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Archive for September, 2005

Web essentials 05 – Day 2

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Web essentials is over, and I can confidently say that is the best conference I have ever attended in Australia.

Today I got more out of the conversations than the conference, which is a reflection on the great people I talked to, not on the quality of the conference presentations.

I learned one amazing thing today – from Cameron Adams, I finally understood what the DOM means. This may sound trivial to you, but as a not-so-technical geek, it was great to finally have this fall into my head. Cool!

One thing that I really started to think about is my role in projects. With the emphasis on iteration, shorter release times, more innovation, I’m thinking a bit about how I can be most effective as a freelancer. I am glad I’m not consulting any more as that is completely not conducive to smart, fast, iterative work. Freelancing is better as it means my clients can ‘borrow’ me as they need, as many times as needed, for short or long periods in a series of iterations. I think this is a good model, just remains to see if I can make it work.

Anyway, if I spent time with you at Web Essentials, thank you for your company and conversation. Please keep in touch – you know how to find me ;)

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Web essentials 05 – Day 1

Thursday, September 29th, 2005

So day 1 of web essentials is done, and I must say that it is so far very, very excellent. I didn’t get the whole ink-blogging thing going because Justine introduced herself just as I was trying to get the wifi sorted and it is far better to have a good chat with a smart girl than fiddle around with an unresponsive network (how ungeek!)

Anyway, the sessions today were all solidly good, and some inspiringly good. I particularly liked:

  • Molly Holzschlag’s keynote, which introduced her fellow speakers in a fabulous way and set the scene for the conference. I do so love inspiring women, as gender-biased as that is
  • Jeff Veen does evangelise user-centred design so well, and makes it fun (which it is, so that’s easy) (though he should tell the hay net story fully, because it is far funnier that way)
  • Doug Bowman was completely brilliant; inspiring thoughts about the future of the web and where we might be in 10 years time. His ideas and images at the end, about the inequity in the world, brought tears to my eyes

I sometimes plod along, designing stuff, working with clients and forget to think about how amazing this really is. I’ve been doing websites since 1995 (with a gap for a couple years) and being a serious IA/IxD since 2000. I’m seeing a new passion and reinvigoration for the web which is so very inspiring and cool.

The reason I love these types of conferences (including the IA Summit) is because they help me to stop, look at the field, realise just what affect we have on people, and how incredibly important it is to really, deeply think about what we do before we go dump a bad experience on them. It is good to have that time to listen and reflect…

…more tomorrow

PS – yes, I’m completely happy to demo my tablet – I do love it for geek and functional reasons. Just ask me.

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Web essentials 05 – Jeff Veen workshop

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

I spent today at Web Essentials, listening to Jeff Veen talk about Web 2.0 and designing the next generation of web apps.

I’m pretty familiar with most of these ideas, but still love to listen to people talk about them. I appreciated that, although it was a lecture format, Jeff took the opportunity to pull from the audience’s experiences as much as he could (shhhh Donna).

I kept two sets of notes – one on paper to re-explain the slides that I may not understand when I look back at them in 6 months and one on my tablet of ‘interesting ideas’ (Alex wondered why I had two sets), including (all paraphrased/interpreted):

  • Websites are a part of the entire user experience, not just islands in the sea
  • Trying to control the user experience will ultimately lead to failure
  • Solve smaller problems, but solve them well
  • In web 2.0, user research and usability testing should be more flexible and more ongoing, not enormous projects in their own right

And of course, that Web 2.0 is not about technology, but about relinquishing control (as Peter has been discussing).

Anyway, it was all good, though I really should learn to shut up! I’m looking forward to tomorrow, and sort of especially hearing Molly Holzschlag (I don’t usually go for the ‘fan’ thing, but I must admit to being a bit of a Molly fan – maybe its just a geek girl thing).

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Web essentials 05

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

I’ll be at Web Essentials for the next 3 days. If you read me, come say hi (my photo is on main part of my site).

Provided there is wireless access, I may also do some blogging as we go. You’ll be able to spot me as I’ll be seeing how easy it is to ink blog with my tablet without constantly switching back to laptop mode…

Ink blogging. Heh!

Podcasts/MP3s since my last post

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

I’ve continued to wander around with my earphones in, and here are some of my recent favourites:

And I did a very, very silly thing today – gave a 1.5 hour lecture on IA and forgot to record it. After Dan told me earlier this year “you get to the second bullet point and incredible stuff just comes out of your mouth” I swore to record my presentations so I could actually use that good stuff in my writing. Silly girl!

