ASIST IA Summit Summary
Baltimore Maryland 15-17 March, 2002
The 2002 Summit in Baltimore has come and gone. Boxes and Arrows was in attendance covering the events, the social mixing and the controversies. Throughout the summit we made some new friends and took a lot of pictures. We hope that those who attended will share their stories as well.
Friday, March 15
The summit kicked off with the traditional Friday evening cocktail hour. Tentative attendees came together, introduced themselves, had a drink or two and as easily as they flew into town, became fast friends.
The evening was marked by continuous exchanges of exclamations as badges were read and email correspondents from the SIGIA-L list met in person for the first time. Large groups of people peeled off together for dinner and more socializing. The summit had officially begun.
Saturday, March 16
Saturday’s events began much too early for many but most of us managed to be there on time. After a brief breakfast there was a short intro by Richard Hill, – who took a moment to introduce the inter-organizational (ASIST, CHI, AIGA and STC) group formed to address the cross organizational issues and needs of the IA community. Then Andrew Dillon took the stage and began with an overview of the summit’s history. He introduced and thanked the committee members for their work in planning the summit and described some of the challenges they faced as a committee. He gave a brief explanation about this year’s theme “Refining our Craft” and laid out the format–full group presentations, parallel sessions of case studies and poster presentations–which all support the learning and refinement of what we do. Andrew then introduced the keynote speaker Steve Krug.
The Keynote: Confessions of a SIGIA-L Lurker: A Pinhead’s View of Information Architecture
Steve Krug, author of “Don’t Make Me Think: The Common Sense Guide to Usability,” was simultaneously serious, analytical and irreverent as a speaker. His corporate motto, "It’s not rocket surgery," illustrates this unique combination of qualities. In his presentation he attempted to squeeze the entire field of IA through the wringer; to note the difference between IA and usability and to dissect the top five things IAs talk about on the SIGIA list.
A self-confessed lurker on the list, Steve stated “I am not an IA, I don’t even play one on TV.”
He talked about his professional background–moving through his career from typesetting to computing to tech writing to usability consulting.
There was an interesting comparison of the “Lou and Peter” (Rosenfeld and Morville) version of IA –"IAs organize information to make it more understandable" –to the Richard Saul Wurman version of IA–IA’s organize information to make it more accessible. He noted Boxes and Arrows and paraphrased some of his observations from the Nathan Shedroff article about claiming the name and the turf and the angst of many practitioners over names. He then shared that his insights have been gained through experience and observation.
Throughout his talk he made fun of himself, his background – as far as being an expert on IA-and his presentation, which only added to his funny and approachable style.
The top five things that he thought we spent time talking about on the SIGIA list were:
Lots of discussion about who uses what, what’s best or better than this or that
- Defining things
He noted that we like to frequently define who and what we are a lot. He illustrated this point by showing the cover from the Richard Scarry book “What do people do all day” as well as Jesse James Garrett’s "Elements of Experience diagram" and Challis Hodge’s "Experience Design Roles" model. He noted that it looked like a putting green and he wasn’t sure what it meant in terms of the relationship of one role to another. But he liked it.
- Big IA versus Little IA
Mr. Krug stated he always forgets the difference between the two, which got a big laugh.
He felt that research had very little practical application to the practicing profession. He said, ” if you can prove it, then it’s probably obvious,” and then stressed that we need to make sense to people and apply principles and best practices to specific cases. He cited Jakob Nielsen’s closing talk at the Usability Professionals’ Association conference last year in support of this.
- ROI (Return on Investment)
From what he observed while lurking on the list, we seem to have a tough time with ROI because most people who need IA can’t afford to even rent one. Our best bet is to educate and generate best practices. We need to stop grabbing for turf and give intelligent explanations of what we do.
Overall, Krug’s keynote was irreverent, self-effacing and designed to spark debate around several points. He turned the mirror on us, through his observations of the list and the topics we discuss, and offered friendly “outsider” advice on how we can improve ourselves and the profession.
Lou Rosenfeld, moderator, Keith Instone, Christina Wodtke, Andrew Dillon and Steve Krug
Following the keynote, the panel responded to the keynote and questions posed
by Lou and the audience.
Starting the session, Lou mentioned that even though he was not present, Jakob Nielsen always seemed to dominate the conversation. Christina Wodtke made a brave statement and said she felt IA needed to be given away and taught to other people. She felt there would still be master craftspeople, but for the discipline to progress we had to be more open about giving away our knowledge. She supported this by giving an example from her company (CarbonIQ) conducting training workshops and getting more business as a result. Clients learn about information architecture and then decide they don’t have time to do it themselves and hire an IA, because once they are educated they understand the value.
