A Case Study

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One nonprofit + two web agencies + nine months = Yes, that was the formula to launch our web site, and I am one of the sole survivors to tell you about it. Before I begin telling the story of the project it is best to learn who and what Schwab Learning is.

Schwab Learning, a service of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, is dedicated to helping kids with learning differences be successful in learning and life. The Foundation began in 1988 from the Schwabs’ personal struggle with learning differences (LD). After Mr. and Mrs. Schwab’s son struggled in school “Learning about our visitors’ experience first-hand has enabled us to create a web site that meets their needs in a more meaningful way.”they had him assessed for LD. During a meeting with a school psychologist, the Schwabs were asked: “Didn’t either of you have problems like this?” That is when Charles Schwab recognized his own dyslexia, and his lifelong struggle with reading and writing suddenly made sense.

In 1999, after eleven years of serving San Francisco Bay Area parents and educators through direct services and outreach, we realized that we could effect greater change if we expanded our web presence. We needed to find a Web agency that would conduct a study on our target group to understand their needs, develop a web strategy and implement the web site. This project was during the height of dot-com boom, and many agencies were not interested in us because they had many accounts that would bring in a lot more money than our budget allowed. After a few months of pitch meetings with agencies, we signed a contract with Sapient to conduct an ethnographic study and lead us from concept to implementation for a new web site.

Laying the foundation for our new site
When we began working with Sapient we had already established goals, objectives and a direction.

Goal: Help kids with learning differences be successful in learning and life. Support kids and moms through “the journey.”


  1. Create two web sites, one for parents/moms and one for kids, but begin with the parent site.
  2. Conduct a study with moms who have a child or children with LD to learn about their experiences. Also, test Schwab Learning’s hypothesis that moms are the “case managers” for their children when working with schools, doctors, etc., and that parents are on a journey to understand and cope with LD.
  3. Create a scalable business and Web strategy to reach moms.

We began working with Sapient in March 2000 focusing on the business strategy and study of moms’ experiences. There were approximately 10 to 12 Sapient team members and 10 to 12 Schwab Learning team members. As a small non-profit, it was awkward working with such a large team of consultants; they totaled one-third of our entire staff at the time. After two months of working together, a draft business strategy was ready for the Board, and the results of the study had been delivered by way of experience models.

Before explaining the experience models and their impact on the Web site it is important to understand the methodology of the study. These models are extremely rich, as it would be very difficult to describe a mom’s experience without them. There were three parts of the study: focus groups, in-home interviews and visual diaries.

Focus Groups: Conducted in San Francisco and Chicago to determine if there were state-to-state differences between moms. There were four focus groups in each state: Two with children identified with an LD and two with children who struggled in school. In each of these pairs one group of moms had children in kindergarten to third grade, and one group had children in fourth to eighth grade.

In-Home Interviews: Seven moms in San Francisco and seven moms in the Chicago area, each interviewed for two hours. These interviews asked moms how they found information about LD, which management strategies they used with their children and for details about their children’s daily routines. There was also a tour of the house to demonstrate how the mom and child interacted in the home. Moms wrote on index cards words, phrases and questions about how they managed their child’s LD and how they felt parenting a child with LD. They arranged these cards in groups to help us understand how the topics are related.

Visual Diaries: Sixteen visual diaries were given to moms in San Francisco and Chicago to chronicle their experiences in a four-day period. Moms were asked to answer some questions and to write free-form journals. Moms were also asked to take pictures of their home environment, their kids, etc.

The LD Landscape
Five domains make up the LD Landscape and demonstrate the areas of a mom’s life that are affected by her child having an LD. These domains exist before their child is identified with LD; however moms have to reorient their relationships in the domains once they begin managing their child.

The lifecycle: gaining awareness
There are usually three stages that parents go through before their child is identified with LD. First they begin to sense that something is different. Next they rule out the environment, sleep patterns or other factors that might cause their child to struggle in school. Finally, they have their child assessed for LD.

The lifecycle: management strategies
After a child is assessed it is now time for the mom to begin learning management strategies that will help her interact with her child in home and at school. Management strategies do not always work, and may have to be refined.

Mom’s evolution of knowledge
When a mom first finds out about her child’s learning difference she usually seeks all the information she can find. This information is critical in the beginning, but over time moms begin to gain confidence in their abilities to help their children and rely more on experience and knowledge.

The next phase
After the experience models were delivered and accepted by Schwab Learning, the next phase of the project began.

A study with moms identified six user types which illustrate the different roles a mom finds herself in along the journey.

Pre-Identified: Doesn’t know that an LD exists. Considers herself part of the “normal” community, yet might feel isolated.

Novice: Acknowledges her child has an LD, but might not know which one. Learns that an LD landscape exists and there are tools and strategies to learn.

Student: Begins to negotiate the landscape and recognizes the affected domains. Recognizes her need for information and assistance.

Case Manager: Reorients herself in the LD landscape. Improves her ability to handle crisis and management of her child.

Advocate: Proactively participates in larger community. Begins to extend her knowledge to others; beginning of leadership.

Sage: Becomes a community resource and begins to be sought out by others.

The articulation of these roles demonstrated to us that we needed to focus on a particular user type or role because we could not launch a site filling all of these needs. After several meetings working with Sapient we narrowed our target for launch to the Novice mom. Choosing this target group made the most sense as we had been serving this population in our local center for years, and we had ready-made content for the web site.

