Looking Forward and Back

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“I resolve to spend less time worrying about educating people about what I do, and more time doing what I do—designing websites people can use.”

—Brenda Janish

Reflections on 2003 and resolutions for 2004

Looking back

This time last year, Boxes and Arrows published a few predictions. We promised that at the end of 2003 we would take a look back and see how insightful these predictions were. As expected, many of these predictions were ahead of their time and I expect that it may a couple more years before these come to pass.

Here are a few of those predictions and their outcome:

Dan Brown predicted:

The number of books specifically on information architecture (a la Polar Bear and Blueprints, et al) will double.

B&A: Well, they didn’t exactly double. An Amazon search reveals 14 books with Information Architecture as a phrase in the title with only four coming out in 2003. On the other hand, we know that many usability, information design and design books that are relevant also came out in 2003 so collectively there are a lot of good resources available.

There will be at least one course on information architecture in every major university in the world.

B&A: Mmm, how to check this one out. There are a lot of new courses in IA showing up in universities around the world. However, finding consistency in curriculum or even in the type of department offering the class, cerificate, degree is hit or miss at best. We still have some work to do here.

Earl Morrough predicted:

I predict that in 2003 the subject of the emerging profession of information architecture will be picked up and reported on by at least one of the major television news networks. The report will include clips from an interview with either Christina Wodtke, Peter Morville, or Louis Rosenfeld.

B&A: Well, maybe this year.

Jeff Lash predicted:

2003 will be the year of wireless. Wireless networks in homes, businesses, and public and common spaces will be increasingly popular, and cheaper service plans for mobile phones and PDAs will drive the development of usable and useful wireless-based applications.

B&A: Close. We are getting there. I think 2004 will actually see the cheaper prices and free common spaces. Where folks dabbled in 2003, 2004 will see wireless become commonplace.

Christina Wodtke predicted:

“Findability” will begin to be part of the business vocabulary along with “usability” and “understandability,” but not until the end of 2003, where it will be mentioned in a magazine such as CIO or Fast Company.

B&A: Well, I couldn’t find, findability mentioned anywhere except here and Peter Morville’s site. But CIO has a couple of articles, from the latter half of the year, about using audience to drive website design. Sounds like UCD to me.

And Dan Saffer successfully predicted:

Several IAs will get drunk in Portland.

B&A: I think he hit the nail on the head there. Any predictions for Austin?

Here are the rest of last year’s predictions. Boxes and Arrows invites you to add more of your own and comment on the success or failure of these to come to pass.

Looking forward

To ring in the new year Boxes and Arrows asked our staff and members of the IA, UX, and Design community to share some of their professional resolutions. We have seen this community grow, fracture, and come together as we all share common goals. And I think our collective resolutions reflect our continued growth and search for excellence in our work.

Brenda Janish:

I resolve to spend less time worrying about educating people about what I do, and more time DOING what I do—designing websites people can use. And—if I’m lucky—designing websites that contribute to the general good.

Liz Danzico:

Whether inside or outside of work, I’ve fallen into an accidental pattern of using certain tools to avoid voice communication. I communicate with colleagues in the next cube via email. I keep up with family members through instant messenger. I have to depend on friends’ blogs to know where they are.

As an information architect, my job is to communicate ideas. Whether the communication takes place between my client and me or between my team and an outside vendor, how I communicate those ideas is important not only in content but in format. For 2004, I intend to communicate directly: I will use the telephone more and without hesitation; I will approach people’s desks unabashedly and without warning. I will depend on the typed word only when these more direct forms are not available.

Erin Malone:

Continue to practice work-life balance and put my external community efforts into initiatives that will really make a difference—like AIFIA and Boxes and Arrows.

Write more.

Nick Finck:

Well, I have made a new year resolution to start extending my efforts within and outside of my own publication.

Part of this is joining up with Boxes and Arrows as a web developer. The other part is going things streamlined in my publication internally so I can invest more time into writing and contributing to other sites and publications.

Another part of this is just getting more in-touch with other individuals within the web community as a whole. Individuals from various backgrounds such as IA, publishing, UX, usability, accessibility, web programming and more. These are people who I already know and talk with from time to time. I am hoping that this year I can get to know these people even better and build more open communication between all of us as professionals.

As far as IA techniques, I can say that I hope to implement a new taxonomy for my publication within the year. It’s actually something I have been meaning to do for a long time but haven’t been able to
gain enough momentum to make it really happen. Along with this I plan to implement several other IA related strategies that will help improve the findability, usability and user experience of my publication.

Marko Hurst:

My mantra in life is “balance in everything.” In my now 8 year career I’ve worked for nearly every sized company from myself—several thousand, worked on projects that have lasted a few days—2 1/2 years, worked with too many technologies to remember, and played the role of nearly every person in a web development cycle from designer-developer, PM-business owner, and of course an IA.