Q. An audience member asked if there was an IA list of heuristics, akin to Nielsen’s list of heuristics.
A. Steve Krug – A body of best practices is better than a list. Christina admonished usability folks for not doing a better job of informing design. Usability fails because test reports wag the finger at us and do little to inform the design process.
Q. Why are we so preoccupied with usability?
A. Andrew Dillon – It is unhealthy when usability and IA are divided. All work of the IA should be concerned with the user, therefore usability is important.
Q. Are we shying away from design and should we take more ownership of it?
A. Andrew Dillon – Yes, we should step up to the plate and do it. Keith Instone – We should collaborate more. CW -We are designers. IAs architect. Architecture = Design. We have to engage in creative activities and need to be taken to task for what we create.
Q. What is the importance of ROI?
A. SK – people need to educate people who spend money that usability and IA are worth spending money on. Case studies trying to prove ROI are not a good use of time. He recommended doing usability tests on the product and having the business / marketing people come and watch real people use their product. Then pitch for what you can do to make the product better. Christina Wodtke shocked us all by saying that ROI is a big lie. But we have to talk to the CEO about how their business will be improved – in dollars and sense.
Q. What is the language that communicates the value of what we do?
A. CW – Instead of inventing our own language, adopt the language of others. Talk business with the business people. Understand marketing terms and needs. KI – Learn the language of business to make the case. They are receptive to our messages. Audience comment – There is value that comes from being multidisciplinary and being able to educate other people in an organization.
Q. John Zapolski, from the audience, asked the panel to comment: We haven’t talked about the relationship between IA and design. There are many problems
similar to those in IA that have been solved in the design space.
A. CW – When the web came around we created new processes but we forgot that we can borrow from other disciplines. We have been scared of design by the “magic.” We need to find the balance between the white coats of science (research) and design.
Q. What is the role of IA and research?
A. KI- There is frustration with being able to apply research. AD- Lots and lots of research had to be done before we got there – before “it’s obvious” came out of the evidence. It’s not just a series of outputs. The role of research is not to prove anything, it’s to check things and disprove things. SK- Research may not be able to prove things, but people looking for research are looking to prove something and that is what’s bad.
E-Greetings Case Study
Chris Farnum, a former Argonaut (member of Argus Associates), presented the work he did while at Argus to redesign the card collection organization, taxonomy and search at the eGreetings.com. He presented their methodology and processes and went into detail specifically about the card sorting, prototype testing and other methods they used to learn from users.
Farnum detailed the process used to define the controlled vocabulary direction and then showed how that evolved to paper prototypes used to determine the final taxonomy direction and facet level. He showed samples from the toolkit used in their testing and talked about the findings, which surprised them because of the preconceived assumptions and how they shaped the design.
The second part of the presentation showed their work done on search once the browse structure and taxonomy were defined. To Farnum’s credit, he talked about how he and the client disagreed, therefore ending up in two competing prototypes to take through testing. In the end, the client design was preferred by users and Farnum was forthcoming about letting the audience know that although it was difficult, he listened to the users when making the final recommendation.
Farnum ended his presentation with the bittersweet information that the search part of the project never launched because the company was sold, but that if you look at the site today, many elements of the classification scheme and homepage organization that they designed are still being used.
Information Architecture for the Enterprise
Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Merholz
Peter had some brief thoughts on IA for the Enterprise.
Some of this included an observation of the evolution in customer-centric practices despite decentralized customer relationships. There was a lack of coherence with interaction with customers. It didn’t help that departments didn’t talk to each other. Then the buzz of customer relationship management systems was seen to solve that decentralized customer relationship. In actuality, they bridged the operational side of managing relationship and did not allow for a holistic approach to customer interaction.
All enterprises did with CRM was “put a single face on decentralized organization.”
The old way was to shove the message and brand perception to customers.
The new way is to have interactions with other people and with many business units.
Striking a balance between the new and the old allows for consistency and for innovation. Peter presented the five steps toward meaningful consistency.
- Centralize web/IA efforts – treat them like an internal consultancy.
- Build organizational awareness even with external justifications and quick wins.
- Study Customers – understand their approaches, share IA on needs not company structure.
- Develop a style guide beyond the visual. It should include content display, navigation systems, interaction elements, rules and should be extensible.
- Implement a CMS (Content Management System) – a document system is not sufficient, make it easier to do the right thing than to do your own thing.
