Just as with actual thumbnails sketches, this is a place to capture short thoughts about user experience design and try out new ideas. Some ideas will work better than others, some will be set aside and the best will be refined further into a final form. (Longer essays are in Perspectives.) Thumbnails will appear whenever ideas strike—which might be daily, might be weekly, or might be longer if I'm busy on a project…

jul
27

Pandering to your audience vs. persauding for it
A few weeks ago I wrote a column for Boxes and Arrows about the pressures and temptations to provide simple answers to complex issues are ones we all face in our professional practices.

Now Infoworld columnist Bob Lewis, who's thinking I've long admired, provides some sage advice on the same subject:


Given a choice between a complex, difficult-to-understand, disconcerting explanation and a simplistic, comforting one, many prefer simplistic comfort if it's remotely plausible, especially if it involves blaming someone else for their problems.

Making good decisions requires that you recognize and eschew simplistic, comforting explanations. Even the best decision-makers constantly guard against this very natural tendency. That's one obvious lesson to learn. The other?

Persuasion is difficult, especially when you have to present a hard, painful choice. The easiest way is to pander to your audience with a simplistic, comforting explanation that blames someone else ("clueless managers who just don't get it" would be a common example among IT professionals). Don't write this off too quickly: It has the advantage of working nearly every time.

It is, however, manipulative and dishonest. That doesn't mean the right approach is to present your logic in cool, painstaking detail.

To persuade, keep your arguments simple if not simplistic and phrase them in terms relevant to your audience if you can't make them comforting.

There is, after all, a difference between pandering to your audience and caring about it.

::

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mar
12

Boxes and Arrows debuts
Many months ago Christina Wodtke approached me with the dream of having an online magazine for people like us—whatever you want to call "us."

A magazine that went beyond the basics and tackled thorny issues, but wasn't drowned in academic/professional jargon. A magazine that would help tear down the fences we've so hastily built around our disciplines. A magazine that would make us all a bit smarter.

I'm happy to let you know that dream is now a reality. http://www.boxesandarrows.com

We hope you enjoy it. We hope it makes you think. We hope you take part.

(BTW, launching a magazine takes a tremendous amount of work, needless to say. Now that Boxes and Arrows is up, I'm hoping to resume Thumbnails on regular basis.) ::

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nov
27

Boxes and Arrows
OK, so I haven't posted in ages. That's because I've got a side project that's taking up all my free time -- Boxes and Arrows a new journal for information architects, interaction designers, information designers, and interface designers -- with coverage of related disciplines and influencing fields, coming soon to a browser near you.


Boxes and Arrows is the definitive source for the complex task of bringing architecture and design to the digital landscape. There are various titles and professions associated with this undertaking -- information architecture, information design, interaction design, interface design-- but when we looked at the work that we were actually doing, we found a "community of practice" with similarities in outlook and approach that far outweighed our differences.

Boxes and Arrows is a peer-written journal dedicated to discussing, improving and promoting the work of this community, through the sharing of exemplary technique, innovation and informed opinion.

Boxes and Arrows strives to provoke thinking among our peers, to push the limits of the accepted boundaries of these practices and to challenge the status quo by teaching new or better techniques that translate into results for our companies, our clients and our comrades.

Launching a magazine is a tremendous amount of work, so things will probably be quiet around here for several more weeks. ::

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oct
16

So what's going to be on the site?
Since I'm currently knee-deep in dealing with content, it's a good time to mention the excellent "Taking A Content Inventory" by Janice Crotty Fraser. Practical and informative, it's required reading if you're gearing up to do it. ::

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oct
15

It depends, but...
On the SIG-IA mailing list people have thinking about the "it depends" attitude all too common in the IA/UI/UX, and most notably, the usability professions. As in:

Client: What should I do to make my site more usable?

Usability Guru: Well, it depends…

Well it's time we're willing to say, "it depends, but here's what I recommend for you and your situation." And yes that means being accountable for our recommendations and decisions.

