18 April 2010
Jared Spool points an interesting article by Bret Victor called “Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface.” Here’s the abstract:
The ubiquity of frustrating, unhelpful software interfaces has motivated decades of research into “Human-Computer Interaction.” In this paper, I suggest that the long-standing focus on “interaction” may be misguided. For a majority subset of software, called “information software,” I argue that interactivity is actually a curse for users and a crutch for designers, and users’ goals can be better satisfied through other means.
Information software design can be seen as the design of context-sensitive information graphics. I demonstrate the crucial role of information graphic design, and present three approaches to context-sensitivity, of which interactivity is the last resort. After discussing the cultural changes necessary for these design ideas to take root, I address their implementation. I outline a tool which may allow designers to create data-dependent graphics with no engineering assistance, and also outline a platform which may allow an unprecedented level of implicit context-sharing between independent programs. I conclude by asserting that the principles of information software design will become critical as technology improves.
Although this paper presents a number of concrete design and engineering ideas, the larger intent is to introduce a “unified theory” of information software design, and provide inspiration and direction for progressive designers who suspect that the world of software isn’t as flat as they’ve been told.
I just gave a keynote at the Polish IA Summit in Warsaw on the topic of sense making. I highlighted four key challenges IAs and designers face in creating interfaces that let people make better sense of large amounts of information, all of which are reflected in Bret Victor’s article:
- Representation: how information is displayed affects how it’s consumed and understood, but showing large amounts of information can be difficult in many situations (e.g., on smaller displays).
- Interaction: giving people the ability to manipulate information is important for sense making. However, there is an effort-benefit tradeoff–people may not take the time to learn how to use all the controls you provide, or they may not have the skills.
- Semantics: Bret Victor talks about context sensitivity of information, which is essentially what I was talking about with semantics.
- Time: showing how information (and metadata) change over time can provide incredible insight in many situations. Just look at Hans Rosling’s Gapminder talks. The temporal dimension of information is important for sense making.
Sense making solutions, then, combine and balance all of the above aspects. Beyond that, there are two more considerations:
5. Understanding users, workflow, and needs, and creating systems that bring value to people.
6. Bringing value to businesses
While a lot of the academic work on sense making is interesting and inspiring, it still fails to adequately address this last two points, in my opinion. Bret Victor’s piece is definitely a step in the right direction. Check it out.
10 August 2009
Kate Rutter gave a presentation at the IA Summit in Memphis this year on slime mold. That’s right, slime mold. What’s that got to do with IA and UX? Nothing. And Everything.
Hear the whole presentation on Boxes and Arrows. In a nutshell, slime mold aren’t animals or plants. They’re really both. They change and adapt to their enviroment. To have effective projects, we have to deal with our organizations and environments. This isn’t trivial to UX work. In fact, I think THE biggest challenge. And we can learn from slime mold.
You gotta read the article to really get the point:
12 May 2009
“C–Inspector is a web–based application that helps you to test the information architecture of your website. By analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data collected through the remote test, you can gain insight into the users’ mental models and identify possible issues with labelling or grouping.”
I’ve not tried the tool myself yet, but it looks promising. The task-based approach would appear to give rich feedback on your IA. This isn’t new, though–the guys over at Optimal Usability also just recently launched TreeJack, which I got to see at the IA Summit in Memphis. It also takes a task-based approach.
- Dorte Madsen
Editorial: Shall We Dance?
- Gianluca Brugnoli
Connecting the Dots of User Experience
- Helena Francke
Towards an Architectural Document Analysis
- Andrew Hinton
The Machineries of Context
- James Kalbach
On Uncertainty in Information Architecture
It was a long time coming and a lot of people put a ton of work into the launch of the journal. Congratulations to everyone involved.
15 March 2009
Here’s a brief overview of the workshops
- May 18, 2009 – Enterprise Information Architecture – Louis Rosenfeld
Developing a unified web site or intranet for a large, decentralized organization is the Holy Grail for many of today’s Internet professionals. This day-long seminar is for managers and web professionals who desperately want to tie together content in a rational, user-centered way, regardless of content ownership issues, cultural hurdles, and turf battles.This advanced information architecture seminar combines lecture, demonstration and exercises, discussion, and handouts to address a topic that bewilders every large organization: designing unified information architectures for large enterprises.
