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Archive for August, 2003

The missing technique

Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

I’m on a search for the missing technique…

What missing technique? you ask.

I’m searching for user-centred techniques for the design of large, heterogeneous information spaces.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that at least one of our techniques – shuffling around pieces of existing or potential content – isn’t helping us to design information spaces that really meet users’ goals (you’ve never heard me say that before ;) . Why on earth would we think that organising 5000 pages of content actually achieves anything. What if it is the wrong content – content that doesn’t meet any needs in the first place? And how do we know if it is the right content if we haven’t spent *significant* time investigating their goals.

I think that a good part of the missing technique could be derived from human factors and HCI techniques, so that’s where I’m starting. I think it’s hiding in the pile of HCI books on my floor, and I’m fairly certain that it’s something to do with goal & task analysis.

So, watch this space for more random thoughts (and maybe one day, an insight)…

Teaching people to evaluate

Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

Today I ran the first day of a 2-day workshop on usability evlauation. We talked about lots of theory today, and tomorrow the class will be running their first evaluation.

It was so cool seeing people getting excited about actually testing things, figuring out what they’d get out of it and how they’d do it for their product. Wow!

Murphy got me

Tuesday, August 19th, 2003

Why is it that on the day that I am running behind only one email message gets lost in the email ether – the one that included hours of work – and I have to drive all the way home (45 mins each way) to get it…

It worked – writing without distractions

Sunday, August 17th, 2003

Looking back at a post from a few days ago about writing and how I planned to minimise distractions – it worked. I edited 4000 words and wrote 2000 more.

But I still have to finish writing the usability workshop notes in the next two days. I think I have another 5000 words to go, plus slides and exercises.

Wish me luck and good concentration ;)

Another reason to love Firebird and Mozilla

Sunday, August 17th, 2003

It is when I use someone else’s computer that I realise how much I love Mozilla and Firebird – when their screen is covered in bandwidth-wasting pop-up ads, and mine isn’t.

New IA book

Sunday, August 17th, 2003

Wow – Peter tells me that his new book Information Architecture for Designers will soon be out. I helped out by reviewing this, and I think I contributed some stories & quotes. Sounds good…

Writing makes me distracted

Tuesday, August 12th, 2003

I’m having a terrible time writing at the moment. At work I’m writing the content for a usability workshop I have planned. I did a brain dump and wrote 13 pages of rough notes. Now I’m trying to turn the rough notes into solid coherent paragraphs.

And I’m having such a hard time doing it. All I’m doing is distracting myself. Today I checked my work email, I checked my home email, I checked my uni email, I rang a friend, I sent some email – then I did it all over again. I was only managing to write for about 5 minutes without finding something else to do.

And what should I be doing rather than writing this entry. You guessed it ;)

So, tomorrow’s plan – no caffeine, no mailer opened and no web browser opened. I might be able to write another 5,000 words if I concentrate.

Gosh – and I thought I might write a book one day. Not looking likely!

How do I know I got it right

Tuesday, August 12th, 2003

I’ve recently completed a big project. All up, over the past year, it involved the total redesign of an Intranet, the design of the back end content management system, the design of an authoring application and the implementation of all of it. Not only that, but I managed to do a fair bit of interaction design for other business applications as well.

So, at the end of a frantic year, when things are starting to wind down, I look back and wonder whether I did good.

The organisation now has a really nice Intranet. The organisation chart structure has been broken, people are starting to focus on content and noticing that much of the old stuff was very inaccurate. They are starting to figure out what their readers need and how they are going to maintain their content better. People can find information more easily, and are finding stuff they didn’t know existed. It looks nice (which is important), and will provide significant benefit for at least a few years.

So why is it, after stopping working frantically, that I now look back and wonder whether I got it right. All the time I spent doing the content inventory – did it really give me back what I invested. And the card sort I did (yes, that old one again) – did it really help me to create a good hierarchy. Is the information really grouped in the best way for users to achieve their goals?

I don’t know. And that’s a bit scary…

(PS – I know that “I did good” is improper grammar. But it fits)

Card sorting on the surface

Thursday, August 7th, 2003

I recently came to the conclusion that I don’t like card sorting as a technique for determining an information structure. I’m only now starting to realise why.

In my last few big card sorts, I have noticed that participants don’t really look at the cards and try to form sensible groups based on how the information should be grouped to help them achieve a task. Instead, they try to get rid of most of the cards as quickly as possible. Usually this involves looking at a card, thinking that it is not something they are interested in and trying to group it with similar things they aren’t interested in. If they find something they are interested in, it is usually because it is in their own information domain.

What this results in is a bunch of cards grouped by surface characteristics. Surface groupings I have recently seen include:

  • big corporate documents
  • newsletters
  • articles
  • pages that belong to ‘xxx’ team

This doesn’t help. There is no ‘aboutness’ in these groups. This doesn’t give me an insight into why content should go together. How is putting all of the newsletters together going to achieve someone’s goal.

I need deeper thought and groupings on deeper characteristics – not just surface characteristics and “may I go home now”.

UCD politics

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

I’ve been talking with a friend recently about UCD, and thinking about it a lot. I started to worry – out of the 4 big applications/sites I’ve designed or contributed to recently, I only used a proper UCD process for one of them.

But then I remembered:

  • On one I was asked for assistance when the interface was finished and all of a sudden the content didn’t match it. There were only a few days until programming finished
  • On one, we had to design, build and test an app in 2 weeks – I only had 2 hours to do the design
  • On the last, the client was waiting for a change to be voted in, but we had to start the app early, so couldn’t show anyone what we were working on

So, with these politics, 1 out of 4 wasn’t bad.

Digital Web

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

I just realised what an amazing amount of really good articles Digital Web has.


Really bad search results

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

This is one of the worst search results sets I have ever seen. To repeat it, go to Internet World and search for Information Architecture.

Out of the first 20 results, only two showed a summary of the article.