The day our direction changed
At the end of May 2000 the Foundation’s Board met to discuss various matters, primarily the new business strategy and direction of the Schwab Learning. After understanding the costs of the strategy: call centers, large-scale partnerships, and a deep and complex web site at launch, the Board was concerned. Mr. Schwab grew his business from the ground up, building on top of successes while taking calculated risks and learning from them. The decision was made to scale back the scope of the web site, find another web agency to build the web site from the study we had conducted, and launch by the end of 2000.

After finishing our commitment to Sapient in July, we wrote an RFP, interviewed agencies and hired Small Pond Studios (SPS) within a month. We did not want to stop the internal momentum and enthusiasm for building the web site, and we only had four and one-half months to launch the web site. SPS was an ideal agency to work with because not only did they have a stellar team, the four principles worked for Sapient prior to starting their own company. They understood all of the deliverables from Sapient and were able to translate them into a plan for the web site.

Creating a realistic web site
Once the documentation was internalized by SPS we began working on the design, branding and information architecture. There were four conceptual models to choose from: Information, Tools, Journey and Community. The “Journey” concept was the most compelling model because it gave site visitors an orientation about LD while balancing information, community and tools, which are important to managing the journey. Also, the Journey concept complemented our user study because parents need to understand the LD landscape before managing their child’s LD.

The Information concept did not provide Schwab Learning the space to be a guide to parents, and it de-emphasized community. The Tools concept would not provide parents enough desperately sought information. The Community concept would not put Schwab Learning in the expert role, and a community’s growth takes time, which we did not have.

Once the decision was made to move forward with the Journey concept, SPS created two different wire frames to test with moms. One wire frame was based on organizing the information architecture by the LD Landscape (domains): Work, Family, Institutions, Community and Self. The other wire frame was based on the Lifecycle: Is it LD?, Identifying and Managing a Learning Difference, and Sharing Information.

LD Landscape

LD Lifecycle

SPS conducted two rounds of user testing with six moms using wire frames. The first round was to determine which structure made more sense to moms, and the second was to refine the chosen model. During the first round of testing we discovered that moms did not know where to begin with the LD Landscape concept. All of the domains affected their life, and all were very interesting, so knowing where to click first was not intuitive. Moms had a better sense for were to start with the Lifecycle concept, and that confidence would be critical for first-time visitors to the web site.

For the second round of testing using the Lifecycle concept, the main “buckets” were reduced from four to three: Identifying a Learning Difference, Managing a Learning Difference and Sharing Knowledge. Also, because the concept made sense to moms, the domains became the secondary navigation architecture.. We probed on the wording of the “buckets” and placement of clicks, as well as interest in registering and reactions to a first version of the design.

Final information architecture wireframe

Initial design of homepage
We learned valuable information from this second round of testing. Moms liked the happy children and the warm, inviting color of the Web site. They also liked the “.org” front and center. To the moms it assured them that the site was not trying to sell them anything, and our information could be trusted. Moms did raise concern about the phrase “Sharing Your Knowledge” because some of them felt they did not have knowledge to share.

The next step was to continue to refine the design, then marry the technical and design for testing. We had decided early on to build the site in ASP with a MS SQL database. The live site at the time was built on the same platform so we were able to leverage our existing content management system and other functions for the new site.

In the span of two years, the site went from this design and information architecture in January 1999 …

To this site redesign in September 1999 …

And finally to this complete new site in December 2000.

So you launched, now what?
In 2001 we hired four staff members who grew the team to seven, and in 2002 we had a budget for two more. We added several pieces of functionality to the site: polls, quizzes, a web calendar and an html newsletter option; increased our content from eighty articles to two hundred articles and conducted a usability study with ten moms. In 2001 our web traffic steadily increased from month to month. The average visitors from the first quarter to the fourth quarter increased by 46 percent and page views increased by 49 percent.

When we conducted the usability test with moms we discovered that they were having a difficult time browsing once they clicked into “1, 2 or 3.” Moms were struggling to find information they needed in the domains because the lists of articles were becoming too long. Internally we were struggling with placing articles in our information structure, so we knew it needed to be changed. We have kept the 1, 2, 3 structure and added a 4 to house a visitor’s personal page and some of our functionality that previously did not have a home. We also consolidated the secondary information structure from Your Child, Your Family, Schools and Professionals, etc. to Kids & Learning, Home & Family, Schools & Other Resources and have now added a tertiary information structure. This provides us a more flexible structure that moms will hopefully relate better too. This new information and design structure launched in February 2002.

Lessons learned
It has been an amazing two years and yet we still have a long way to go. Looking back, we have achieved our original objectives and applied them to the building of We have learned many lessons along the way and here are a few:

First, don’t let your vision blind you. We were incredibly excited about helping moms and kids, and that enthusiasm led us to believe that our thirty-person organization could transform itself overnight. We needed to take a deep breath and say, “Wait a minute, how are we going to do this?” Today our vision remains as strong as ever to help kids with learning differences be successful in learning and life. Our process to achieve our vision changed from the big bang theory to starting small, building on the foundation we launched with and protecting our assets.

Second, conducting user studies was invaluable. Learning about our visitors’ experience first-hand has enabled us to create a web site that meets their needs in a more meaningful way. Our experience models have enabled us to communicate with partners and other friends of the Foundation as well as create a new language for us: domains, LD landscape, novice, case manager, etc.