Whether we like it on not, most of us act as consultants whether we're in-house employees or external consultants/developers, since we generally are making recommendations/blueprints that are used to actually build the end site/product.

No sometimes—often times—we don't have enough data, enough analysis. That's where being a designer comes in, trusting your instincts and your experience. No you probably won't come up with the perfect solution, but hopefully you can come with a good one. Such is the designer's lot, same as it ever was.  more »

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oct
09

Getting down to business
Back again but still getting over jet lag (finding out the air strikes had begun just as I'd gotten into my taxi to JFK didn't help) so I'll be brief…

A few weeks ago there was a huge discussion on the SIG-IA list by information architects who were contemplating going back to school to get MBAs so they could better understand business. While that's a whole other discussion, it prompted Jonas Söderström to share this essay from Don Norman about applying the behavioral, cognitive, and social sciences to products.

Among other things, Don says:

"How do we get respect? By becoming leaders. We have to speak the language of business—schedules, profits and loss, sales, and margins. We need to understand why products sell, who buys them, what the distribution channels are. In other words, we need to learn the language of business, of finance, and of marketing. We have to put the system first, not our special skills.

"When engineers do this, they get promoted. They move up to management. MBAs are taught to do this. Those from the [behavioral, cognitive, and social sciences] community must do the same."

While UX needs to keep its focus on user-driven, goal-oriented design, Don's words point out important considerations that we need to be aware of and be willing to address. ::

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sep
24

On the road again
I'll be on the road this week—including a speaking appearance at Seybold—as well as next week, so check back with Thumbnails the week of Oct. 8. ::

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sep
20

The Usability of Online Content
I've run across a surprising number of ex-journalists (including myself) who've moved into the IA/UX field. Pete Benedict talks about the value they can bring, namely a focus on the usability of content itself, something traditional usability people tend to overlook. ::

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sep
17

Returning to "normal"
I've been noticing the little things around me. Ordinary things.

So when I happened to check in with Noah Grey's site (maker of Greymatter, which runs the blog) I was stunned by the simple beauty of the portrait and still-life photos on his new site, "depth of field." I'd previously been struck by the photos on his original site before his breakdown—now I'm awed.

As Noah says, he's found his voice. And especially right now, that's a inspiring thing to see… ::

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sep
11

Organizational limits to HCI
Thanks to Richard Anderson for providing his 25-page interview with Don Norman and Janice Rohn about the organizational limits to HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) [note: this a 1.8 MB PDF file].

Lots of great thinking, including these two related observations from Norman:


User testing is not where the action is. The action is with those people who decide what product to build in the first place. That isn't the user tester community, but it should be the CHI community. You know, I'm sick and tired of hearing the CHI community complain that they're never listened to. Yeah, it's great we’re hiring all these people who are never listened to, right?

…If you call yourself a usability person, then you are this resource that gets called on to dig the ditches and do the user tests. You want to be up there helping drive the company and move its products. That's when you have influence, and that’s when you can call upon the other people to do their jobs.

True, true, true… ::

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sep
10

Can't get no satisfaction...
OK, it's not really any surprise, but the American Customer Satisfaction Index is headed downward again and Financial Times writer Simon London summarizes the latest dismal findings.

Which begs the question, since American companies are supposedly obsessed with their customers, why are things going so wrong—for example, Northwest Airlines, which ranked second worse only to PG&E (the utility that failed to keep the lights on in California)—and only a select few like Continental Airlines and Enterprise rental cars, get it right.  more »

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sep
06

Watching and talking with users
Want to learn more about your users? Go observe them. If you've ever wondered what ethnologists do, the Far Eastern Economic Review offers a thumbnail profile of an Intel researcher in action.

Meanwhile another article gives some detailed advice on running marketing focus groups with participants from Asian cultures. Not having lived in Southeast Asia, I can't comment on the accuracy some of the specific cultural advice, although some of it seems in line with advice for interacting with a variety of non-American cultures. And the rest of the article offers an overview of the how-to issues related to running a focus group. ::

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aug
30

The new MBA is an MFA
Love or hate Fast Company, in this interview with @issue, the magazine's founder Alan Webber offers his thoughts about how design is a key element for businesses today.

