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Archive for March, 2005

Yahoo! 360

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

I’ve been playing around with the new Yahoo!360. And you know what – I like it. I think I might use this as a personal blogspace, and keep donnam as a more work related one.

The thing that I like best is the feel. It feels approachable – the language on the screen and in the help seems to be carefully chosen to ensure it is not geeky. It looks professional, and it was easy for me to get set up.

I think there will still be a challenge in communicating to non-bloggers what it is about, but I suspect that more people and content will start to illustrate that.

If you would like to have a look, go look at my space (I don’t know what to call it yet).

It’s my birthday – again

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

It’s my birthday again – seems not so long since the last one.

And in my grand tradition (I did this last year), I’d love to know who’s reading. Leave me a happy birthday comment ;)

IA Summit sessions available

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Looks like the files for IA Summit presentations have been loaded to the site. If you didn’t make it, or missed sessions you were interested in, go and have a look:

IA Summit session details

Maybe we do need IA research

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Over the past year or so there have been a number of discussions about where the IA research is and whether we need it. One of the best is summarised on Peter’s blog (A research agenda for information architecture). My normal response to these types of discussions has been – we have HCI research and we have info sciences research; and given that IA is effectively a discipline about getting people in touch with information, we don’t need our own set of research.

Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and maybe am changing my mind.

We do have HCI research and we do have info sciences research. But I’ve been digging through these for the past couple of years now, and I’m still not finding a lot of great stuff that really examines how people and information connect. The HCI perspective is about people and computers (human computer interaction, not human information interaction), and the info sciences is more about the information aspect than the combined aspect (OK, I know I’m generalising).

I was also thinking about some of the interesting ideas that came out of the IA Summit. There were lots of good ideas, but in order to leverage many of them, we need to go beyond ideas and make sure that we know enough about what is happening. Sure, we will make some of it up as we go and see what happens, but that won’t give us the best solution.

So does this mean that, IA research is necessary? Well, maybe. I don’t have the answers about where this would be done, how it could be done quickly enough to be useful or how to get it back to practitioners, but just maybe we should think about it more seriously.

Along those lines, I’ve been thinking of some research questions that are core IA, not HCI or info science:

Genre

(see Peter’s genre posts for background)

  • What digital genres do people recognise
  • What are the defining aspects of various digital genres
  • Does using digital genre in an interface help people to make decisions about which information will be of most use to them

Cognition and categorisation

  • Following along the lines of Grant Campbell’s review of literature about Alzheimer’s disease and categorisation, what other cognitive impairments affect the way we categorise or understand categories
  • Just how do (or do) the concepts of basic level categories apply to information architecture. We categorise information, but the content we categorise is somewhat different to the objects or functions traditionally studied
  • Do people categorise differently if they are looking at a set of information from a task or a content perspective (aka is closed card sorting valid)

Facets

Most information architects think faceted browsing is pretty cool, but:

  • Do people have a mental model of what is happening in a faceted browse interface (and does it matter)
  • What interface elements do and don’t work

Re-finding information

  • What proportion of people’s activity on the web is looking for information they have already found
  • What do we need to know so we can design for it
  • (there is some work on this, but I’d like to see more)

I know this is a reasonably random list, and I don’t even know that it is a good one – it mostly covers things I’m interested in and wish I had better information on. It doesn’t even touch on some of the longer term aspects of our work – these are things we need now.

When IA meets interaction

Monday, March 14th, 2005

In the recent past, I’ve been known to say that designing for information and designing for interaction are quite different, and require a distinctly different set of techniques. I have also often commented that many people peddling user-centred design have missed this point and have tried to apply a set of techniques that are irrelevant to information-rich spaces (yes, sometimes I’m so polite).

I still often see designers who are in only one camp:

  • the old-school user interface designer who knows lots about workflow, user scenarios, goms (!) and interaction, but little about the detailed design of rich information spaces
  • the new-school information architect, who can design a site structure, taxonomy and controlled vocabulary, but doesn’t know a checkbox from a radio button

So I’ve been thinking about our future, and what skills we will need in the next x number of years (I’m not going to guess on a number) and think that much of our future lies in the bridge between the two. We need to be able to design amazing interactions that fit our body and our mind, and we need to be able to cope with the vastness and richness of information that surrounds us.

I was thinking about a university project I did last year which involved designing an in-car navigation system. I needed an excellent understanding of anthropometrics (eg how large are our fingers), visual perception (can I see the screen from here), attention (I’m also trying to drive), user tasks (what do I need to achieve my end goal). I also needed to use my information architecture skills to design the interface navigation (poor metaphor in this cirumstance) and search function.

Hopefully, this is the type of work that more of us will be able to get involved in – designing interactive systems that use rich information. To do this, we need to look at information architecture not through the lens of a website, but through the lens of an everyday device; which means that we may need to start thinking harder about getting involved in the design of those devices.

Findability vs discoverability

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

I’m starting to think on all of the things that fell into my head over the weekend of the IA Summit.

Something that I’ve never been comfortable with is the concept of ‘findability’. Yes, it is important to be able to find information but, as I have commented before, finding information is not the end of an information journey, it is just the beginning (just like ‘navigating’ is not important in its own right, it is just a means to an end).

I like the related concept of ‘discoverability’ much more. A definition of discover, (from answers.com, which is one of my new favourite sites) involves:

“To notice or learn, especially by making an effort”

This definition highlights the learning aspect, rather than the locating aspect. It puts the information task in a broader context of learning rather than focusing on it as a task in itself. It broadens the task into something that could encompass a lot of small ‘finding’ tasks.

I think we should talk about this more, about making our information discoverable rather than findable.