Third, user research and usability testing will always put you on the right track. The testing we conducted pre- and post-launch has been extremely useful in guiding our development. The initial user research study gave us the opportunity to go into the homes of the people we were trying to help. This proved to be rich data because we could see first-hand the interactions with their children and how their homes were set up to accommodate their children (i.e. where they kept medications, chore lists, etc.). The focus groups revealed different information as these moms were in a group with different dynamics compared with one-on-one interviews in a home. The diaries gave us another data point that was intimate in a different way as we only knew these moms’ stories and never met them in person. As for the first usability testing, we were able to discover potential pitfalls before going live. Who would have known that moms would have concerns about the concept “Sharing Your Knowledge”, but “Connecting With Others” did not pose a problem. Also in our post-launch usability testing, we discovered that the secondary information structure based on the “Domains” made sense to us, but not to site visitors. This is a very important discovery because if users cannot browse the Web site easily they are apt to become frustrated and leave the site. Moms of kids with LD are most likely already frustrated when they arrive, and we want to provide them a place that takes away the stress and lets them know someone understands.

Although some of these lessons have been learned the hard way, it has been completely worth it. When we receive emails from moms that read, “I am so appreciative of you [], just for being there. Wish I would have found you sooner,” we know we are doing our job.

Jeanene Landers Steinberg is the Web Director for and had the role of project manager during the creation of the Web site. Jeanene manages a team of eight people consisting of technical, editorial and online community staff who are responsible for maintaining and growing into a premiere Web site for LD information, guidance and support.

Speaking in Tongues

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In last month’s welcome, I set out to describe Boxes and Arrows purpose and goals. On a line by itself I stated this is not a place for jargon. I felt that was important enough to call out. I certainly am being called to task for that.

Jargon is not using a fancy word appropriately, but it is jargon when the fancy word replaces a simpler correct word.

Perhaps I should have stated this will be a place free of jargon. Ridding our writing of jargon is a good goal, but a more complex task than one might think. That said, it’s important to define what jargon is and what jargon isn’t.

Jargon is words used as a gating mechanism. We use jargon when we wish to keep out those who are not like “us” whomever “us” may be. Jargon is when we replace perfectly good accessible English with slang, acronyms and other mangled phraseology. “Monetize” was a dot-com jargon term. It meant, “find a way to make a profit from” and was used partially out of laziness and partially to make people using the word feel like insiders (and perhaps not morons who forgot they had to make a dime on their crazy schemes) 80-20 was a rule for profits—20 percent of your users provide 80 percent of your profit—that became a noun. “Well Joe, the way I see it, it’s an 80-20.“

Jargon is not using a fancy word appropriately, but it is jargon when the fancy word replaces a simpler correct word. Paradigm has often given me fits because it is a perfectly good word… it’s just been abused. People often use it when “model” is probably a better choice. Utilize frequently replaces use when use is the right word. But there is an appropriate time to use utilize… when one means use for profit. We may even choose to utilize jargon if it will serve our sinister purposes in undermining the current design paradigm—but not if there is a better way—a clear, simple ordinary language way.

And jargon is not using a big word that you have to look up. Sometimes when we seek to be precise, we use big words. It happens. A dictionary is a good investment.

Acronyms happen. We have to stay alert for them. One man’s A List Apart is another woman’s American Library Association. ALA means different things depending on what crowd you run with.

New words are born when no word existed previously. It wasn’t that long ago that there was no such thing as an internet, or a CPU, or a handheld. To refuse to use these terms because they might be perceived as jargon would be foolishly handicapping ourselves in the service of communicating.

Finally our authors deserve to be allowed to be eloquent. Adam Greenfield’s style is not Jess McMullin’s, and neither writes like Nathan Shedroff. Nor would we want them to: Boxes and Arrows is composed of people, with a myriad of different voices and different word choices. We will edit to keep their writing accessible, but we will endeavor not to kill the poetry of their language. Writing is a scary and vulnerable activity. An author deserves to have his or her words respected, and editing should enhance and not squash.

So with all these challenges, why try? We try because Boxes and Arrows seeks to be inclusive, not exclusive. We want to cross lines to learn and communicate, and jargon is, as I said, a gating mechanism. So I’ll stick with my earlier statement, though I’ll modify it somewhat:

We will seek to keep this place free of jargon. We will enlist you, the reader to keep us honest. Every article has a discuss link, call us out on the carpet when we say LIS-IA, or directing eyeballs. Definitely bust us when we complain ED is not as good as UX because the CHI’ers are more user-centric in their dev-cycles because of the x-mod they do, while ED is all amusement parks and des9.

In return we’ll do our level best to talk straight.

Christina Wodtke

The Story Behind

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When Detroit’s automotive engineers design a new car, they often bring in real drivers who sit in the seats, mash the gas pedals, and pump the brake. This is the engineers’ approach to involving users in the process of designing new cars that people want to drive—and can drive. Their approach is similar to the thinking that led the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Communication Technologies Branch to formally encourage the designers of government information websites to involve users in the design process. We created, a place to share our knowledge about user-centered web design and why it works with our colleagues.

We are gratified to see clear results from Government web designers are using more user-centered design practices, and web designers in general appear to be more cognizant of the user’s mindset.

