November 27, 2002
Off for family fun...
Ah, it's the holidays. Here is my homage to Mike Lee:
I'm heading there for the holiday. Back on the 2nd.
Tufte and IA
Dan Brown has done a nice article over on Boxes and Arrows titled Three Lessons from Tufte. Because he's talking about documentation (specifically IA deliverables), this is a good read for tech writers and info designers as well.
November 26, 2002
Sean's comment (on Monday...can't link to the entry itself) about the high cost of entry to AIGA got me to 1) comment and then 2) update the following list, which was originally posted to the old IDblog a year or so ago.
This new version adds in AIfIA and updates each listing with the association's student membership rate and policy.
November 25, 2002
Big versus little
Christina asks is big IA dead? Of course, I can't resist the opportunity to comment, using the opportunity to once again bring up the film director metaphor. I do resist pointing out that the AIfIA has a Sisyphean task ahead of them trying to claim this "big" space.
Content and style
I very much like Hedley's response about it being like a three-legged stool:
I find discussions about which is most important, content, layout, or navigation rather pointless. Why propose useless either-or competitions? Ask yourself 'Which is the most important leg on a three-legged stool?'. ... As my dear old mother was wont to tell me at her knee, 'The most important aspect of documentation is completeness, accuracy, understandability, accessibility, and attractiveness.'
And seconded! Given that it's been two weeks, excuse me for offering another gratuitous plug for our forthcoming book and in particularly, Whitney Quesenbery's chapter on the "5 E's of Usability." Her model is based upon the ISO 9241 standard which describes usability as:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Whitney takes this definition and expands upon it, and comes up with her list for the five characteristics of usability:
Now here's the trick. Any given product is very unlikely to be completely successful in all five of these characteristics. (Remember the adage: "Cheap, fast, good: pick two."). This is how business and technical constraints are worked into the user-centered design process. See Whitney's Using the 5 E's and her What does usability mean? for more.
My point for sharing this is that it this is how you get from something like a blanket (and hardly useful) "content is king" statement to a concept that is actually practical in the real world.
November 22, 2002
Ouch! It's getting hot...
Everyone's blogging Adam Greenfield's interview with Nathan Shedroff on IA and UX. I'd describe Adam as a "big IA" sort in web design and development; Nathan wrote the book Experience Design. Makes IA quite the hotbed of sorts (what with the recent spate of heated posts on the SIGIA list).
November 21, 2002
IA is not usability?
Hmmm...Jeff Lash has done a piece for Digital Web to let us know that IA is not usability (thanks Peter). Maybe it's me, but I guess I didn't realize that folks were confusing IA or usability. Or maybe at least little IA and usability.
For the record, let me say that while I'm very interested in what my IA and usability friends are doing, I don't place myself in the center of either circle. I'm predominantly interested in how words and pictures go together to help people make use of the data/information they are viewing. So my perspective is a bit peripheral. That said, I was a bit surprised at some of Jeff's comments. For example, he writes:
Usability is a detailed subject, taking into account things like font size, colors, visual proximity, usage context, search, error messages, navigation, form design, and labeling.
Huh? I think my usability friends, while interested in things like these, are also interested in many more big picture items. In fact, UPA's recent effort to determine if they wanted to go forward with certification was far more about the entire user-centered design process than it was about "little" usability issues (like font size) that users might get tripped up by.
Then again, a hard-core usability guy like John Rhodes didn't seem to find fault with this (instead, he simply linked to Adam Greenfield's what lies beneath (i.e., IA and the business model) and did very little commentary.
For my money, I don't think most people have issues with the differences between IA, ID, usability, graphic design, etc., at the "little" (or tactical) level. The IA doesn't want to specify fonts, the usability specialist doesn't want to specify taxonomies, and the ID doesn't want to do any ethnographic studies. Unless they are paid big bucks to do so :).
To me, it seems that those who want to play at the macro/strategic/big level are the ones whose interests or scope may well overlap. If you're talking "big picture," I think it's far harder to differentiate the IA from the usability specialist. Fodder for another column, methinks!
