DonnaM » Blog Archive » The missing technique

The missing technique

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)…

10 Responses to “The missing technique”

  1. Austin Govella Says:

    Adding random thoughts of my own:

    I think it’s fair to assume that if you’re designing an organizational model so Monkeys can sift through a pile of papers on the floor and find what they need, that one might hand the pile of papers to the Monkeys and ask them to organize it the way they’d like.

    It would be even better to actually to hang out with the Monekys and copy the way they’re already organizing their papers. That’s not a bad way to organize “large, heterogeneous information spaces.”

    It’s not the best way to *streamline use* of those spaces, which is an entirely different design problem.

    Optimally you would organize the monkeys information the way they want it organized (for browsing and searching) and then create an interface that lets them use the information space the way they want and need to use the information space.

    Seems like two sides to the same coin where the coin is the information space and you’re designing for organization on one side and for task completion on the other side.

  2. Alexander Says:

    I’m currently doing something similar; huge document repository, and how to – or if at all – sort and archive it.

    The solution has been – at the moment – a program that sifts through the documents, and does a simple statistical / classification analysis, and offer words and phrases as a suggested ontology for the mass of documents. By doing this, you know the gist of the information, and can possibly begin to a) create custom faceted views for people to use, b) create general techniques (like topic maps) for easy access to it, or c) decided to pile the project, and buy a Google-box. :)

    As to a technique that are readable on paper, I have no idea, apart from “Get the gist, make the gist an ontology, sift the data automatically based on the ontology, and throw out suggestions on how to create popular facets of the structures and design a general interface to such a system”.

  3. DonnaM Says:

    Alexander – that’s exactly what worries me. There is absolutely no user-centricity in what you are doing. It is entirely content-centric

  4. Alexander Says:

    Are you sure this isn’t user-centric? Creating an ontology – based on automata or not – is very user-centric, and so is the suggestions of popular facets of the content.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that everything has to be user-centric, and in my case the GUI is where it happens; I use topic maps with a neat user-interface thrown on top.

  5. Donna Maurer Says:

    I don’t know how creating an ontology based on content only is remotely user-centric. As an example, the job I have just finished had a bunch of training material. Nowhere in it did it have the word ‘training’, but did include learning, programs, development, workshops etc. The user’s language was ‘training’, they would use this in a search or a faceted browse. Now you could add terms based on the users’ language, which would be user centric (if you gathered this directly from the users). The addition of the GUI could certainly be user-centric if you based it on user research.

    Now I’m not saying that you always have to base all of your designs on solid user research – sometimes it just doesn’t fit in. But my initial question is about user-centric methods…

  6. Joshua Kaufman Says:

    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.

    Your definitely on the right track. In About Face 2.0, at the beginning of the chapter on modeling, the authors state, “The most powerful interaction design tool used by the authors is simple on the surface: a precise descriptive model of the user, what he wishes to accomplish, and why.”

    I’m curious to read your other random thoughts along this line.

  7. Alexander Says:

    Donna: No, if you create a general ontology based on content, there isn’t much user-centric to talk about. What I do is to create ontologies that are user-based in themselves. But again, it depends on what you want to deliver to the customer and users.

    I have to ask; which bit do you need to be user-centric? A method for your deliveries to be buzz-word compliant? A self-felt need to be more user-centric in your work for these types of projects? A requirement from customers?

  8. Donna Maurer Says:

    How shallow do you think I am?

    I want to be able to create big information spaces, and know that people can achieve what they need out of those spaces. And I don’t think that purely content-centric methods can achieve this.

  9. Alexander Says:

    Sorry, I meant no bad with the questions; I don’t think you are shallow at all. I was asking because a lot of people have asked lately for documented methods for documenting their deliveries, and since your question was so huge and general I was poking to see what ant attached to the stick, but obviously sticking things into places I know nothing about is a no-no. Sorry again. My appologies.

  10. Donna Maurer Says:

    No apologies needed. My question is huge and general, which is what makes it interesting ;)