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Archive for July, 2002

Counting clicks

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002

I wrote an entry last week about the myth of taking no more than 3-clicks to get from the homepage to anywhere in the site.

While doing my content inventory, I have been thinking about this rule, wondering for my current project, whether there would be a good guideline to depth.

I’m still thinking about it, but wanted to tell you something that I have not seen discussed before.

Even if they start at the home page, people have varying perceptions about where they are ‘starting’ the click count from.

When watching people use the Intranet I’m working on, I noticed that they repeatedly would say:

“You click this, then this, then this, then you….”

They would return to the 4th level page (third click) and show me something else. To show me another page, they would do it again. For these people, the first three clicks didn’t matter. Their starting point was the 4th level. The first three clicks were habitual.

So, when I was looking at a page that took 6 clicks to get to (and thinking that was a lot), for the users, it was only a few clicks into the site. They weren’t bothered at all by the depth.

Now, there may be a couple of factors that don’t make this widely applicable. I’m working on an Intranet, and page downloads are fast, so the first 3 clicks take no time. The users also have particular sections of the Intranet that they use more frequently than others.

So, have I reached any conclusion yet?

Yes – learn about your users and design for them rather than following anyone else’s foolish rules…

Content Inventory – day 5

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002

After a few days’ break, I started back at the content inventory. 2200 pages done, and I think I can see an end in sight (I’m going to take a guess that there will be around 3500 pages to map).

Some interesting stuff:
- the deepest page so far takes 9 clicks to get to
- the page with the most links has 130

The numbering system in Jeff Veen’s spreadsheet makes counting this very easily.

How long should a page take to load

Monday, July 29th, 2002

Christina has written a very interesting entry on how long it should take for a page to load – yet another ‘rule’ for which there is no real answer:
the mysteries of page load

Faceted classifications

Friday, July 26th, 2002

Travis Wilson has updated FacetMap with some new resources.

Looks interesting.

Content Inventory – day 4

Thursday, July 25th, 2002

1700 pages. Groan…

Content Inventory – day 3

Wednesday, July 24th, 2002

Day 3 – 1,267 page titles and urls recorded, and there is still no end in sight.

Tips for today
- learn as many keyboard shortcuts as possible
- using IE’s accessibility options, ignore colours so I can ignore where people have changed the visited and unvisited links

Getting boring…

Content Inventory – day 2

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

I’m on my second day of a content inventory. 641 page titles and URLs listed, and I still have no idea how much more work I have…

Content inventory tip – clear your browser history before you start and use your visited links to show whether you have already listed a page. Don’t list it twice, but cross-reference the primary location. This will give a clearer idea of the number of pages and extent of duplication.

Becoming a usability professional

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

Jakob Nielsen tells us that to become a great usability professional, we need:

  • Knowledge of interaction theory and user-research methodologies, especially the principles of user testing
  • High brain power
  • Ten years’ experience running user tests and other usability activities, such as field studies

Ten years!!

In the past year, I have run 60 usability tests, and over 50 field interviews/contextual enquiries. Do I need another 9 years of this to say that I’m a usability professional? Do my 60 tests a year count for the same as someone else’s 6 tests a year?

I know I’m still learning, and I would like to evaluate a wider variety of products, but how many of us have been doing this for 10 years?

Content inventory – day 1

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

Today I started to do a content inventory for a site I’m redesigning. I have no idea how long it is going to take me, or how big the site really is.

I’m using Jeff Veen’s spreadsheet, and it is pretty useful so far.

I procrastinated all morning (wrote a to do list, tidied my desk, read some blogs, chatted), then worked all afternoon logging page titles and URLs – 317 of them.

Work along with me over the next week and see how long it takes me to go crazy…

**I didn’t really clean my desk**

3-clicks to anywhere

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

People often ask me whether they should make sure all of their content is available within 3 clicks (“3 clicks from where” is usually my first question). I can’t remember where this ‘rule’ started (Nielsen?), but common-sense would tell you that it is sensible only on smallish sites.

What if those 3 clicks are into the unknown? A user can become lost in 3 clicks as easily as 5, 7 or more.

