from Rutgers University, as well as a masters in music theory and composition. He is currently a Human Factors Engineer with LexisNexis and previously served as head of information architecture with Razorfish Germany. He is an active speaker and author on information architecture and usability in Germany, where he helped cofound an IA community.