Today, has earned a following among technology professionals. For the uninitiated, is a one-stop source for government web designers to learn how to make websites more usable, useful, and accessible. Our site addresses a broad range of factors that go into web design and development: how to plan and design usable sites by collecting data on what users need; how to develop prototypes; how to conduct usability testing; and how to measure trends and demographics. We have packaged our core knowledge into a specific set of evidence-based guidelines for user-centered web design. In addition, the site offers case study information in a section called Lessons Learned.

Home Page of the website  

What many do not know is the story behind, and knowing that story puts our work in context. It’s a story that underscores the critical role that plays in the electronic communication of complex cancer information to very diverse audiences. One minute, a researcher seeking grant information is pulling up an NCI website for details on what grants are available and where to apply. The next minute, an ordinary citizen is frantically searching NCI websites for any informationæany cluesæabout a type of cancer for which the doctor is testing them. Every day, NCI disseminates life and death information. ensures that users and their web behaviors are kept in mind when designing sites.

The seeds for were sown in early 1999 when the popular CancerNet web site came up for a redesign. As usual, we began by seeking input for the new design from technical professionals: web designers, content writers, engineers. Our “kitchen cabinet” also included users. But the opinions from this broad group of professionals and laymen were as diverse as their backgrounds. Whose ideas were right?

Our director, Janice Nall, decided that we needed a methodology to show that what we were doing would produce an end result that was better than what we started with. In fact, we had to be able to quantifiably measure that CancerNet’s new face was better than the old face, to offer proof beyond a lot of people saying it looked better.

To accomplish this objective, we decided to collect quantitative data about CancerNet’s users and their needs as part of the design process. An online questionnaire and in-person interviews turned up some revealing information. We learned that one-third to one-half of CancerNet users were first-time visitors who were often totally unfamiliar with the site. This fact raised obvious questions: With so many new users, was the site easy enough to use? Could users find the information they needed on the site quickly and easily? These were critical questions in light of the kind of information that CancerNet provided to the public.

Given these questions, we began testing the site, an experience that furthered the need to develop a formal way to collect and share our knowledge for future reference. We conducted user tests with doctors, medical librarians, cancer patients, researchers, and others who we expected would be regular visitors. What we learned from testing was as surprising as what we learned from our questionnaire and interviews: some icons were not clearly clickable, many links were confusing, our terminology did not match our users’, and core information appeared to be buried or lost within the site. These were not mere glitches, but conceptual and foundational challenges that needed to be addressed.

To be thorough, our testing was iterative; we built on prototypes and brought in new sets of users to test each new version. We continually collected information to see if new problems cropped up, seizing on every comment, even something as simple as, “What is that there for?” We were like those automotive engineers in Detroit, watching test participants’ every move and examining their every facial expression.

User-centered design tips on CancerNet from’s Lessons Learned section. Click to enlarge.

Today, when you visit, you get a sense of how these tools help government and other web designers to avoid our early mistakes. Whether you read our case study about the redesign of CancerNet in our Lessons Learned section, or read our guidelines about testing issues such as scenario writing, user recruiting, goal establishment, or data compilation, you will see our picture of user-centered web design in action.

We are pleased with CancerNet’s redesign. In the past year or so, the site has won four content and design awards, and CancerNet recently merged with several existing sites, including, into one portal site. But just as importantly, we are gratified to see clear results from Government web designers are using more user-centered design practices, and web designers in general appear to be more cognizant of the user’s mindset. What demonstrates is that web design is not about flash and splash. It’s about transmitting useful information that users want—and need—in a way that helps them find what they are looking for.

Sanjay Koyani works for the Communication Technologies Branch of the National Cancer Insitute. He can be reached at .

STC’s Annual Conference, May 6-9 in Nashville

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STC, the Society for Technical Communication, has historically been the home of technical writers. However, STC has seen an influx of members whose interests extend beyond writing, and its Online Information, Information Design, and Usability special interest groups are among the most popular of the society’s 17 SIGs.

This year’s conference at Opryland will provide attendees with a multitude of opportunities to explore and learn more in these areas, including nearly 50 sessions in usability and information design. Some sessions of particular interest are:

Uses and Abuses of Cognitive Theory—Karen Schriver, author of “Dynamics in Document Design,” will examine key tenets of cognitive psychology and their implications for information design.

Squishiness: The Key to Successful Web Design—Lou Rosenfeld, Whitney Quesenbery, and other panelists will look at how complex sites require “squishy” skills in overlapping fields.

Creating Effective User Surveys—Caroline Jarrett, consultant and former speaker on the Nielsen Norman User Experience Tour, provides tips for good survey design.

Creating Effective Home Pages—Ginny Redish, author of multiple books on usability and consultant to, will look at the design of this critical online component.

Knowledge Management: Tackling Your New Role—Keith Instone, who maintains the popular Usable Web site, will take the information architecture perspective on a panel looking at KM.

Boxes and Arrows readers may also be interested in the many sessions offered in other stems such as Tools & Technology, Theory & Research, and Management. And of course, there are good networking opportunities, starting with the welcoming reception on Sunday, the regional receptions on Monday, and the various networking lunches during the conference.