Lou Rosenfeld talked about the hyper-evolutionary model: Enterprise Information Architecture.
Over the past couple years IAs have been focused on users and content for websites, but have not been applying what was learned to the entire company. It seems as though this context for IAs is being ignored Lou’s presentation focused on the history of IA practices for the web and internet. He discussed how an IA’s skills transition to benefit enterprise: ecommerce, reduced costs, clearer communications, shared expertise and reduced reorganizations.
He later dissected some of the “sins” of that prevent enterprise IA from working:
Business Units Five Deadly Sins
IA Five Deadly Sins
He did offer some suggestions for how enterprise IA can succeed (aka: Lou’s Pipe Dream):
- Economic Model
MetaData and Taxonomies For a More Flexible Information Architecture
Amy J. Warner
You go to the doctor when you feel ill. You go to Dr. Warner when you feel information overload. Amy J. Warner PhD Gave an insightful and clarifying talk. Many “don’t give me any of that librarian stuff” IA’s were held fixed to the edge of their seats by her explanation of the continuum of controlled vocabularies and taxonomies, from synonym rings to full blow thesauri.
First she walked us through the building blocks of “taxonomies” (a word she and other LIS educated folks are slowly and cautiously beginning to adopt in order to clearly communicate with businesses). All classification efforts start with metadata. Metadata falls into five categories: administrative, descriptive, prescriptive, technical and use. It is descriptive metadata that we most often use in controlled vocabulary creation efforts. So once the descriptive metadata is harvested through indexing efforts, the classification can begin.
To begin the process, she presented the levels of potential complexity in controlled vocabularies, from the simple equivalence-based synonym rings, through the hierarchal classification schemas/taxonomies into the rich and full blown thesauri (the Cadillac of controlled vocabularies) that include associative relationships as well as equivalence and hierarchal. Which to go with? Depends how much time for creation and maintenance you need, and what you are trying to do with your controlled vocabulary. After all why get a Caddy when a Hyundai might do?
Next, she dove right into the importance of business context for creating controlled vocabularies. We saw this throughout the conference: people are figuring out how to talk IA to business. Dr. Warner made complex ideas clear and more importantly relevant to solving the problems we all face today in our information situated lives. Next time you get a chance to visit this doctor, be sure to go!
After the first set of case studies, we all gathered for a lunch of rubbery hotel chicken and more socializing. Another set of parallel case study sessions followed lunch.
Case Studies : Parallel Sessions
BBCi Search – Why Search Isn’t Just a Technology Problem
Matt Jones, BBCi Search http://www.blackbeltjones.com/presentations/asist2002/asist.ppt
Matt’s presentation focused on the research and development of a taxonomy process and supporting tool at the BBC. In addition he gave some insights on evaluating the effectiveness of search user interfaces/interaction designs on websites. Through user research and testing, Matt was able to put together an internal team and supporting software to tag some of the BBC’s web materials and provide strategic content programming for search results.
Some future thoughts on search for the BBCi:
- Development of an answer engine.
- Distribute the building of the taxonomy to the editorial staff.
- Develop facets.
- Provide a suite of search interfaces that other business units can repurpose.
- Context andconversation: profiling the users, building a community.
- Drive search experience with facets.
Some of the features that Matt described in his presentation will not be available until around April 20.
References to other materials associated with Matt’s presentation: http://www128.pair.com/louis/home/bloug_archive/000039.html
Reflections on H2G2 – Collaborative effort of peer-reviewed knowledge base(brainchild of Douglas Adams)
Chiara Fox, Peoplesoft and Peter Merholz, Adaptive Path
Chiara Fox of Peoplesoft and Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path presented their work from the design of the Peoplesoft site. They detailed the team, the methodologies and techniques used to learn about the content and their users. They then discussed the specific processes for content analysis and mapping and showed various artifacts from their work.
James Kalbach, Razorfish, Germany
Jim Kalbach from Razorfish Germany presented three major highlights from their year long work on the design of the Audi Germany website.
The group used Adobe GoLive as both their site mapping tool and wireframing tool, allowing for instant HTML prototypes and collaborative working and updating. The goal was to find a better tool for version controlling, efficient updates and changes to the site as it progressed. While it met most of their expectations, ultimately it was the wrong tool for the job because not everyone on the team adopted it and the project pushed the limits of what the product was capable of.