"We have  a long-standing slogan at Fast Company: The new MBA is an MFA. At the heart of the New Economy is the challenge of design. It's not a narrow definition of design. It's not just organizing type on a page or arranging an  office  interior. It's the design of a business model. It's the way you design the relationship with your collaborators, your network, your customers, your employees. Those are design issues."

Are these beyond the skills of a "designer"? Sure. But it's a design mentality that others can learn from designers.  more »

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aug
28

At least it's not blinking 12:00, 12:00...
Tog takes a break from web sites to dissect problems using the Dish Network 501 satellite receiver. Why?

"We have become so inured to the errors of web sites that I hesitate to use one as an example. Instead, let's turn to a product in a slightly different arena—consumer electronics."


Interesting cautionary tale from the world of industrial design. ::

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aug
27

More than just making it pretty...
Unfortunately, too many people in the information architecture, user interface and usability professions seem to regard visual design as simply being about aesethetics—making things pretty in other words. But visual design is also about "form," that's to say, using the "functional" aspects of appearance to help communicate and to help aid usability.

The Poynter Institute—an American thinktank for journalists—has put together an interactive Flash presentation about color, contrast and dimension applied to news design. The presentation starts off with examples of general principles, with some interactive exercises, then moves onto numerous specific examples from newspapers and magazines. While it doesn't contain examples of form applied to user interface design—how you might use color coding to differentiate sections, or shading to help make clear that something is a button—it does show how visual design can add to communication.

The one major flaw is it's a pretty linear presentation, making it hard to get back to specific examples. It's also a bit large, but worth waiting for the download. ::

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aug
24

Usability vs. user experience
Unfortunately, people seem to confuse the two, but I ran across a nice analogy from Lee McCormick:

User experience = a road trip

Usability = road layout and signage

User experience is the sum of all elements: sights, sounds, sensations. The glare of sun, the hum of tires, the sweep of curves. Usability is the "can I find my way" part of the experience.

Sure it doesn't catch the full dimensions of the differences, but it's concrete example that I think's pretty clear to most people. ::

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aug
23

Future directions for IA?
OK, so information architects love to argue over what it is they do—part of the growing pains of a young profession, I think.

Lou Rosenfeld reframes the question: "what will we be doing in ten years that's completely different? Or will information architects continue to see their jobs as being about creating wire frames and blueprints? Please God, I hope not."

Lou's got his own suggestions:

which he elaborates on at his site. If you're interested in commenting on, or adding to the list, Lou's trying to get a discussion going on the SIG-IA list. ::

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aug
22

Performance-centered design
In this oldie-but-goodie Craig Marion explores the concept of "performance-centered design," which is similiar to the "usage-centered design" concept advocated by Alan Cooper.

Craig's take on it is interesting because it deals with more of the traditional software arena—useful as web apps become more prevelant—and has a nice list of some specific attributes of performance-centered designs. Finally, toward the end of the article he's got some good business case justifications with actual numbers from real projects. ::

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aug
21

Let it flow, let it flow...
Joshua Fruhlinger has some thoughts on "flow" in user experience and balancing usability heuristics (in other words, "rules of thumb") with actually going out and observing potential users.

"The key is to understand your users much like an anthropologist understands his cultures. Don't just reduce users to lab mice who respond to heuristic stimuli over and over. Users are smarter than that, and they can sense a pedantic experience from a mile away."

Well said. ::

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aug
20

Are usability gurus a good investment?
Elegant Hack spotted this article by Charles L. Mauro which questions "Is a high priced usability "Guru" a good investment?"

