October 31, 2002
A new IA organization!
AIfIA is a non-profit volunteer organization that serves as a resource for organizations and individuals seeking to learn more about information architecture and its benefits, and assists information architects who wish to promote the field. Information architecture, the art and science of structuring and classifying information on web sites and intranets, is a growing field that is becoming increasingly important in the modern information age.
Well, for $60 for two years, just call me a charter member.
When I first began dabbling in design, I went and picked up a copy of Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book. If you are a snooty designer, you may hold up your nose, but I did and still do like the way that Williams approaches the subject. But I don't mean to debate that here. What I am more interested in is just a bit of personal whimsy in extending an acronym that comes out of Williams' book.
If you aren't familiar with her work, Williams distills design theory into four basic principles: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. She points out that this creates a "memorable--but very inappropriate" acronym. Well, hell. One person's inappropriate is another person's "ya gotta love it." (grin)
Anyways, one day I was doodling in class, and noticed that the two principles that my typography professor was constantly reinforcing--audience and purpose--happened to be the last two letters of CRAP. I started thinking about what the other letters could stand for that might complement these, and as of right now, have come up with constraints and requirements.
I comment about this now, as this issue of business needs or constraints has been recently discussed within the context of user-centered design. For example, in this article by Jeff Lash on the myth of user-centered IA and this interview with Peter Merholz and Nathan Shedroff.
I suppose that after decades of BCD (business-centered design:), where the user was a faint afterthought, if it was a thought at all, there may be a tendency to feel that the pendulum needs to swing all the way to the other side to compensate. But we would be well served by counteracting this tendency. Those of us in these various interdependent, interdisciplinary fields will be far more successful if we collaborate with business, rather than set up some new Mars vs Venus "just can't communicate" fodder!
October 29, 2002
Amy Lee is a work colleague and very patient wife of Mike (look at him now...he's acquired a light on a headband so he can take Sidekick photos in low light! Now here's someone with a gadget fixation :). Earlier today, she sent me a paper on what's called "wicked" problems. The author notes (here) that a wicked problem is "one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem."
Intrigued, I started to read, and then I started wondering how this guy managed to be a fly on the wall in some of our meetings! He notes that a related issue is fragmentation, and that that occurs when "stakeholders in a project are all convinced that their version of the problem is correct." This has certainly been the case where I work, and perhaps is an interesting way to frame the Mars and Venus designer vs usability specialist "war". He also raises the issue of social complexity, which again is related to project stakeholders:
One factor that increases the wickedness of a problem is the number and diversity of stakeholders involved. A stakeholder, as the term implies, is someone who holds a stake in the outcome. Stakeholders are players in the social network around a project, and their input and participation is important to the project’s overall success. Stakeholders often have the power to stop, undermine or even sabotage a project if it threatens them or their designated organizational role.
While this document (which is only one chapter in a forthcoming book) is short on solutions, it is an interesting way of looking at the design process. Whether designers are working on a web site, or documentation for an online product, or forms to fill out one's taxes, this concept of "wicked" problems and the challenges of collaborative design in a technology environment would seem to be worth further attention (the currency of the information age :).
October 28, 2002
Links and content
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGCHI mailing list recently about putting hyperlinks in body text. In it, Steve paraphrased Gerry McGovern (author of Content Critical) as saying "If you put hypertext links in the body text, it disrupts readability."
Gee, if that's a problem, some of us webloggers are in deep doo-doo!
Based on the responses it sure seems it ultimately boils down to: it depends! Speaking of which, there's a history (and debate around origin) to the phrase it depends, but methinks it can apply here. If "readability" is really one's goal, then yes, sticking blue underlined text in the middle of a paragraph could well affect how readable something is. I.e, it's probably not the best thing to do in the middle of articles or longer paragraphs meant to be read and digested. But I'm not aware of anything that discounts Nielsen's 1997 finding: people scan web pages.
Now the percentages may have changed. I know that I have, on occasion, actually read an article on the web. But...then again, I'm probably conditioned enough to the crappy experience (low-res monitors, questionable design practices re tiny type,e tc) of reading on the web that a blue underline in the middle is the least of my problems.
