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Archive for April, 2004

We created a great site

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

I feel really good today…I finished the last part of a client project that I have been working on over the past 7 months.

No, I don’t feel good that I have finished with the client. I feel good because the redesigned site is great, and because working on it has been a real team effort.

We did a final round of usability testing on it today, and participants just flew through – it was one of those tests where things were so easy that participants looked at me like ‘what, is that all, surely it should be harder’ (no, the scenarios weren’t too easy – last test things were more difficult). They also really liked the look of the site – almost everyone commented immediately on how attractive it was, without any prompting. Gosh it is good to hear “wow, that looks good” and “I really like that it’s a lot more logical than the old one”

We also ran a short test with people who are using assistive technologies for motor impairments, or using voice software. From a site that is completely inaccessible (slippery flyout navigation, tiny targets etc) to one that they can actually use, is amazing for them and for us.


I’ll be writing up a case study on this for work, as we followed a good UCD process throughout – will let you know when its done.

Basic level categories, ‘and then’ IA

Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

So I found myself describing basic level categories for the second time in as many months to a bunch of IA related people and I think it might be worth thinking a little more seriously about. I have read a chunk of Lakoffs Women Fire & Dangerous Things, but haven’t gone back in the research, and haven’t really started to distil it into anything yet.

But something that I have noticed in working with large, primarily hierarchical sites is a very two-layered structure. Sometimes I call this ‘and then’ IA. What happens is, when people look for information they say ‘first I go here, then here’ ‘AND THEN’ I do blah. So, the first step (however many clicks it is) is the prelude to the place that they really want to be. The place that they want to be is where they do work/complete tasks/hang out (look, I’ve written about this before). For them it is the starting point for their goal, and the things that happen leading up to it are just irritants.

So the link between these random thoughts. I think that the place that they pause (where they say ‘and then’) may be part of the ‘basic level’ for that particular domain. It is the place where a group of stuff makes sense to people and belongs together. And more than one person finds it to be a natural place to start and to be, which is essential for it to be basic.

Anyway, I think I might take a thoughtwander* around this in a few weeks time, when I get some uni stuff out of the way and have a chance to read and reflect a bit more. Join me then…

* thoughtwander is Peter’s word, and I wish I had one as good, so I’ll borrow his for a short time

Gosh I’m versatile

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

Today I:

  • made a batch of tomato sauce/ketchup
  • helped my daughter design a dress and found most of the fabric in the cupboard
  • studied some cognitive psych for uni
  • helped my husband do some concreting
  • redid the visual design for a community site then coded the home page to xhtml strict
  • made green tomato chutney from the last of the home-grown tomatoes

So apart from being very tired, I’m also very versatile…

I’ve escaped the marketers

Saturday, April 24th, 2004

I’ve just started to read the Cluetrain Manifesto (yes, I know, I’m way behind) and realised something that just hadn’t occurred to me before – I’m almost completely out of reach of traditional marketers.

I don’t watch television – well, one show per week, on non-commercial station. And movies now and then.

I don’t listen to commercial radio – I only listen to triplej which is non-commercial

I don’t read newspapers – ever

I don’t buy magazines – I read online instead

I don’t get advertising in my letterbox – living rural, with a PO Box instead of a letterbox means that catalogues don’t get to me.

I rarely go to the mall – I have started to buy fruit and vegetables from a roadside stall. I get other fresh produce from the market. My friends give me excess produce, and one day my garden will make most of our fresh produce. I have only stepped inside a mall once in the last month.

I don’t see pop-up ads onlineFirefox blocks them for me

I don’t even get spam – not that this is the realm of traditional marketing, but now that I have knowspam running, I don’t even see this type of advertising.

I get product recommendations from friends or references, from researching online, or sometimes just heading to the shop with a good idea of what I want (I was frightened to the core reading William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition last year. I can’t remember the detail, but there was a scene in a bar with people doing product placement – in conversation recommending a product, and you didn’t know that they were being paid to talk to you about the product. This still freaks me.)

Anyway, I’m glad I’ve escaped the marketing and advertising scene. I feel more real and less manipulated. I feel more true to myself.

I got no spam today…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2004

…cause I signed up for knowspam yesterday.

Ahhh…my inbox is clean, and when there are new messages, I know that they are from someone I want to hear from ;)

Yep, this sounds like a corny ad. But I don’t care, ’cause I GOT NO SPAM TODAY. Yay!

The problems with training

Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

Here’s a great article by Scott Berkun about how to create great conferences, presentations and workshops.

The problems with training (and what to do about it)

Fabulous content and so well written that I read the whole thing on screen, word-for-word – it’s been a long time since I’ve done that…

Yay! I’m not stupid

Sunday, April 18th, 2004

After Friday’s rant about library search, I decided to look further and see whether I was just ‘searching wrong’ or if there is something inherently wrong with library journal searches.