What the author is really criticizing is the idea you can parachute someone in for a couple days and they'll magically solve your usability problems. Mauro catalogs some of the problems with this approach. Probably the biggest problem, ironically enough, is making this consulting user-friendly.  more »

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aug
17

SIGGRAPH 2001 - is experimentation really dangerous?
Checked out SIGGRAPH yesterday. While the exhibition (trade show) was a predictable collection of tool vendors for digital video and the latest, greatest 3D rendering, no one was really able to answer the question: so when you can do photo realistic rendering that's indistinguishable from reality, then what?

In contrast one of the most beautiful pieces in the Art Gallery was Alpha Wolf, where people play the part of a wolf cub in a virtual pack, howling, growling or whimpering into microphone to influence their cub. Instead of trying to create photo realistic wolves, the Alpha Wolf team instead choose a style reminiscent of Chinese watercolor painting, and the results were much more evocative. Alpha Wolf was one of a several projects that tried to get rid of the mouse [free for a few days, then-pay per-view].  more »

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aug
15

The future of design
Interesting parallels from the world of mechanical engineering. In this speech, John H. Lienhard argues engineers need to embrace: rapid trial and error, powerful cooperation, and a new way of seeing—citing examples as diverse as the design of Americas Cup's race boats, the legendary Skunkworks, and Medieval cathedral builders.

Some of the more interesting thoughts on each point:

And finally, Lienhard could be talking about the user experience design community:

"You and I know perfectly well that rapid trial and error—a rapid learning curve, rich in possibility—is the fastest road to good design. But it takes more courage than most of us have to go through the process. So we'll have to work very hard to hold on to that face of good design." ::

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aug
13

Do usable sites require usability specialists?
Jared Spool's been sparking an interesting discussion on SIG-CHI list with claims that he's got tentative findings that some of the most usable web sites don't use "recognized" usability practices. (His initial post is here, with a follow-up, and a second follow-up.) Since Spool doesn't want to release the details until he's had a chance to further study things, at this point it's a bit difficult to assess his claims. However, I'm not necessarily surprised.
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aug
10

Justifying design to business
Ran across an interesting magazine:

"@issue:, a journal about the effective use of design in business. While design manifests itself in nearly every aspect of business, its contribution to the success and profitability of a company is often undervalued.  Through real-life case studies and tangible examples, @issue: examines design from a business point of view."

It's print design-/industrial design-oriented, but it's interesting to see how practitioners in another hard-to-quantify discipline are trying to make a business case for their work.  more »

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aug
09

Visualising complex issues
I've been a big fan of Robert E. Horn's work since his seminal 1989 "Mapping Hypertext" (now sadly out of print and unfortunately his follow-up "Visual Language" was disappointment). InfoDesign spotted a nice example of Horn's work in action. They're similar to the "infographics" found in some newspapers, but deal with summarizing far more complex information, and consequently could be quite useful for presenting issues to clients or team members.  more »

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aug
08

Conversation replaces communication
While a lot Fast Company articles are ideal airplane reading—light and not necessarily to be be taken too seriously—this month's issue has a fascinating article on Proctor & Gamble's experiments with re-thinking marketing and branding in the age of the internet that in some ways is turning P&G's traditional practices inside-out. Perhaps the central theme is the change in the balance of power between corporations and consumers, which means companies need to think about "conversations" rather than "communcation."  more »

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aug
07

Do as they do, not as they say
While I think most of what Jakob Nielsen has to say is more appropriate for conference speaking appearances than for actually building sites or products, his latest column hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, too many people will take the title, "First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users," too literally without understanding his real point: don't believe what users say they do (or will do), instead you need to watch what they actually do.  more »

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aug
06

Market research's most wanted painting
Note: Sorry for being off the air last week, between jury duty (while simultaneously having to keep up with client work) and having my old Mac give up the ghost, it was a bit hectic.