Good Experience...the event
Ah, this just appeared in my inbox. Mark Hurst (from Creative Good, and author of the Good Experience weblog) is doing an event: GEL: Good Experience Live, in New York next May 2nd. He's lined up a few speakers, including Richard Saul Wurman (who I have yet to see in person). We've had Mark and the Creative Good folks do some work for us. They are great folks, tho if you are an old fart like me, it's amusing to see Mark in person...he looks a bit like a teenage hacker compared to the folks we had him speak to :). I think I'll put a tickler in the file for this one.
October 24, 2002
Bad to the bone
Ok, I admit it. Sometimes I'm just not a nice person. Here's what I provided the Washington Post when they insisted that I provide them info about me in order to read an article about the snipers:
But seriously. Do you tell websites all your personal info? If you aren't about to give them your credit card to buy something?
An Amazon oops?
Every once in a while, I wish for my organization's website the kind of user experience provided by the folks at amazon.com. Alas, without their resources, it's a bit of fantasy. So it may be petty of me, but I get just a tinge of satisfaction to see that they haven't worked out all their kinks yet!
For one, they haven't solved the "If you're not Beth Mazur, click here" goofiness. Cookies do have their drawbacks, don't they?
But I hadn't expected this one. Being a former math major, creativity is not exactly my strong suit. So I was happy to get turned on to Jim Krause's series of books: Idea Index, Layout Index, and Color Index. Yippee...I can use all the help I can get!
So, what about Amazon? I decided to do a nice little one-click ordering. Maybe it's me, but it doesn't seem that you can aggregate things and then do one-click, so I ordered Layout Index, followed by Color Index, followed by Idea Index. So, maybe I'm easily amused, but I thought it was funny that Amazon showed me this after ordering Idea Index:
Ummm...didn't I order this book? Like 10 seconds ago?
Yeah, yeah. Believe me I understand the technical limitations. Or maybe I should be glad that Amazon is not Big Brother-like and suggests books based on the email I received that day. Like I said, for those of us who don't exactly get to play with the big boys, it's just a relief to know that they don't have all the answers. Yet.
Interview with Lou and Peter
Yikes...four days since the last entry. Busy with school work I guess. But since I'm sitting here glued to CNN (hint, I'm a metro DC resident), I thought I'd at least point folks to this interview with Lou and Peter over one John Rhodes' WebWord. As the parents of the IA bible (also known as the polar bear book), Lou and Peter are the accepted authorities on the subject!
October 19, 2002
Well, Guy's been online since before IDblog was resurrected, but still, I'm pleased to welcome Guy's Some Thoughts on Communication (get it? STC?) to the wonderful world of weblogging. It's nice to see another tick mark in the tech writing category to help balance all the weblogs (see right nav column) that are focusing on IA and design.
October 18, 2002
Happy birthday, IAwiki
Wikis seem to be an acquired taste, but IMO, this one has really hit the mark. Congrats to Eric Scheid, who has nurtured it from the start.
Usability must be viewed :)
PS. While you're there, take time to enjoy the hand-lettering on whiteboard "Usability Views" header.
It's the apostrophe!
It's Friday, so maybe there's time for a little humor. Courtesy of Stewart on the ID-Cafe mailing list, here's a cartoon for the writers out there: it's Bob [the Angry Flower]'s Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots. I don't know how Bob managed to avoid the apostrophe in its/it's, as its use is the one that it's abused the most, or so it seems to me :).
October 15, 2002
Educational progams in ID
I've gone ahead and posted a resource to the ID SIG website listing educational programs in information design. While the majority of the programs aren't labeled information design, I included them because they offered something other than a more traditional program in technical communication or graphic design. They also didn't go so far as to primarily concentrate in a related field like information architecture or HCI.
This listing doesn't imply endorsement, and whether or not a program is listed was purely a subjective judgment. I'm happy to hear about other programs that get what information design is about. I did review the draft list that Karel van der Waarde circulated quite a while back. Some of the links are (of course) no longer working, so I've included those that I could.
I'm still on the lookout for proposals for programs in information design (like this one). Please let me know if you know of one or are working on one!
October 14, 2002
Usability must die?
Chris McEvoy thinks that usability must die. This is not the bizarro corpses set to banquet (all your base are belong to us?) rant of recent UCD list fame. While there is much that is tongue-in-cheek, ultimately the point Chris seems to be making is this:
Usability has had its day, and we should be ensuring that User Centred Design takes centre stage in the development process, instead of trying to reinvent Usability as Interaction Design. We should be teaching programmers about users, rather than creating a new caste of high priests.