PS – Dan might have actually said ‘good shit’ or something equally colloquial, not ‘incredible stuff’.

Closed card sorting – I finally found a use for it

Monday, September 19th, 2005

For years (literally) I have been trying to figure out what closed card sorting is good for, and today finally had an idea.

Now, the common theory is that a closed card sort is valuable for evaluating a classification or the results from an open sort. Using this approach, you give participants a set of cards with content and ask them where, from a set of pre-selected headings, they would place that content. The idea, though not always explained, is that this corresponds to where people would look for the content.

No! This is completely invalid. Categorising information and finding it are two entirely different tasks, with entirely different cognitive processes. The only way to test whether a classification will allow people to find information, is to ask them to find information (or at least ask where they would look). You don’t learn it by asking them to place information in the classification.

But, if you are testing a classification where the key task is to categorise content, closed card sorting is completely appropriate. This may be a great way to learn where intranet or website authors would place their page and what metadata they’d choose; or what categories people select when entering data into a business application. Give them some content examples, and ask what categories it belongs in. Then separately test whether users can find that same information.

And if you have an idea for a valid use of this technique, please let me know – I am interested in discovering good uses.

So Donna, how’s freelancing going?

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

I’m three months into my shiny new freelancing career and a few people have asked me how things are going. So I thought y’all might like to know.

I’m in the very final stages of a small website redesign project. Nice neat little site, straightforward user research, IA and page layouts. In a gap from this project, I ran a usability test of a search system (mentioned in my last post). Before that, worked with a remote team doing lots of IA documentation.

So far, all has been going well. Projects have been fairly simple, but that’s to be expected as I have to completely rebuild my portfolio, and have to let people know I’m available.

Speaking of that, there’s lots of interest from local small businesses, glad to know there is a good IA/IxD that they can ‘borrow’ for projects. Some potentially interesting things in the future.

I’m starting a new project shortly (as soon as paperwork is sorted) doing UI design for a complex business application. I’m looking forward to it – they’ve brought me in right at the beginning of the project, which is ideal. Small team, smart people.

And I’ve been talking to another bunch of nice, smart people who would like some IA mentoring, working through a couple of projects together, soaking up some of my experience. Looking forward to that one too…

Freelancing suits me. I have had good flexibility so far, balancing my working day around what needs to be done. I don’t mind working flat out for a couple of weeks, then having some down time. For me this is far better than working regular hours day after day.

I’ve been doing some work from home, which is far, far more efficient for me than in an office – though I’d never sacrifice the face-to-face. Working from home means I regain all that driving time (my previous office was more than an hour either way). I’m more relaxed, less rushed and we generally eat much better as I have time to cook.

There seems to be enough work around. There has been a steady trickle of user interface design and IA jobs advertised. A steady trickle is just about right as there are few people contracting/freelancing in these areas. Demand is higher in Sydney and Melbourne, and seems to be exceeding supply. At the moment, I don’t seem to have a lot of local competition, which is a good and a bad thing. Good because it means I’ll win most of what I apply for, bad because some organisations won’t hire unless they have three applicants (!)

So, all in all it’s going pretty well.

Regular folks searching

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

Last week I ran a usability test on a very neat system that allows people to search or browse a fairly large set of content. It’s been a while since I ran a usability test with regular folks (part of the hazard of working for too long on intranets, and one reason I’m glad I’m not specialising any more). The interesting thing was seeing whether people’s expectations of search had changed over the last few years (you know, the whole google phenomenon thing).

One of the things that came strongly out of this test is people’s mental model of search, and what they expect to happen. Here’s how I interpreted their expectations of search:

  • It is better to put more than one word in as one word gives too much stuff
  • Adding an extra word gives fewer results (although most search engines give more results with more than one word, people strongly thought it would give fewer – I even probed on this)
  • The first word in the search box is more important than the other words
  • If the words make a sensible phrase (one that humans would recognise as a phrase), the search engine should do so too and return results for the phrase
  • If the words do not make a sensible phrase, the search engine shouldn’t look for the phrase (yes, this contradicts the previous point, but no-one ever said people are logical)

How interesting!

Podcasts/MP3s of the week

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had the earphones in a bit this week. Here are some of my favourites:

Lots more to listen still – if you know of anything I might like, please let me know!

How to attend conferences and clean house at the same time

Saturday, September 3rd, 2005

I’ve been cleaning the house for the last 4 hours. Very unlike me – I usually zoom through it as quickly as I can.

Know how I did it – I pulled down a whole lot of mp3 files from IT conversations stuck my earphones in and attended tech conferences all afternoon. How cool!