There’s quite a lot to choose from over a three-day period, and the non-member fee of $560 for advanced registration is still a value. For those who want even more, there are also a variety of post-conference tutorials, such as Goal-Oriented Navigation Design for Online Information, with Kevin Knabe (formerly of Apple and CDNOW), Designing Usable Forms for the Web, with Caroline Jarrett, and Understanding Customer Needs, with Kate Gomoll (whose work has appeared in “The Art of Human Computer Interface Design” and “The Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines”).

For more information, visit the STC conference site at Early registration ends April 19th.

Beth Mazur is the founder of the Society for Technical Communication’s Information Design special interest group (ID SIG), author of the ID SIG’s weblog, IDblog and manages web technology for AARP.

Taking the “You” Out of User: My Experience Using Personas

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The best laid plans…
In 1999, I co-founded a small San Francisco-based start-up called Pyra. Our plan was to build a web-based project management tool and we chose to focus initially on web development teams for our target audience since, as web developers ourselves, we had intimate knowledge of the user group. At the time the team consisted of three people: my co-founder, our lone employee and myself. We considered ourselves to be good all-around developers: competent in both interface and back-end development. We also assumed we were developing our product (called “Pyra” for lack of a better name at the time) for people just like us, so we could make assumptions based on our wants and extrapolate those desires for all users.

At this time, Microsoft had just released Internet Explorer 5 (IE 5) for Windows and we were anxious to use its improved standards support and DHTML in our application to make the interface as whizbang as possible. By limiting our audience to IE 5, we decided we would be able to deliver the most robust application, one that was sure to impress potential users and customers. Later, we told ourselves, we’d go back and build out versions with support for Netscape and Macintosh. So we set to work building the coolest web application we could, taking full advantage of the latest wizardry in IE 5 for Windows. Development was chugging along when Alan Cooper’s “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” was released and I picked it up. When I got to the chapter discussing the use of personas, I was intrigued. Though I was confident in our approach, creating personas sounded like a useful exercise and a way to confirm we were on track. Continue reading Taking the “You” Out of User: My Experience Using Personas

Summit Beginnings: Saturday

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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.

Izumi Oku, Matt Jones and Brad Lauster demonstrate the international IA gang sign.
Izumi Oku, Matt Jones and Brad Lauster demonstrate the international IA gang sign.
(photo Christina Wodtke)

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

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.

Steve Krug chats with Don Kraft following his keynote address.
Steve Krug chats with Don Kraft following his keynote address.
(photo Erin Malone)

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:

  1. Tools
    Lots of discussion about who uses what, what’s best or better than this or that
  2. 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.
  3. Big IA versus Little IA
    Mr. Krug stated he always forgets the difference between the two, which got a big laugh.
  4. Research
    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.
  5. 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.

Information Architecture and Usability: Responding to the Keynote
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.

Christina Wodtke, Andrew Dillon, Keith Instone and Steve Krug respond to the keynote.
Christina Wodtke, Andrew Dillon, Keith Instone and Steve Krug respond to the keynote.
(photo Erin Malone)

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.

Christina Wodtke, Andrew Dillon, Keith Instone and Steve Krug answer questions
Christina Wodtke, Andrew Dillon, Keith Instone and Steve Krug answer questions
(photo Erin Malone)

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. Case Studies : Parallel Sessions

E-Greetings Case Study
Chris Farnum

Chris Farnum talk about user testing the taxonomy for eGreetings.
Chris Farnum talk about user testing the taxonomy for eGreetings.
(photo Erin Malone)

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 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.

  1. Centralize web/IA efforts – treat them like an internal consultancy.
  2. Build organizational awareness even with external justifications and quick wins.
  3. Study Customers – understand their approaches, share IA on needs not company structure.
  4. Develop a style guide beyond the visual. It should include content display, navigation systems, interaction elements, rules and should be extensible.
  5. 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

  1. Greed
  2. Ignorance
  3. Slothfulness
  4. Fear
  5. Loathing

IA Five Deadly Sins

  1. Overreaching
  2. Haste
  3. Overextending
  4. Presumptuousness
  5. Naivete

He did offer some suggestions for how enterprise IA can succeed (aka: Lou’s Pipe Dream):

  1. Structure
  2. Offerings
  3. Economic Model
  4. Marketing
  5. Staffing
  6. Timing

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!

George Olsen and Liz Danzico lunch
George Olsen and Liz Danzico lunch
(photo Christina Wodtke)

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

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:
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.

Audi Razorfish
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 Tool

Jim Kahlbach presents the Audi germany site case study.
Jim Kahlbach presents the Audi germany site case study.
(photo Erin Malone)

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.

Jumping Boxes
Jim showed how the team solved the problem of variable browser sizes by implementing a solution they called "Jumping Boxes’. Following Audi’s motto of “Better design through technology,” Razorfish used technology to adjust the page layout based on the screen size. It detects the browser size and serves the page design that best fits the size of the browser. He demonstrated how the page moves modules of content down and over, while at the same time several modules of content are anchored in place. The design rendered first, depended on browser size. The exact technology was not detailed but Jim speculated that it involved client-side Javascript and CSS. All this work was done to support a strict grid design – three different designs were implemented- and to maintain the right navigation scheme. It was an interesting problem and solution, although Jim commented that it was an overly complex solution to a simple problem.

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. Panel: The Art of Deliverables
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.

The Art of Deliverables panelists
The Art of Deliverables panelists, from l. Noel Franus, Jesse James Garrett, Dan Brown, Erin Malone, John Zapolski
(photo Joe Sokohl)

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.