A big target is Jakob Nielsen, and Chris takes the time to do an analysis of Nielsen's AlertBox column to point out that recent columns seem designed more to sell reports from the Nielsen Norman Group and thus "has become inward looking and stale."
I think that part of Chris' problem is which usability specialists he pays attention to. The Usability Professionals Association (UPA) is at least as interested as Chris in seeing that the role of UCD come front and center. In fact, some of these same issues, such as does it require a quote-usability specialist-quote to do UCD, or should UCD be broader, may be why the UPA has chosen not to explore usability certification at this time.
So yes, UCD is bigger than usability. Trite, useless usability can die, but thank heavens for the usability folks who are out there doing the hard work to make UCD part of every development process!
Technologies who need people...
There's been quite a stir on the SIG-IA email list recently about Google's new computer-generated news and their flippant "No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page" (now removed). Peter Morville, of Semantic Studios and polar bear book fame has commented on this over on O'Reilly:
Google's claim that it offers "a news service compiled solely by computer algorithms without human intervention" is misleading, at best. What about the programmers who wrote the algorithms? What about the designers and architects who structured and organized the templates? What about the thousands of reporters and editors who wrote and selected the articles?
That this has hit such a nerve makes me wonder if journalists suffer from the same insecurity I attribute to technical writers: when you make your living from writing, you can worry that you aren't valued because this is something that people learn when they are in first grade. Never mind that writing for understanding is something that most never pick up ... in high school, college, or elsewhere ... but still, our colleagues and bosses are still willing to let the new admin write the reports or the engineers write the documentation.
Peter's article preaches to the choir -- to those who already get it. The real question is how to get the same message to those who don't?
October 11, 2002
DUX2003: Designing for User Experiences
DUX2003 will gather together designers of all kinds from our intersecting communities who deliver user-centered designs for the digital age. Sponsored by three premiere societies, the conference program showcases the interaction between digital design, business, and users.
So many conferences, so little budget! See the IAwiki conferences page for other tempting destinations.
October 10, 2002
Content and Complexity: The cover!
How about this! Not too shabby for an academic cover!!!
And this makes it feel very real. Hard to believe it was over two and a half years ago that we got started on this little publishing project (the first saved email I have in my IDbook Eudora folder is from January 2000). What a learning experience! All I can say is my co-editor, Mike Albers, has the patience of a saint. If you're in the Memphis area, go visit him!
Stay tuned for more shameless promotion :)
October 08, 2002
Why Mozilla rocks
Just say yes to Mozilla! Count me in as one of the proud single-digit percent who is using a browser other than IE at both home and work. I had originally done this just to avoid giving M$ the satisfaction, but now I'm just quite the happy camper.
When I first installed it, I wasn't so sure that the browser's tab functions would be that useful:
But what is really nice is this little feature:
October 07, 2002
Get yer Natty Bo's here!
I've been a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) since 1995. I've been very happy there, particularly after founding the Information Design SIG in 1997. One of my more favorite volunteer jobs has been to be on the program committee for STC's annual conference. I've had this position for both Orlando (2000) and Nashville (2002). There's a lot of work, but the rewards are definitely proportional!
Thus I am tickled pink to have been asked to be program manager for the 2005 conference, which will be held in Seattle. And what's really nice is that this means that I'll also be on the 2004 program committee, which is being held in Baltimore, Maryland. The graphic design/IA community is very active there, so I think this is going to be a fabulous location for us. The call for proposals will go out in February 2003, due by August 1. Feel free to email me if you are at all interested in doing either a regular or post-conference session!
META Name=Keyword Content=DEAD!
From the folks at Search Engine Watch:
Now supported by only one major crawler-based search engine -- Inktomi -- the value of adding meta keywords tags to pages seems little worth the time. In my opinion, the meta keywords tag is dead, dead, dead.
If your own search technology uses the META KEYWORDS tag, then continuing to use it makes sense. But it sounds like you get no mileage out of it for external search. Now the question is how long will it be before we start seeing really obnoxious title tags?
October 06, 2002
Peter posted a link to Charles Minard's 1871 obituary on InfoDesign last week. ID fans and regular readers of IDblog know that Minard was responsible for this graphic, which Tufte has described as "probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn."