If you're ever looking for a cautionary tale about the misuse of market research, artist team Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid provide some fun examples. The two commissioned market research polls (first in the United States, then in 13 other countries and then the web) to find out what people liked/disliked most in a painting—and then created artworks that contains all the most favored and least favored elements.  more »

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aug
01

A different kind of user experience...
I've been on jury duty this week—and trying to get work done—and unfortunately that hasn't left much time to do any writing. (The good news is that Los Angeles County has switched to a one-day/one-trial system, the bad news is that they've become much more hardnosed about letting people out of jury system, and the fact that you're running your own company isn't sufficient to be excused…) So while I'm hoping to put together an entry tonight, it might be until next week before regular thoughts resume. ::

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jul
27

Learning from video games
Craig Marion offers some interesting thoughts—from a software engineering perspective—on the history and debate around the term "interaction design," which goes back to late 1980s. Marion provides a good summary of some of the thinking that's come out of the traditional thinking of the years. But a reference to video gaming got me thinking about how much there is to learn from that industry.  more »

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jul
26

Making usability user-friendly towards clients
Web Word has an interesting interview with Jared Spool who seems to be another usability person who's realizing that usability is too important to be left only to specialists. I've had my differences over Spool's conclusions over the years—his self-conscious stance of an "innocent" makes him great for raising questions, but often causes problems when he tries provide conclusions. However, this time I think he's nailed some of the issues.  more »

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jul
25

Welcome to the experience economy
I've been meaning to get around to reading "The Experience Economy," since even though web sites and software can be products, they're better thought of as "services"—and in services it's the experience of the interaction that marks the difference between a typical visit to Nordstroms vs. the Department of Motor Vehicles. But in the meantime I ran across a reprint of a Havard Business Review article where the same authors summarize their interesting thoughts. [Note: the links from this page all seem to be broken].  more »

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jul
24

How IA can support brand promise
Tim Salam has two interesting articles on "Information Architecture and the Support of Brand Promise," and "Customer Momentum Preservation: Moving with the Consumer." [Note: although it's not clearly indicated on Tim's site, both articles are in PDF format.] Although they're both commerce-oriented, the ideas in both can definitely be extended to information architecture and interaction design in a variety of settings. ::

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jul
23

Getting usability out of the lab
OK, I've been a little hard on usability specialists recently, so it's good to see some of the people within the profession are realizing the usability needs to be incorporated into the entire design process—and usability specialists need to be more aware of the bigger picture. Witness this report from the recent Usability Professionals Association conference [as reported in NetRaker's newsletter]:

This was an opportunity to issue a wake up call to the entire usability profession. This challenge was best proclaimed by Richard Buchanan, PhD., of Carnegie Mellon University in his portion of the Closing Plenary, "Usability - Past, Present, and Future", when he stated: "Any group that isolates itself brings itself contempt for others, and contempt from others. The key to the future of this profession will be how its specialists participate in the larger enterprise of product development, and even marketing." He went on to further state that for true growth to occur now that economic times have returned to normal, he would desire to see marketers, developers, programmers, product managers, etc., within the audience at such an event as UPA. "This will be the surest sign that this profession, and its virtues, have been assimilated."

Couldn't agree more. (And if you're a usability specialist, before you fire off that flame mail, just consider that if you're reading this you'll probably one of those in the profession who's got broader horizons—and I wish more usability specialists were like you.)

Update: Must be cosmic convergence... Today's IDblog spotted this ClickZ column by Dana Blankenhorn about Michael Roberts' usability consultancy MarketFace, that's trying to go beyond just looking at design to examine the development process as a whole to improve ease-of-use.  more »

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jul
20

In defense of intuitiveness
One of the things people in UX have too often neglected is talking about the value of what we do—which is all the more important right now when clients and employeers are pinching pennies. And often they want to quantify, quantify, quantify… But while that's important, sometimes that can miss important aspects, sort of like assuming reading a musical score is the same thing as hearing the music. While reading Lynn Upshaw's excellent "Building Brand Identity," which takes a customer-centric approach to branding, I ran across an interesting set of points on the value of using intuitive approaches in business.  more »

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jul
19

The lost art of typography
Joe Gillespie who's done some nice writing over the years about visual design for the web, has a great article about typography for on-screen environments over at Digital Web. It talks about the details that make a typeface more—or—less readable in a medium that's both low-resolution and uses projective, rather than reflective, light—and why the most commonly used typefaces on computers are disasters for legibility, and how we've lost a significant vocabulary for expression.  more »