Right-hand Navigation versus Left-hand Navigation
The bulk of Jim’s presentation covered this component of the project and he detailed the extensive user testing the team did to find out if their solution would be usable, learnable and accepted by users and the client. The Razorfish team was challenged to create a site that was competitively different and the right-hand navigation was a key element in their solution. Their studies- with 64 people in usability tests, eye movement analysis and interviews – surprised them in that their hypotheses were very conservative and the results more than showed that the site was learnable and quite usable with a right-hand navigation scheme. They plan to publish their research, so I won’t spoil it by attempting to quote the presentation. The final results of the tests satisfied the team and the client and the site was launched with a right-hand navigation system.
Noel Franus, moderator, Jesse James Garrett, Dan Brown, Erin Malone, John Zapolski
The panel opened with brief intros and bios of the panelists by moderator Noel Franus. Overall the panel was a great show and tell of different philosophies surrounding deliverables that IAs produce. The panel represented both internal and consulting IAs.
Jesse James Garrett walked through his “visual vocabulary” for diagramming information structures and interaction flows. Garrett said he intentionally designed his system to work with the lowest common denominator – PowerPoint – in an effort to make the diagrams as widely accessible as possible (although the visual vocabulary templates are available for a variety of software programs.. Jesse went into some high level discourse about visual vocabulary and how it could be used. One example that he shared was the reverse IA engineering of Yahoo! Mail which is currently available at on Boxes and Arrows. In contrast to the other panelists, who often presented poster-sized diagrams, Garrett argued that diagrams should be made to fit (or tiled) onto letter-sized paper so that they can easily be printed by a wide variety of people
Dan Brown stressed deliverables should have three essential components. Coherence – done by making sure you’re working with as complete a set of information as possible, identifying the dimensions of the information to be presented and the overall message the diagram should convey. Context – created by including references to previous work that forms the basis for a particular deliverable. Relevance – done by making the deliverables self-referential.
Erin Malone discussed some of the process and organization behavior (acceptance) that revolves around the production of deliverables as a collaborative (share the map & use it) tool for business owners and engineering. The deliverables are used as a communication tool and not the end product of her group’s work. She included techniques for annotation, the need to iterate, and parallel work on developing the functional specifications.
John Zapolski explored the Zen-like aspects of producing deliverables. Design is not just an activity of making things, but also of making sense. He provided his own definition of IA: an area of design concerned with classifying, organizing, and structuring information so that it becomes meaningful. He believes that we need time to think so that we can make things well. He described a good model of being able to analyze a concrete situation and understand it at an abstract level but then being able to apply the abstract again to something concrete. He drew a distinction between deliverables intended for “problem seeking” and “problem solving” parts of a project. Problem seeking deliverables include such things as explanations of user goals, concept maps, content audits and inventories and systems analysis. Problem solving deliverables include such things as conceptual models (of the proposed solution), flow maps and user interface specifications.
Dinner and Posters
Following the deliverables panel, the attendees were invited to grab a buffet dinner, socialize and meet the poster presenters. During the day the foyer of the hotel conference area was transformed as people put up their presentations and posters. The dinner hour allowed people to interact with the authors and ask questions about the project.
One of the most interesting posters was that of Mike Lee. Lee spent time analyzing the site map deliverables IAs make and wondered if their meaning/understanding would be enhanced by taking them into the 3d realm. He had 3d models of various site maps and charts converted into these three-dimensional explorations. He also demonstrated how to take one of these. Lee specifically noted on his poster that he didn’t know, yet, how this concept in presentation would apply in practice, but it was nice to see innovative thinking in how we visualize our solutions.
Where the Wireframes Are: The Use and Abuse of Page Layouts in Information Architecture Practices Dan Brown
Modeling Access Control Vicky Buser and Michael Sullivan
A Living Archeology: Excavating The Past – Mapping The Future Serena Fenton
Information Flow Diagram Dennis Huston
Location, Path & Attribute Breadcrumbs Keith Instone
Dimensional Deliverables: Exploring the Realm Between Paper and Screen Mike Lee
Discrepancies Between Business Requirements, Use Cases, Design Documents, and Actual Development Richard M. Oppedisano
Sample Personae, Process Flow Document, and Wireframes for an Interactive Television Project Kimberly Peters
Auditory Context Diagrams, Representations for Organizing Information Presented Vocally Claude Steinberg
Information Architecture’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’ and the IT Project Iceberg Lee Sachs
Vision Based Requirements Unifying User-Centric Interaction Design With Requirements Analysis Methodologies Laura Scheirer
Following dinner and posters, the local DCIA local group invited everyone to attend their monthly event, which they scheduled in the bar of the hotel. From the looks of the bar, a large portion of us took them up on their offer and conversations about IA took place late into the night.