What is far more important is to get users following the right path. When they know that they are going in the right direction, they stop counting clicks and start getting engaged with the content.

So how do you get users following the right path? Lots of ways, including:
- understanding your users and why they are using your site
- designing your site so the main tasks are completed easily
- understanding the language of your users and use it for labelling
- helping users understand the context of the information
- if useful, put summary information first, then link deeper to more detail

(these are just my favourites – if I were to write all ways to get users to the right path, I’d be here for days)

Here’s the article that triggered this today. It is a bit thin, but a good reminder:
(found via Croc o’lyle)

Personas & scenarios

Friday, July 19th, 2002

Part of my job as an information architect/interaction designer/user-centred designer (whatever I happen to be doing) involves communicating with a range of people, including colleagues, managers and developers.

One of my favourite communication techniques is personas and scenarios.

Personas are stories about users, that provide important details about them (including goals, skill levels etc). Scenarios are representative tasks that they need to do. Both remove a mythical ‘average user’ from the equation and focus on the variety of real users and their goals.

As an example, I recently did a requirements gathering process for an application. I ended up with flowcharts describing the process, a list of requirements for the application, and a list of potential users. I could have handed this to a developer and discussed it, but instead developed personas and scenarios.

For the persona, I wrote small stories (a paragraph or two) about each major type of user (I mixed up the real details so individuals weren’t recognisable). For each major type of task that they would do, I wrote a scenario (again, a couple of paragraphs), illustrating the parts of the task that were most important.

These were so powerful! It is amazing how much extra information stories can give. With a requirements list, I knew we would end up arguing about why particular things were important. However, once it is in story form, it is simple to see why a requirement is important, because the requirements, user skills and goals are all wrapped neatly together.

Here is an over-simplified examples (I can’t include the full details here). In the requirements list for this application, I asked for a spell-checker. I knew this could be tricky, and may cause lengthy discussion. However, when put like this:

Persona: Donna writes media releases and organises for them to be distributed in paper form. She has been doing this type of work for 4 years. She also arranges for the media releases to go on the company website, but someone else does the work. She would like to do it herself to save some time, but does not know how to prepare website content (she doesn’t know anything about html).

Part of the scenario: Donna pastes some text from a word document, and types an additional paragraph. She adds some headings and reads through it. She wants to make sure it is accurate, so checks the spelling. When the document is ready, she sends it to her boss for approval.

We can easily understand why the feature is necessary.

There are a lot of web references about personas & scenarios. Here are some of my favourites:

UI7: An Interview with Cooper

Doing a content inventory

Thursday, July 18th, 2002

I am about to start to do a mind-numbingly boring content inventory for a Intraweb redesign. It will probably take me all week and drive me insane, but it is absolutely essential to understanding the content in real depth.

I have been looking out for some references, and have found some good help.

From AdaptivePath: Doing a Content Inventory (Or, A Mind-Numbingly Detailed Odyssey Through Your Web Site)
BoxesAndArrows: Re-architecting from the bottom-up
WebTechniques: Taking A Content Inventory

I have sometimes wished that a tool could run through the Intraweb and generate the list, but that would defeat the purpose of me understanding the content well, wouldn’t it?

I may have some useful insights once my brain returns…

I want to read…

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

There are lots of things around the web that I want to read and think more about. Here are some of them:

Social Network Analysis
From PeterMe
Peter Morville’s article
Valdis Krebs

Knowledge Management
Lots of things at the KM Connection

Topic Maps
The TAO of Topic Maps
At KM Connection

And that’s just the start of the list. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to manage this with uni starting in 3 days…

A good chat

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

I love email to keep in touch with people I don’t see often. I love email groups because they allow me to discuss with people with similar interests. I love wikis (well, just the IAwiki) because I can learn lots of interesting things and share some of my knowledge. I love my blog because I can share interesting things I find and thoughts I have.

But nothing beats a good chat.

What is an information architect

Tuesday, July 16th, 2002

Here is an article from IBM, describing what an information architect does. This describes my information architecture projects fairly well (but it doesn’t illustrate how damn hard it is sometimes ;)

I was pointed to this by ColumnTwo – one blog I read daily.