I first saw this image back in 1984, when I was a geek programmer and member of the ACM (ya gotta love the web ... it turns out it was Jon Bentley's June 1984 Programming pearls column). I still have that image...it's framed and sits on my desk at work and, in retrospect, was my first toe-dipping into the pool that I would later come to know as information design. Given this, I was one of those who was a bit dismayed when STC published an article by Dragga and Voss in the August 2001 Technical Communication that criticized this diagram:
By omitting the human misery caused by that military campaign, the illustration could be said to constitute a distortion of the reality that escapes the statistics. The graphic isn't so much deceptive, however, as it is plainly inhumane—insensitive or indifferent to the human condition it depicts.
Frankly, I had found that the diagram was incredibly compelling in its description of the human misery. And at the time, STC members like Bill Sullivan were very critical (as were a number of TC readers who responded in subsequent issues in the editorial section). Why? Well for one, here is how Dragga and Voss suggested that Minard's diagram could be improved:
Surely they jest. It is true that at first glance, the absence of hokey clip art crosses and men on horseback may make the reader work just a tad harder to understand the implication of the width of the line on the graph. But once realization hits, perhaps for some, the "image is gripping; and, especially today, it inspires bitter reflections on the cost to humanity of the madnesses of conquerors and the merciless thirst of military glory. "
The quote above came from the obituary mentioned above, written by his son-in-law. Charles Joseph Minard was in his late 80s when he drew this graph. He was able to spend this time on this pursuit in part because of his forced retirement as general inspector of bridges and roads. The obituary is interesting in other ways, in part because it is fairly long (and his son-in-law comments about the fact that he was slow to gain any accolades ... "[His] advancement may appear a little slow for the time in which he lived. The truth is that Mr. Minard did not know how to value himself, and it is only around the end of his career, when numerous and brilliant services were highly demanded of him, that just rewards came to reach him.")
There are other interesting snippets in the obituary:
In the middle of these delicate operations a terrible blow came to strike him; a son who was entering into his second year was taken from him in a few hours by one of those pitiless illnesses that decimate children.
Mr. Minard had since his most tender youth frail and delicate health, which was only supported by a sober and regular life, and which resisted in this way the attacks of the weather.
His devoted companion, one of his sons-in-law and his youngest daughter had the sad consolation of softening the bitterness of his last moments. His other daughter and his other son-in-law (the author of this notice), confined in Paris during the siege, only knew after the armistice the cruel loss they had suffered three months before.
For me, these are really emotive paragraphs (even without pictographs).
October 05, 2002
A C- for TiVo
Do you TiVo? I was one of those who couldn't see the value of a digital VCR, but when I bought one as a gift off of eBay last year (hey, you couldn't find 'em in the stores!), I set it up at home to make sure it was functional. Well, after just a couple of days, I was hooked. The digital VCR functions are slick (particularly the ability to do "Season Passes" where your favorite shows are recorded no matter when they are on), but what is really nice is the ability to deal with live TV. Need to go to the loo, but a commercial is 10 minutes away? No problem, just pause it. Missed what happened in that last scene? No prob, just replay it. And since it is digital, you get fairly clear freeze frames or slow motion.
Lest you wonder, I'm not a stockholder, so this is not a ploy to elevate stock prices. Alas, it is a more depressing tail of hardware issues followed by UI issues. The unit I bought for myself last year (manufactured by a name-brand company) has flaked out. Given that I bought it from eBay, I'm not confident that the warranty will work out to my favor, and anyways, I'm really eager to upgrade the disk space (which increases how many programs you can record) and to get the USB port. (There are no peripherals yet, but it really s*cks to have to archive a digital program to analog tape just to save it!)
So...today I trotted off to BestBuy and picked up a new unit. You can use these as a standalone digital VCR, but if you're an average person, you'll want to pay for the TiVo service. This is what provides you with the on-screen program information (and what the TiVo unit uses to record anything other than manually selected programs). I got home, hooked up the new unit, and, since all looks good, went to go activate service for this new unit, because the service is tied directly to a serial number. I understand the biz decision for this, but alas, I'm not sure they worked out all the kinks. Anyways, activating the new unit is trivial, and I'm done with that in a flash. Now what I want to do is deactivate the old unit (the one with the fried hard drive).
I go to the TiVo account management page, and check out my options.
So, I've emailed TiVo to find out how to turn off their service. (Like, what are they thinking? "Gee, if we make it hard for people to disconnect the service from the website, maybe they won't." Duh!!!) Anyways, I had to laugh, yet again, when I got the following after submitting their customer service form:
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