Arrows in Our Quiver

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As I write this the Police’s “Synchronicity” is on the radio and that’s a good way of summing up some of the interesting developments experienced during the past few months.

On mailing lists, at conferences, in conversations at cocktail hours, I’m starting to see a growing awareness of how our various disciplines form a community of practice.

At last month’s SIG-CHI, I helped lead a workshop that looked at how traditional HCI (human-computer interaction) compares to the “new” information architecture by looking at our deliverables. What was striking were the similarities found between them. Looking at what we do, it was hard to tell if someone should be called information architect, interaction designer or usability engineer.

Obviously there were differences in focus depending on whether someone was working on a software application or a portal site. And often times the same deliverables or process might have completely different names. One person’s scenario was another person’s use case. But a deliverable by any other name still serves the same purpose. Hairsplitting can be fun, and I’ve done my share of it, but let’s not lose sight of things.

Alan Cooper made the point eloquently at the previous days’ SIGCHI/AIGA Experience Design Forum (which incidentally was the first joint event between the two organizations). Cooper called on people to end the terminology debate and learn to appreciate each other’s skills. We can choose which skills to learn, and each skill becomes an arrow in the quiver that we can use when needed.

That’s what we’re here to do at Boxes and Arrows: help us all learn about the wide variety of arrows that are available, and when and how to best use each one.

Which brings me to a complaint I’ve heard about Boxes and Arrows—it’s too much to read every word every week.

That’s fine. We won’t stop you if you don’t want to read the whole thing, but I like to think of our content as rich and varied buffet for our community of practices. Not everything may be particularly relevant or compelling for you during a particular week. If that’s the case, we hope you’ll check back next week, since the buffet will always be changing.

But more than that we hope you’ll let us know what’s not on the menu that’s particularly appetizing to you. What topics should we be covering? Let us know.

We’re particularly interested in hearing how we can not only talk among ourselves but talk to the business people who set the direction and the technologists who make things happen.

Having a successful product (including websites and software) requires hitting the right intersection among business goals, technological feasibility and design desirability. So Boxes and Arrows hopes to help integrate our own wide array of skills with others’ skills, in order to have the fullest and richest quiver available in our joint efforts to hit that target.

(P.S. Thanks to Keith Instone, Peter Boersma and Lisa Chan who co-organized the HCI/IA workshop.)

Marla Olsen
Editor, Chief Curmudgeon
Boxes and Arrows