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jul
18

Lost in space and enjoying it
Information architects and usability people have delighted in pointing out the navigation and user interface problems with Flash sites and pieces. And there are definitely all too many problems with many of them. But I think they go off-base in slamming Flash pieces that are intended to be "exploratory" immersive experiences. These can be quite satisfying, witness the success of "Myst" years ago with people who weren't traditional computer gamers. Or the popularity of cornfield mazes. Literally losing yourself in the experience can be part of the fun. So in these sorts of experiences things don't have to be obvious the way they need to be if your focus is on finding information or completing a task, since figuring out things is part of the pleasure. On the other hand, that doesn't mean these sorts of sites/pieces can totally ignore issues of navigation and user interface. Jessica Helfand, writing in the Spring 2001 issue of the British design magazine, Eye, put it nicely:

...being lost in space is delirously engaging as long as you know at some point you can relocate yourself.

::

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jul
17

What's in a name, continued...
It's interesting to see the parallel "what is it that we do?" discussions emerging, in this case it's the Society of Technical Communicators (whose largest special interest groups are information design and usability), who are pondering the differences between "information design" and "information architecture," and how these two differ between print and web. It's got perspectives from a number of notables—and among the more interesting comments is Lou Rosenfeld statement that he's not an information architect.

There's also an oldie, but goodie from Web Word predicting the death of usability as a separate profession, with a rather pointed, and well-deserved, critique of the usability specialist community.  more »

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jul
16

Coming closer to terms
Just got back from the AIGA Experience Design (formerly Advance for Design) summit, where we tried to tackle some of the issues about defining just what it is we do. In retrospect my own essay on the same issue probably would've been better to have split these issues into two essays, since I think it's resulted in some confusion. But rather than pull it down and revise it, I'd rather leave it as a springboard for a discussion—especially since my own views have evolved during last weekend's discussion. However, let me address some of the issues people have raised.  more »

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jul
11

Coming to terms again
I'm heading off Thursday to the fourth annual Advance for Design conference, which this is year is trying to narrow down just what it is we do. My own thoughts, in essay within Perspectives, is that we should dump "information architect" as the broad term for our field in favor of "user experience" and then specify the various sub-fields (such as IA, user interface, usability, etc.), just as other professions, such as graphic design, do.

By the way, if you haven't checked out Perspectives, there's also essays on why licensing IAs (or UXs)—to be like other "true professionals"—is a certifiable idea and the problems arising from a failure to communicate among information architects and visual designers. ::

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jul
10

Indivisualizing users
Lynn Upshaw's "Building Brand Identity" offers two interesting examples of how thinking in another field is paralleling user experience design—with both a job that's similar to a user experience designer and a technique for indivisualizing customers that's close to the "personas and scenarios" technique.  more »

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jul
09

Molecular influences
"See Your Brands Through Your Customers' Eyes," in the June issue of the Havard Business Review, suggests using three-dimensional "molecules" to show how the perception of brand is affected by companion brands and other outside influences. The article, which is available for a small fee, is not only an interesting approach to branding, but also a nice use of information design, and may be useful in other contexts where you need to show influences.  more »

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jul
07

Sorry for the silence
Between dealing with computer problems and the Fourth of July holiday, my week slipped away. Busy catching up this weekend. ::

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jun
28

Spellbound
OK, I admit it. I'm been spending too much time today following today's U.S. appellate court ruling in the Microsoft case, in part because back in a previous career as a journalist I spent a year covering the court system. While I'm sure there are lawyers who can give a better analysis of the ruling, if you're interested, here's my take on it (and yes it's totally off-topic).  more »

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jun
26

Design from X to Z
San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art has a current exhibit on the work of legendary auto/industrial designer Jerry Hirshberg, the founding director of Nissan's American design facility. While the exhibit, which runs until September 3, is mostly a collection of artifacts that could use better contextual explanations, if you're in the area it's worth seeing. And the story of Hirshberg's development of Nissan's Xterra offers an interesting case study in the value of user research.  more »