- May 19, 2009 – Commercial Ethnography – James Kalbach
Ethnographic research methods have many potential advantages for businesses, including helping to increase insight into customer behaviour, make the real world visible the entire organisation and identify opportunities for innovation. In this course, you will learn about practical skills needed to conduct an ethnographic study from beginning to end. The course outline walks through each phase step-by-step.
- May 20, 2009 – Personas and Mental Models – James Kalbach
Communicating user research effectively is critical for user-centred design. This full-day course has two parts that show how to bring your research to life:
Part 1: Personas - Personas have become a mainstream design tool. There’s even a growing body of literature on the subject, including two full-length books. But there are also misconceptions and misuses of personas in the field.
Part 2: Mental Models - The term “mental models” means different things to different people. In this workshop, we use the term broadly to refer to any technique used to understand the behavioural, cognitive, and emotional states of users.
The early bird price runs until April 2. There’s limited place for each of the workshops.
Register at www.uxworkshops.com.
Karen Lindemann from Netflow is the sponsor and producer of the events.
24 February 2009
Here’s a collection of A-Z index examples on UX Refresh.
Generally, I’m a fan of A-Z indexes. But at the same time I realize they are really difficult to create and maintain, particular in dynamic online settings. So the real value of them remains elusive to me. I don’t think I’d really try too hard to convince someone they need an A-Z index to organize information in a digital space.
That said, I did make a point in my presentation at the Euro IA Summit 2008 in Barcelona that things like indexes and taxonomies make sense within bounded domains–more so than in open domain contexts. (See also a summary in the ASIST Bulletin: “Navigating the Long Tail.”) Even Clay Shirky agrees with that. Here’s my point:
As we collectively move down the long tail, bounded domains–or niche markets, as Chris Anderson calls them–will increase and solidify, and so we will also see an increase in the need for indexes, taxonomies, and ontologies to help organize these domains.
So maybe there’s hope for A-Z indexes after all. In fact, I recently came across an excellent implementation of an A-Z index not included in the collection summarized on UX Refresh: EMBASE, a bibliographic database from Elsevier. From the Embase website:
EMBASE.com is a biomedical and pharmacological bibliographic database, which provides access to the most up-to-date citations and abstracts from biomedical and drug literature via EMBASE and Medline. It contains over 19 million indexed records from 7,000+ peer reviewed journals, covering 1947 to date, with more than 600,000 additions annually.
EMBASE is indexed using the Elsevier life science thesaurus, EMTREE and Medline records are mapped to EMBASE before adding to EMBASE.com.
The interesting part about it is that the index is integrated into the auto-complete suggested terms feature from the main search field–with “use:” references and all:
Auto-complete suggestions are most often alphabetical anyway, so this makes a lot of sense. And since biomedicists become familiar with the standard terms in their bounded domain, their understanding of the index should be fairly high. I’d even predict that people would expect to have access to standard index terms in this context.
27 December 2007
Finally got around to watching Alex Wright’s Google Tech Talk entitled The Web That Wasn’t. Alex is the author of GLUT: Mastering Information Through the Ages, a book I don’t own yet but will be getting soon. The talk is based on the book and gives a tour of philosophical and direct precursors to the web. Fascinating stuff. He discusses Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, Eugene Garfield, Ted Nelson, and other. The talk is one hour long, but worth it.
Some of the lessons from looking at the history of early notions of networked systems:
- Top down and bottom up organization of information can work in concert with each other
- Two-way linking provides more information than one-way. (Of course, to this point I’d say that the web wouldn’t have taken off if two-way linking was mandatory.)
- Showing pathways and usage patterns is important information about information.
- Users can be authors and contributors
- The nature of interaction is more from the “oral” tradition
We can see some of these things on the web today, but looking at alternative systems (theoretical or real) still provides inspiration. It also reminds us that the “new” ideas and concepts–even things like Web 2.0–aren’t necessarily new. Overall, he points things in a broad perspective.
One point he makes quickly in the Q&A session: things like controlled vocabularies may have a place in bounded domains. The example he gives is MeSH. He mentions maybe there is a way to automate this, but the point is that we can learn from all the work done on developing controlled vocabularies to date. This mirrors a point I made in my presentation in Barcelona the Euro IA Summit and in an article for the ASIST Bulletin of the same title: Navigating the Long Tail.