One of Mike Lee's three dimensional IA artifacts
One of Mike Lee’s three dimensional IA artifacts
(photo Matt Jones)

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.

The Posters
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

Kimberly Peters poster
Kimberly Peters explains her poster
(photo Joe Sokohl)

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

Claude Steinberg discusses his poster
Claude Steinberg discusses his poster
(photo Joe Sokohl)

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

DCIAs gathering
DCIAs gathering
(photo Joe Sokohl)

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.

Chicken Run: Summit Closing: Sunday

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ASIST IA Summit Summary
Sunday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day)

One of several chickens seen in the crowd.
One of several chickens seen in the crowd.
(photo Erin Malone)

Sunday morning found 240 tired IAs eagerly grabbing breakfast and pondering the chickens that had been set up in a little farm scene in the conference area of the hotel. All I can say is that a lot of pictures were taken of the chickens (and a few of them even "mysteriously" flew the coop).


Business Context of the Information Architecture in Content Management Systems
Lisa Chan, moderator, Amy Warner, Samantha Bailey, Paula Thornton, Bob Boiko

The panel began with brief intros and bios of the panelists by moderator Lisa Chan.

Bob Boiko opened the panel discussion by talking about what IA and CMS have to do with each other. CM systems generate sites and the architecture for a CMS is at the enterprise level involving development of templates and structures that will then render individual sites and structures. If you can generalize and think at the abstract level, if you can map and think larger, then you can practice IA at the enterprise level.

Paula Thornton followed and talked about the challenges of working with CM systems due to their immaturity in the marketplace. She illustrated the challenges of vendor selection and shared some strategies and vision for how to work around the vendor offerings.

Samantha Bailey
Samantha Bailey
(photo Erin Malone)

Samantha Bailey presented her views on how a CM system can give more functionality and ease to the IA. She spoke of the challenges of selecting a CM system and the need to prioritize where your efforts go. She warned against letting a CMS solution that makes things easier for the end customer make things more difficult for the internal team that must use the CM system. She closed by stressing the need for synergies and collaboration across all members of the team that will select, implement and use the CMS solution.

Amy J. Warner closed the panel by discussing the importance of maximizing the investment in taxonomy and metadata and how leveraging those elements throughout the system will lead to a higher return on investment in the long run. She made the point that the more time spent at the input stage, appropriately tagging and applying content to the taxonomy, the better the retrieval experience at the output point. The audience then proceeded to ask general questions as well as asking about examples of taxonomies to look at for reference. Peter Merholz (the Bad Peter) polled the audience to see who uses a CMS (20-30) and who was happy with their CMS (4), which led to the panelists talking about the fact that CMS solutions generally are never adequate off the shelf, and must have a lot of customization done to fit the organizational needs.

Case Studies : Parallel Sessions

Jesse James Garrett talks about the IA of everyday things
IA diagram for the radio program All Things Considered
Jesse James Garrett talks about the IA of everyday things, including the architecture of the popular radio program, "All things Considered"
(photos Erin Malone)

The Information Architecture of Everyday Things
Jesse James Garrett
Jesse James Garrett gave a very interesting presentation in which he dissected elements from the world around us. The premise: IA is all around us. IA is as old as communication and wherever there is information there is architecture. He was making a point, that an IA can reverse engineer just about anything and he used concepts from basic design principles to illustrate this point. He showed a series of slides that illustrated the types of communication and inference a viewer can have when two pieces of information are put together.

These slides reminded me of the basic design exercises I had to do when I was in design school: composition, juxtaposition, scale etc. Jesse went on to say that humans are patternmakers and naturally desire to organize information. IA is the juxtaposition of individual pieces of information in order to convey meaning. He then illustrated these points with a series of reverse engineered examples: juxtaposition, implicit architecture, explicit architecture, random access, linear access, non-linear access. The examples were drawn from everyday life -a restaurant menu,the index in Harpers weekly, the program notes from NPR’s "All things Considered" and the Land’s End catalog.

Jesse ended by challenging the audience to take these ideas and translate them to the web, but to beware of the pitfalls around constraints imposed by the medium. He noted that conventions are not necessarily best practices and that user behavior must always be kept in mind.

Overall, the presentation was a goodintroduction to information architecture, but there was some concern among the audience – those who came from the design world – that these concepts only add to the fear that IAs must know everything instead of supporting the collaborative relationship with a designer to make an experience. Jesse was also asked by an audience member to spend some more time making examples from more vernacular samples, rather than examples of things that were professionally designed (e.g. The Land’s End catalog, the Harper’s weekly index). Several audience members recommended good books to check out and Jesse promised to add them to his reading list attached to this presentation.

Choosing the Best Path: Techniques for Assessing and Improving Information Scent
Jason Withrow

Jason Withrow presented the concept/metaphor of information scent. The concept of information scent originated at Xerox Parc and is related to the concept of information foraging, which basically classifies people as infovores that are following the scent of information. Jason discussed how users will continue clicking or working their way through a site if they can still follow the scent of the information or if the scent gets stronger. The user relies on a semantic network of nodes of concepts and connection of terms. This places a strong reliance on a commonly understood vocabulary and synonyms to execute the integral labelling system that provides the scent. Jason points out that information scent tends to work best with focussed information. One example that has proven to help keep information scent existent on pages is the use of “also see” links.