So, continuing what I’m looking at for university, I worked on the scenario of ‘finding out the names of any journals with ‘ergonomic’ in the title’. This is real – this is what I want to find out right now.

I searched the National Library of Australia, University of Queensland, University of Canberra and Australian National University websites – each had a ‘journal search’ option on their library site. In each of these cases, putting ‘ergonomic’ into the search returned only titles that started with ergonomic – not with the word anywhere in the title. I was starting to feel like I must be doing something completely illogical.

But finally, Monash University saved the day – putting ‘ergonomic’ into their journal search returned exactly what I had expected.

So what’s the deal here. Am I asking for something illogical? Why can’t I expect to return records with the search string anywhere in the title? Is this some odd library conspiracy that I don’t know about?

Frustrated by library search

Thursday, April 15th, 2004

I don’t think there is a group of systems that I hate working with more than library search systems and journal databases. These are the only systems where I know that my frustration levels will reach the point where I start to go cold, grind my teeth and get an almighty headache. No, I’m not exaggerating – this is truly how they make me feel.

So tonight was no exception. Starting on my university library site, looking for journals that have the word ‘ergonomic’ within the title. Sounds like a sensible search, but no, I can only search for titles starting with ‘ergonomic’. That’s not useful – I don’t yet know what journals are relevant, so I don’t know the beginnings of the titles. So I searched by keyword and subject, to no avail. What frustrated me most was that I knew that there was a journal called ‘applied ergonomics’ available and it wasn’t coming up in any of my searches. I suspect that anyone else would have believed the results and that there were no relevant journals. I spent most of an hour going around in circles trying to figure out how to get a result that I knew existed, and in the end nothing worked.

So I went to search in a journal database that looked promising. The nice system put a cryptic string into the search box. Lucky I’m a clever IA and knew what “jn ‘Ergonomics’ and ft y” meant. But I’m not library-geek enough to remember all of the field codes to continue this search, and had to go hunting – help didn’t, but I persisted and found an advanced search with the list of field codes, in a very nice pop-up window (yes, this was a good thing). The nice system didn’t carry my cryptic string around, so I had to carry it around on the clipboard – but I’m a geek and know these things.

I found a couple of interesting articles. Clicked the little ‘add all’ button next to them & was whisked off to a very nice list of my marked articles, with options to continue searching. Yay! Something went well.

Maybe I was getting a bit overconfident. On the next database, I could easily search within the journal, and found a bunch of useful articles. I ticked the ‘mark’ box next to them and went looking for some way to save my marks (I have previously lost hours of research by not clicking some magic button). No button. So has it marked them or not? – there was nothing in the interface showing that the marked articles were saved anywhere, and no way to go and look at my marked list. It turned out (I think) that they are saved when I left the page – something that I thought was impossible (or someone is telling me stories).

From there it just got worse. Databases with confusing ugly search interfaces, poor communication (can I get full text of this article?), little to no feedback, no suggestions on what to do next. Interfaces that contained almost nothing but jargon.

So 3 hours later and my head is pounding and I’m immensely cross. This just should not happen. Other people in my class spent much more time researching and came up with nothing. It’s not their fault – they aren’t trained in information retrieval, they are university students who want to grab a few articles for an assignment. Someone, somewhere (actually lots of someones) need to start thinking about who is using these systems, what their existing skills are and what they need to achieve. Including ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ options are not enough.

Card sorting article published

Thursday, April 8th, 2004

Yay! the card sorting article that I wrote with Todd Warfel has been published on Boxes and Arrows.

So, someone’s sure to ask why I, after carrying on about card sorting here and on mailing lists, would write an article about it. I don’t think it’s a bad technique, but am concerned when I see people using it as their main technique to ‘create a new IA’. Two main reasons:

  1. it’s too content-centric, which may result in an IA not suited when users attempt real tasks
  2. no technique should ever be used in isolation

Anyway, go read it, and leave your comments and variations over on Boxes and Arrows…

A solution to creeping featurism

Monday, April 5th, 2004

A lot of people have written about the problems of creeping featurism – where products end up bloated and unusable due to the number of features and functions added to them. The solution most often suggested is to keep products slim, to do what they should do well, and to avoid adding features that a few people might need.

I’ve never found this suggestion practical – while the usability girl inside tells me that products with tons of features become complicated and unusable, the user inside says “don’t you dare take away some of my favourite features”.

So I do like the approach that Firefox uses (there may be other systems that do this as well, but Firefox is the one that triggered this thought). The core product is slim – it contains basic browser features and extensions are available to provide additional features. Out of the long extensions list for Firefox, there are only a few that I thought would be useful enough to install (mouse gestures, tabbed browser extension, paste and go). This is nice – I retain control of my product, it stays usable and I get features that I will use.

The implementation is still too geeky for more general acceptance. But if it were more user-friendly, with a neat way to explain and select features and a really simple install method, perhaps this type of implementation could be a good model for feature-rich apps…

I think it’s worth watching.