November 18, 2002
IDblog beats Useit.com
I found this link about Holovaty's GetContentSize application from iaslash. I don't know how Michael did it, but he was able to restrain himself from comparing sites using this tool. I was not so strong :). But hey, the good news is that, whatever the heck it means, you can count on IDblog for more content per K downloaded than all sorts of other sites, including Jakob Nielsen's useit.com! My quickie results:
Ok, I'll grant you that the home page may not be the place for lots and lots of content, but hey, I beat Jakob Nielsen. Clearly this is a very useful and important stat :).
Design really matters
I had meant to log this back when it first appeared (I think I may have first seen it in John Rhodes' WebWord). But other things came up, so I missed the opportunity. But never fear, in this thing we call Internet media, these things always come around again. Here's a version that ClickZ published today.
November 13, 2002
My first quote!
Our book isn't even out yet, but I've already been quoted (thanks Peter!). The context is related to a discussion on the ID-Cafe list of reprinting one of the earliest works in information design, "Information Design: The Design and Evaluation of Signs and Printed Material" which was edited by Harm Zwaga and Ronald Easterby and published in 1984. You can see the table of contents courtesy of Peter and Karel van der Waarde.
November 12, 2002
What is Amazon thinking?!? Here's part of a screen I grabbed tonight:
This is perhaps not misleading in the sense that the pick your favorite color ad that Yahoo's been running lately, but still. Maybe it's swell that Amazon is selling clothes, but using their relatively well-trusted "customers who bought this bought that" functionality to get the word out is, IMO, more than a little sleazy.
But maybe this is supposed to be funny ha-ha funny? I notice that when Challis Hodge visited the link for this same book, he found Amazon suggesting Clean Underwear from Amazon's Eddie Bauer Store. By the time I'd clicked on the link (a day later), the same shoppers for this book were now looking for "Clean Underwear" from the Gap. And the appearance of the suggested apparel is obviously fleeting, as I found when I tried to visit other books whose shoppers had convenient clothing tastes for Amazon's marketing practices. All gone now!
Finally, I'm not sure when it happened, but Amazon is now pushing (even in the legit categories) that "customers who shopped for this also shopped for this" rather than the old "customers who bought this also bought this." I suppose that the former gives shoppers more options, but it's not quite as much of an endorsement that someone scanned a page compared to plunking down their cash.
Before & After's back!
What an unexpected surprise! I just received volume 6, issue 1, of Before & After in my mailbox. I had subscribed to B&A back in 1995, just after I had started work at MAYA and had my first real exposure to good design.
B&A was a great resource for folks new to design. In each short issue, editor John McWade walked you thru projects that, as he said, showed you how to "design cool stuff." Surely not a substitute for more formal training in design, B&A was nevertheless part design tutor and part tool tutor (McWade would also give tips on using Photoshop or Illustrator).
Alas, some time in 1997, B&A stopped publishing. Months later, a single issue appeared, only to have the pub go down completely in 1998. In this new issue, McWade pleads mental and emotional depletion. Though my memories at the time were that subscribers weren't handled all that well...or handled at all. I think I sent an email or two (one of which may have been a bit nasty, sigh), but finally gave up on the rest of my subscription.
Well, here's credit to B&A and publisher McWade. Per the recent issue, my "subscription has remained intact" and I'm on the hook for the next two issues too. Big yeah!
So caveat emptor, but...if you'd like to learn lots more about design, I'd definitely check out Before & After. It's not for hard-core designers, and it's probably not for those who wouldn't open Photoshop or Illustrator if you paid them. But it works for me. (I'm psyched enough that I went ahead and ordered all the back issues I was missing!)
November 11, 2002
The Google 500?
Move over Fortune? There's something about it that smacks of urban legend, but a variety of blogs are reporting that searching for "http" on Google will give you a list of pages ordered by Google's page rank. For example, here's the Google 100.
If this is correct, I'll be pretty happy (my company makes the Google 250 :). I'm more distressed by this, the actual Fortune 500. According to this, Wal-Mart's profits in 2001 were over six billion dollars. I'm sorry, but that's obscene. (Mea culpa...I need a little hot dog symbol like Lou has for when the weblog goes a bit off-topic :).