Facet Analysis
Louise Gruenberg
Louise has had a diverse set of experiences from instructional design to library and information science. In this discussion, she gave an overview of faceted classification development. Her talk was very informal and even provided an opportunity for exercises to explain how facets can be derived from a collection of things. These examples included a collection of fruit, science materials for a particular age of girls, and the process of selecting clothing from an online ecommerce site.

Gruenberg explained the history of faceted classification – a technique from library and information science in which items can be categorized in more than one way. For example, a piece of fruit might be categorized by taste with “facets” for sweet, sour, etc. and also categorized by color, with “facets” of particular colors.

Typically facets are:

  • are mutually exclusive, representing a characteristic not found in the other facets,
  • can’t be further sub-divided – although this decision is made by the person
    doing the categorization and is based on how important further sub-division is,
  • and have non-hierarchical relationships with other facets

But while traditionally librarians have focused on creating mutually exclusive facets, Gruenberg argued that’s no longer a critical factor, since database-driven sites make it easy to display information in more than one place – in contrast to the physical world where only one copy of a document might exist.

Facets can be used to help information architects analyze the site’s content and functionality by various topics or functions, or even by metaphors. For new sites, this is done via a top-down approach, while a bottom-up approach works better for overhauling existing sites, Gruenberg said.

Lou Rosenfeld and Erica Bruce lunch
Lou Rosenfeld and Erica Bruce lunch
(photo Joe Sokohl)

Following the parallel sessions, another fun chicken lunch was served so slowly that many attendees were barely served before the hour was over. Despite the food, the level of conversation was more animated than the day before and it was obvious that old and new friends were enjoying the dissection of our craft and had a lot of things to say. Case Studies : Parallel Sessions

New Roles in Information Architecture
Peter Morville, Semantic Studios

Peter began the presentation by reviewing the distinction of the “good Peter” and the “bad Peter.” Peter Morville claimed to be “good Peter” and Peter Merholz the “bad Peter.” There is a long history of both of these Peters having different opinions on the definition of an information architect.

But the central thought of his talk was the next generation of information architects and the titles and roles they will have in the coming years. There is a glut of information and IAs should begin taking an entrepreneurial role in applying what they have been doing for the web across the enterprise.

Education and Information Architecture
Andrew Dillon, Rong Tang, Karl Fast, David Robins, Louise Gruenberg

Moderated by Andrew Dillon, the Education panel presented a diverse set of quick presentations around the current and future information architecture curriculum. David Robins presented the cross disciplinary program that has been developed at Kent State University. Rong Tong presented a survey of IA courses and certificates offered across the 54 ALA accredited LIS (Library and InformationSciences) schools in the country. She did not offer any assessment of IA courses offered through design schools. She also surveyed the course objectives and statements to gain an understanding of the type of content to be covered by these courses.

Karl Fast talks about his experience at LIS school.
Karl Fast talks about his experience at LIS school.
(photo Erin Malone)

Karl Fast shared his current experience with the LIS program in which he’s enrolled and warned about the perspective from which the courses are being taught. The LIS program has not pulled itself out of the old world of Libraries and physical books and card catalogs. The curriculum needs to be taught with a richer perspective as to how and where the skills can be applied.

Louise Gruenberg offered the audience a series of questions and asked for small groups to discuss them. The groups were asked to share their answer to one of the questions with everyone. It was interesting to see that each group ended up taking a different question and everyone felt that schools need to be multidisciplinary in their teaching approach and that practitioners need to be part of the faculty.

The floor was then opened up for questions.

Steve Mulder
Nam-Ho Park
Louise Gruenberg
Steve Mulder, Nam-Ho Park and Louise Gruenberg are a few who took advantage of Five Minute Madness and spoke their mind.
(photos Erin Malone)

Five Minute Madness
Gary Marchianini, moderator
Five minute madness is the opportunity for all summit attendees, excluding presenters, to have five minutes to speak. The speaker could give a presentation-and in this case we saw two, Rashmi Sinha presented a brief overview of the faceted classification system designed for Flamenco, and Matt Jones (who broke the "no presenter" rule) gave a brief presentation. Or they could just take the microphone and speak their mind, offer insights or ask questions of the audience.

There were 17 people brave enough to get up and speak and the topics covered everything from Brad Lauster thanking the people he had met to Jeff Lash putting an invitation out on the table for IAs involved in intranets to join the Yahoo group of intranet IAs, to Tony Bull, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill feeling wishful that he could take the title IA, but he didn’t see it yet because of the uneven acceptance of IA as a title to David Austen reminding everyone that the SIGIA-L list has a website to Thomas Pole, an engineer, challenging us (IAs) to not let engineers get away with it when they say they can’t make something to Don Kraft thanking us for letting him learn about information architecture. It was a diverse set of people who spoke on a wide range of offerings. It was also one of the neatest things about this conference.

Wrap Up
Andrew Dillon
Andrew Dillon closed the summit with some thoughts about where we started on Saturday morning. He felt we have a community, which was exhibited by all who attended and included an international presence. We are beyond definition. There is evidence of progress, shown by the case studies which were not all rosy and perfect, shown by the discussions around IA in education and IA in business relationships and by the types of topics discussed over the weekend – Metadata to metaphors, ROI and ethic, usability and facet analysis.