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jun
25

Why is listening to customers so hard?
Why is user-focused design all-too-often foreign to companies? One of the main reasons is that it forces companies to actually listen to their customers—something most only give lip service to. And that in turn is because most companies don't do a good job of marketing, according to the authors of an incisive, and acid, book critiquing the marketing profession.  more »

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jun
24

'South Park' on your cell
Went to the Streaming Media West trade show on Friday and lo and behold, yes someone is actually work on "broadband cell phones." It's technologically impressive, but I never did get a good answer as to why people might want to use it.  more »

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jun
21

Coming to terms
During the San Francisco cocktail hour discussion earlier this week, I thought Nick Ragouzis made an interesting comment: that for our profession to grow up, we need to do two things, 1) acknowledge sub-specialties and 2) be willing to say what we don't do. For example, to draw on my graphic design background, graphic designers are trained to do all sorts of design from packaging to publication design. However, once graphic designers start practicing they'll specialize in particular areas. So while they'll refer to themselves generically as "graphic designers," if you question them further, they'll generally specify their specialty area(s). And if a job is too far outside their skillset, they'll refer you to a different specialist—"what you really need is an illustrator, I do publication design...."

That thought only reinforces my feeling that it's time to stop using "information architecture" to refer to the wide range of tasks that make up a user-focused design process—or why I call myself a "user experience architect." Since the full reasons why seem to be turning into an essay rather than a simple posting, I'll ask you to stay tuned… ::

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jun
20

Think like a consultant
Just got back from a trip to San Francisco, where I was able to join the San Francisco IA cocktail hour for a fascinating discussion about the differences between being an information architect as an employee within a company, as a consultant, or as for an outside developer (or agency).  more »

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jun
18

It's the little things that count
In another sign of the growing realization that there are strong interconnections between branding and user experience, Martin Lindstrom at ClickZ poses the question: if you stripped any references to your brand on your site, would visitors still recognize it as yours?

(T)he reality is that consumers don't usually sit and watch your logo on your site. Customers visit, presumably, for information or service. They read text, look at pictures, fill out forms, ask questions, and try some of the interactivity the site offers. All these elements should, by principle, communicate branded experiences that together establish a full picture of your brand. So my message is this: Every element of your site counts.

Including the problems, as Lindstrom points out with several examples. ::

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jun
15

Persuasive technology
Picking up on the theme of how user experience can learn from behavior sciences, Peter Sullivan forwarded a good site about research in persuasive technology. The researchers chose the somewhat unfortunate nickname of "captology" for their work (which despite its marketing-hucksters-from-hell overtones is actually based on an acronym for "Computers As Persuasive Technologies.") In fact, their research is more benign, looking at how traditional persuasive techniques can be applied to technology, and it's discussed in an interesting set of white papers ::

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jun
14

Writer's block
Nothing much to say today, so it's an appropriate time to point to a wonderful piece on writer's block (via Zeldman, via NuBlog). Great use of Flash to convey an experience. ::

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jun
13

Big finish everyone
If you were gambling would you prefer to lose $10 first and then win $5, or win $5 and then lose $10? Logically the options are the same, but people prefer the former, according to an excellent article in the June issue of the Havard Business Review about how we can learn from behavioral sciences—one of the most important lessons being the need to finish on a upbeat note.  more »

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jun
12

Design as diplomacy revisited
Tog's "How to Deliver a Report Without Getting Lynched" has been making the rounds with good reason. It's ironic that probably the two most important skills in the professional world—communications skills and people skills—and the ones that schools often ignore the most. So how do you learn more about diplomacy?  more »

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jun
11

When pricing itself is a usability problem
Paula Thornton points out that in the dot-com aftermath, at least some usability experts are overstating the extent to which hard-to-use sites contributed to the crash. Certainly ease of use is important, but as a profession we're liable to shoot ourselves in the foot if we overstate things. Case in point, Jupiter Media Matrix found that shipping and handling fees are causing headaches for consumers and online retailers alike.  more »