M$ Style Manual
This link is making its appearance on some blogs and e-lists: Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (I saw the first one on Peter's site). NB: If you don't have Windows, don't bother. The manual is a self-extracting compiled help (.CHM) doc. But if you do have Windows, the only two reasons I can think of for downloading it are 1) you need to write manuals to M$ specifications, or 2) you'll use it as source material for some research project.
I suspect that people who have need of it for reason #2 will be more successful. Maybe it's just my knee-jerk M$ bias, but I found myself wondering how useful 1Mb worth of index entries really is as a style guide. I'm happy to hear that M$ prefers "e-mail" so that it is consistent with "e-commerce" and retains the "electronic mail" origin (no, not really, I'm being sarcastic...I like "email" thank you). But can you imagine being a new tech writer in Redmond? Sure the campus is nice (and the store discounts are great), but good luck doing a compliant manual!
November 07, 2002
Pittsburgh or Scottsdale?
Oh dear, another interesting conference for the 2003 season. The folks at Carnegie Mellon and ACM are bringing you the Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces, June 23-26, 2003, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'd love to get to UPA, but daBurgh is home (and just a few hours drive from here).
How interesting that, given yesterday's (sort of) entry on the technical vs the artistic, they note that:
Issues of affective and emotional response to products are exceedingly important within the communities of human factors, product design, and design research. As people become more sensitive to the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of products that go beyond traditional aspects of usability, the need to understand and create resonance between people and products increases.
This may be, but is it just me, or is it a tad bizarro that they needed to do this page entirely with images?
November 06, 2002
Surely they jest?
I just bought a new car this past weekend. Sometime after I got home, maybe the next day, I picked up my owner's manual and started to skim. How's this for amusing...on page 4 of a 320-page manual, you find the instructions:
Before you start to drive this vehicle, read this manual.
Umm, yeah sure. This would make perfect fodder for a Dilbert comic featuring Tina the Tech Writer. "You can't be serious." "No, the lawyers say this covers our butts."
Speaking of tech writers, there's been a furious discussion going on on TECHWR-L. It started innocently enough about the possible parallels of figure skating judging to technical communication judging (talking about technical vs artistic scores), and wound up being a flame fest about the importance of content compared to design...with just a little bit of signal and a whole lot of noise. IMO, some of the signal came from Michael Shea and Eric Dunn. Sigh, the truth is obviously in the middle ground. Both accuracy and presentation are important, but I guess that's no fun, huh?
Meanwhile, over in the IA world, there's been a far less heated conversation between fans of the new AIfIA (like me) and those in the IT and design communities who are wondering what the fuss is all about. One of the interesting comments is from Rory Ewins, who distilled AIfIA's 25 theses into 10...saving about 500 words in the process:
Ah, does a tech writer's heart good :). Thanks to Peter for the pointer.
November 04, 2002
Refuge from the sea
The new IA org, Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture has had its formal launch. Is it just me, or is the acronym AIFIA a wee bit long? (Its peers are AIGA, CHI, ASIS, UPA and STC). The reason that's minimally important is that, at least for now when the org is new, it's not a no-brainer to just pull the website address out of the air (oy, it s*cks to get old). Well, nevermind, I've added it to IDblog's right nav area under groups, so I no longer have to remember it :).
According to the About AIfIA page on their site:
The word Asilomar is Spanish for "refuge from the sea"; it is our intention to provide a refuge from the sea of information chaos.
I'm guessing that this sea metaphor is meant to tie in to Richard Saul Wurman's tsunami of data, as RSW is generally acknowleged as the originator of the term "information architect."
I remain curious to see how RSW's IA (which has been heavily graphic design/presentation/print oriented) will mesh with this new IA, which AIfIA describes as the "structural design of shared information environments" and the "art and science of organizing and labeling web sites."
Here's a hint. I think there is still room for those interested in information design to make a contribution!
Irony on the web
Ah, I'm being overly critical...the web is still in its early toddler stage, and the concept of "liquid layout", while promising, is still a gleam in most web developers' eyes. Still, there's just something a tad ironic about reading an article titled Why websites are getting easier to use when the main content column is fixed at around 300 pixels wide.
November 01, 2002
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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