He concluded by saying that there would be an IA summit in 2003 and that Christina Wodtke would lead the planning efforts. Dillon also reminded us of other community initiatives-Boxes and Arrows, SIGIA-L, the group, the special ASIS Journal coming out in August that will be devoted solely to IA and all the books and new editions being worked on by many of the attendees. The committee for 2002 was thanked again and the 2002 IA Summit drew to a close.

For more information:

Most of of the observations in this piece were written by Erin Malone. Since chickens can’t write and one person can’t attend three parallel sessions, other portions were written by Lisa Chan, George Olsen, Thomas Vander Wal and Christina Wodtke.

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?

Intranet Design Annual: The Ten Best Intranets of 2001

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If John Donne’s famous quotation was to be updated for the 21st century, it might read, “No man is an island entire of itself, except for intranet developers.” Unlike their counterparts on the public web, those working on Intranets do not have as many opportunities to share information, research competitor’s sites, or learn from the successes of other intranets.

What makes an intranet the “best”? Is it the most usable, the most improved, the one with the best ROI?The Nielsen Normal Group report “Intranet Design Annual: The Ten Best Intranets of 2001” seeks to change that. It is a refreshing look inside ten successful intranets of organizations ranging from multinational conglomerates (Cisco) to small new media firms (silverorange) to educational institutions (Luleå University of Technology).

For those expecting to glean the secret to Intranet design from somewhere within the 111-page report, well, prepare to be disappointed. There are no flashes of brilliance, no never-heard-before ideas, no changing-the-way-intranets-are-designed stories. What the report has, however, are ten excellent case studies, each detailing the evolution of the award-winning design.

Sure, conference presentations and articles in publications talk about intranets and give examples, but they usually approach the subject from a very high level and gloss over the parts that could actually be beneficial to others. On the other hand, the case studies here go into substantially more detail.

Screenshots of the original design (where applicable) are shown, and the project background is presented along with goals and constraints. The redesign process is then explained, with examples of usability methods, timelines, and insight from those involved in the project. Specific issues that came up (i.e. multi-lingual issues, content management, personalization) are addressed, and the results are revealed, along with a few “lessons learned” (which are, for the most part, unique for each company).

For those who do not have time to read the case studies, the three-page executive summary does an excellent job summarizing the major points of the reports, describing the best practices and culling the most important and obvious lessons learned. There is also a two-page overview of the winners that hits the major points of each company’s case study. (While web designers and developers would benefit from reading the entire report, these five pages could be extracted and presented as a beneficial quick read to those in management and non-web job roles.)

While the information is extremely beneficial, the report is not perfect; with only a few pages devoted to each intranet, there is a substantial amount of information that would be valuable to intranet designers that is not included. For example, though most companies developed iterative designs, in most cases only the before and after designs are showed. The reports’ authors often delve into nit-picky comments on visual design, space that could have been better allocated to additional information on the design process, user testing, or real-world results.

Most notably, there is a ratings scale that is sure to raise eyebrows. What makes an intranet the “best”? Is it the most usable, the most improved, the one with the best ROI? The designs were (admittedly) not tested for usability; no ROI calculations are included or discussed; the ratings are subjective values determined by the three authors, and nothing else.

Still, while the scoring system is a bit questionable (though the authors do note that future reports will incorporate user testing as part of the rating process), there is no doubt that the ten intranets presented are excellent applications from which most reading the report will be able to learn. While, by default, “Intranet Design Annual: The Ten Best Intranets of 2001” would have been the best (read: only) publication on intranet user experience, the authors have not rested on that dubious distinction. The Neilsen Norman Group authors have put together a first-rate report which can be an engaging read for anyone involved inthe management, design or development of an Intranet. Designers can learn about the specific details of projects, usability testing tactics, and design issues, while managers can obtain a more high-level view of Intranet strategies. Overall, a worthwhilepublication that looks to only be improved upon in future years.

About the report:

  • “Intranet Design Annual: The Ten Best Intranets of 2001”
  • Kara Pernice Coyne, Jakob Nielsen, and Candice Goodwin
  • Nielsen Norman Group, November 2001
  • (no ISBN)
  • Downloadable PDF
  • 111 pages
  • $54/$154 (report/report, site and intranet license)
  • Available for immediate download at
  • Target audience: “Anybody in charge of an intranet or its design”
  • Executive summary: Selection Criteria and Process; Overview of the 10 Winners; Common Themes Across the Winners; Summary of the Winners; 10 Individual Case Studies; Future Intranet Design Recommendations, Related to Design Process
Jeff Lash is working on improving the intranet user experience at Premcor. He was previously an Information Architect at Xplane and is the co-founder of the St. Louis Group for Information Architecture.

Bringing Your Personas to Life in Real Life

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You read about personas in “The Inmates are Running the Asylum.” You know that using them improves your interactive designs and helps get your coworkers on the same boat. You did your ethnographic research, created a useful persona set and are ready to start designing for the needs of your personas. But first you have to document and share your personas with your colleagues.

When presenting, talking about your personas, or referring to them in writing, communicate as though they are real people, people that you know. Express it like you are talking about a friend.

The way you communicate the personas and present your deliverables is key to ensuring consistency of vision. Without that consistency, you’ll spend far too much time arguing with your colleagues about who your users are rather than how to meet their needs. Let’s start with a review of what we know about personas, and why they are useful. Continue reading Bringing Your Personas to Life in Real Life