Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design

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“Alan Cooper popularized personas as a valuable design tool, but many people who adopted them failed to take into account the context of Cooper’s practice, which had fairly specific needs.”

How can something that feels so right be so wrong? Personas ought to be one of the defining techniques in user-focused design. Lots of professionals create them, yet too often the personas end up being too vague to guide a product’s focus. They often lack the detail to be useful in guiding low-level design trade-offs. And, as typically done, personas have been too narrowly focused. They often aren’t helpful in identifying the information a user needs or creates. Nor do they have much to say about the sensory and emotional aspects of user experience–the sorts of factors that cause consumers to lust after products like Apple’s iPod.

As a result, personas have unfortunately become more of a check-off item than a useful tool, and many personas get put on the shelf once they are written. So how did we get here? Continue reading Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design

Expanding the Approaches to User Experience

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“I’m looking beyond the web to a model that handles a broader context, including software, interactive CD-ROMs (for those who remember them from the early 1990s), video games, and other interactive products. But even within the web alone, ignoring the “experiential” elements of user experience seems to be a serious omission.”Jesse James Garrett’s “The Elements of User Experience” diagram (17kb PDF) has become rightly famous as a clear and simple model for the sorts of things that user experience professionals do. But as a model of user experience it presents an incomplete picture with some serious omissions—omissions I’ll try address with a more holistic model. Continue reading Expanding the Approaches to User Experience

The New R&D: Relevant & Desirable

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“I’ve heard people argue we don’t know anything about designing for users except that which we learn through usability testing.” Somewhere in the process of evangelizing user-centered design, user experience professionals seem to have forgotten the value of vision-driven design.

User-centered design has been a useful antidote to prevailing software and web development attitudes, which are reminiscent of early 20th century production-driven marketing approaches. As Henry Ford put it, you could buy a Model T in any color as long as it was black. Likewise, the dot-bomb implosion showed the risks of basing the success of your business on a wild (and often bad) idea.

But it’s an equally big mistake to focus our attention solely on users (which is one reason I’ve never particularly liked the term “user-centered design”). At worst, I’ve heard people argue we don’t know anything about designing for users except that which we learn through usability testing. Continue reading The New R&D: Relevant & Desirable

Building the Beast: Talking with Peter Morville

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Back in 1998 Peter Morville and co-author Louis Rosenfeld wrote what many considered to be the book on the subject “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web,” which helped make information architect into a new job title. Morville and Rosenfeld also helped spearhead the field during the seven years they headed Argus Associates, one of the leading IA consultancies. As the “Polar Bear” book, as it’s affectionately known, goes into its second edition, Boxes and Arrows asked Morville about the making of the new release and his thoughts about how the field has changed since the book was first published. Continue reading Building the Beast: Talking with Peter Morville

Lessons to be Learned

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Ivy-covered halls are filling up again with eager students of the user experience fields ready to change the world (or at least to study out the recession). But are these programs really teaching them what they need to know?

There are serious problems with the way user experience-related programs are being taught. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against academic degrees. My father was a professor and I’ve been an instructor myself. But that experience makes me worry that current academic programs aren’t well-suited to serving the needs of their students, nor our professions. Let me count the ways… Continue reading Lessons to be Learned

(Over)simple Answers for Simple Minds

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Hell hath no fury as those who’ve been attacking Jakob Nielsen on various user experience-related mailing lists in recent weeks over his decision to work with Macromedia on Flash-related usability issues after nearly two years of declaring “Flash 99 percent bad.” He’s being called a sell out, a hypocrite. The list goes on.

Part of me feels for Nielsen. After all, the pressures and temptations to provide simple answers to complex issues is one we all face in our professional practices. Even if you’re not a high-profile guru, you’re probably facing the similar pressures to come up with quick and easy answers to Big Gnarly Problems.

Let’s face it, if Nielsen had said “Flash is 50 percent bad” he wouldn’t be getting beaten up as much as he is—but no one would’ve paid as much attention to his original article either. I’ve spoken at a number of conferences and the more provocative you are the more audiences tend to listen. Plus being a pundit can cause a subtle feedback-loop that causes you to think your way is the best way for everyone—being known for a particular approach attracts clients with agree with your view and drives away others whose problems don’t fit your approach.

But even if you’re not a high-profile guru, you’re probably facing the similar pressures to come up with quick and easy answers to Big Gnarly Problems.TM Continue reading (Over)simple Answers for Simple Minds

The CHI/AIGA Experience Design Forum

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Minneapolis, Minnesota—April 21-22, 2002

Editor’s note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, we’re only able to present coverage of the first day of the two–day event.

The first–ever CHI–AIGA Experience Design Forum was greeted “We can choose which skills we want to learn and each of these skills become arrows in our quivers to be used as needed.” with a real Minnesota welcome. Snow. Several inches of it. But inside the Minneapolis Convention Center there was a warm sense of camaraderie among the Forum attendees, who came in from both the CHI and AIGA communities, a hopeful sign for future collaboration among the two groups, as well as the practitioners they represent. Continue reading The CHI/AIGA Experience Design Forum

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

What’s in a Name? Or, What Exactly Do We Call Ourselves?

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Get us together for a cocktail hour, a conference or on a mailing list and the question inevitably arises: So what exactly do we call ourselves? And for every dozen people, there are probably two dozen opinions.

Boxes and Arrows was no different. Defining our audience involved some discussion, and like the community-at-large, deciding what to call this audience sparked the most heated discussions. Continue reading What’s in a Name? Or, What Exactly Do We Call Ourselves?