Other than for myself I have never been a “technical” architect. So, in keeping w/ my mantra I feel the one of the greatest assets I bring to projects as an IA is my well-rounded skill-set. I feel that having been in everyone’s shoes has allows me a special insight to their cares and concerns, which in turn I can take into account and “translate” to others. So, this year my resolution is to understand System Architecture & Design.

And let’s not get crazy now, I don’t plan on selling myself as a Technical Architect by any means. The same as I do not claim to be a Developer because I can code a few JSPs or create a JDBC connection. The point is to simply to become familiar enough with another integral part of the web development cycle.

Jenifer Tidwell:

In our next design cycle, I’m going to try to keep a “design notebook” for the project. It would be, in a sense, a collective memory for the design team. From the inception of the project through the final touches, I want to keep track of design decisions made, the reasons for those decisions, all design documents, and “paths not taken”—alternative designs, features we want to implement but don’t have time for, etc.

Why? First, our design documents tend to be scattered in different places. We’d like them pulled together into one place so we can all have easy access to them. Second, our product release cycles are long—over a year in many cases—and we always end up asking ourselves questions like, “Why did we decide to do X? Did we ever consider Y? There was a good reason not to do Z, but what on earth was it?” Third, it gives us something to look back over at the end of the project; we can use it to evaluate our process, and help decision-makers “connect the dots” between our high-level goals and the features our team actually delivers.

I’ve never done this before, and I’ve never heard of it being done. It just seems like a good solution to the problems our project teams have had!

Lou Rosenfeld:

My resolution is to write a book on enterprise IA. 🙂

Keith Instone:

I resolve to actually read B&A this year! “Too damn busy working” is not a valid excuse anymore.

[We like to hear that, Keith, and we’ll be checking our IP Address logs to see if you follow through…just kidding. —Editors]

Julianne Bowman:

Finding ways of using captology in interactive marketing that are useful and engaging to the user as well as smart for the marketer.

Convincing marketers to harvest customer profile data over the course of several user visits, thus creating several “value-exchanges” for the user instead of one big, alienating registration form.

To continue trying to focus my clients on the big usability changes that really matter. They are so focused on piddling quick wins it can be difficult to get them to see the wood for the trees.

To use Visio’s new XML output facility a lot.

And finally,

Cynthia Hoffa:

I think, like me, many IAs are still stranded on the lower end of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. Therefore my short list might look modest, but it encompasses the primary things we fight to conquer in our quest for “self-actualization.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Demonstrate how I add value.

Extricate myself from crazy delivery cycles.


Good words to live by.

I invite you, dear readers, to add your resolutions to the list and wish everyone a prosperous and effective 2004.

Erin Malone is currently a Product Design Director at AOL (America Online). She has been a practicing interaction, interface and information designer since 1993. She is editor in chief of Boxes and Arrows.


  1. I resolve to get Erin things before deadlin. 😉

    My resolution is to spend more time in the strategic practice of my craft, and less in the tactical. We get so caught up in execution day to day, we forget to step back on a regular basis to reassess, and got get the perspective to learn and to innovate. I plan to stop doing that ad hoc and make it a regular part of my practice.

    I also resolve to spend time doing for Design Management what I did with IA– gather fellow practitioners together for discussion, read up on it, learn core principles, try them out and then share the successes outward.
    I’ll be posting a meet at Arnie’s list

  2. Jenifer Tidwell:

    I keep a design notebook as you describe. I put every scrap of paper: sketches, maps, notes, old versions, key emails (annotated). And ultimately a CD with the digital stuff on it. I have found some 2-ring binders that are very well suited to this practice. You can check them out by going to www. bindertek.com. These particular binders are very common in Europe but they work very well as project binders, and are reusable.

    I have found this practice extremely useful, especially as ideas that don’t get used in one project can find life on another. MY resolution for 2004 is to find a way to digitally archive this stuff. The paper is hard to store but valuable.

  3. Resolution: Take charge of my career, it’s all about choices that I make. Reach out to new areas of disciplines and fields that can help me tackle new business, IA, and/or technical problems.

    Prediction: Cross-functional teams include KM, data managers, programmers, records mgmt, corporate governance rep, IA, information designer, usability, business analyst, and project manager.

  4. My late-breaking resolutions for the New Year (well, those that are fit to print, anyway) include reading every article on the Boxes and Arrows site, and then (I hope) contributing some. This last overlays the deeper resolution – to spend time every day reading, writing, and increasing the ol’ synaptic activity level regardless of laundry, bills, and all the other mind-numbing tasks that make up daily life. Working with dedication even on the bad days. Ideas and inspiration always welcome!

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