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jun
10

Notes worth noting
Interesting reading—and an even more interesting use of layout at Val Casey's "Notes on Web Design." It's a nice use of "expressive" layout, one that reinforces the "quick thoughts" nature of the content. ::

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jun
08

Design as diplomacy
Ran across NewEntrepreneur.com, which has lots of marketing as well as small/new-business content. But more importantly it's got a marketing guy who seems to "get" user experience design. He's put together a short paper Web Content and Design for Designers, which describes how designers must build relationships, not only between a site and its visitors, but also between clients, coworkers and staff. From the preview [pdf] that's available:

"To succeed, designers must be diplomats. Design, like diplomacy, is the art of the achieving the possible. Web design resembles politics in that it is impossible to totally satisfy all goals—all the time. Compromise and balance are necessary if paralysis is to be avoided and progress made. By understanding the multiple characteristics of effective Web sites and the often conflicting goals of the constituencies they must deal with (i.e., clients, committees, coworkers, etc.) designers will be better able to understand the compromises and decisions that must be made if progress and success are to be achieved."

Nicely put. ::

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jun
07

"Wayfinding" in the architectural world
While information architecture on the web may be a relatively new field, people seem to forget about related fields that have been dealing with the same issues for years. For example the New York Times profiles Paul Mijksenaar, a Dutch designer who's in the process of overhauling the signage at all three of New York's major airports. [free registration required, but hey, it's the New York Times…]  more »

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jun
06

Bye-bye Netscape?
While it's not a huge surprise, Netscape seems to be throwing in the towel in the browser wars to become an internet media hub. Why should user-experience designers care? Because it likely means the end of the battle to build a better browser and support for web standards is still lacking—meaning we'll be building on an unstable foundation long into the future.  more »

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jun
05

Taking a lesson from instructional designers
ACM (the parent organization to SIG-CHI, SIG-Graph, etc.) just launched a new site devoted to eLearning. It's still thin at the moment (they've not yet officially launched), but it looks like it may have some interesting material there.

While instructional design obviously is it's own specialty, it's one of the fields that's closely related to UX and there's much we can learn. For example, one of the best lessons I took from instructional design is question: "What do you want students to be able to do as a result of your lesson?" While good user experience designers ask what goals users themselves are trying to accomplish, it's good to also turn the question around so we don't lose sight of business goals either. ::

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jun
04

Usability means better business
More business are beginning to discover that usability is a Good Thing, as evidenced by this long feature article on the front page of the Tech NW business section of Portland's Oregonian newspaper. Interestingly, it's one of the few general-interest articles to note usability's roots in the human factors field going back to World War II. And there's also a nice testimonial from Good Guys, the electronics retailer, whose director of marketing and business development specifically asked for a usability evaluation of their site because ease-of-use increases the proportion of purchasers among visitors to the site. ::

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jun
03

Broadband is coming--but when?
Having heard that broadband "will be here in six months" for several years now, I was interested to see John Dvorak tackle the myth of broadband. Yes broadband is being pushed hard by the biggest, most powerful entertainment and communications companies in the world. But I'm betting it'll be sooner rather than later.  more »

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jun
02

Maps - a microcosm of UX issues
Had brunch with Peter Merholz, who's recently gotten intrigued by the usability issues of maps. Apparently there's little research on how effective they are—and Peter suspects that they aren't nearly as useful as they could be. Regardless, maps are an interesting microcosm of UX issues.  more »

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jun
01

Putting Flash usability issues in context
Unlike a lot of usability experts who seem to regard Flash as the Great Satan, I actually think it's quite useful when used appropriately. Every site needs to strike its own balance between information, experience and interaction. Flash is extraordinarily good at providing a rich experience, so it's an appropriate choice when that's the main concern of the site (or section within the site). But when it's out of context, it can be a problem.  more »

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