Top 5 Posts in 2011 on Experiencing Information

Here is a list of my top posts in 2011, in order of the number of views each became.

#1. …On Communicating Strategy for Design

19 June 2011

I’m really happy this came at the top of the list because it was by far the hardest and longest one to write. Lot’s research and re-reading went into this it. But it was fun to do, and it’s proven to be very helpful in my day job, too.

Here are the elements I found to be most significant in communicating a design strategy:

  • An explicit design strategy statement of 35 words or less. This should encapsulate the objectives, as well as scope and advantage to the degree possible.
  • An activity system map to show which unique set of activities you’ll undertake and their relationship with one another. This is a more detailed explanation of scope.
  • A strategy canvas (or two) to show design’s advantage and unique value–both to the organization and to customers.

The subjective response to this post was good too. Here’s what one commenter had to say:

“This is an outstanding article, James. As a design strategist (or someone who does design strategy as a part of a much larger set of tasks) I took keen interest in all the information you have curated here. I cannot remember the last time I spent an hour digesting something on the Web. Really good and important read. I have sent it to my circle of smart friends. Thanks for putting this together.” (Steven Keith)

Thanks, Steven! Sometimes hard work pays off…

#2. Business Model Canvas: A Type Of Alignment Diagram

11 July 2011

The genesis of this article came from a simple realization that Alexander Osterwalder conceives of the Business Model Canvas in a similar way to how I view alignment diagrams.

To review, alignment diagrams are a class of documents that visually align aspects of customers’ interactions with a product or service. They have two halves: one part shows key elements of the customer experience; the other half illustrates business activities and how they fit into customer activity.

Alexander Osterwalders talks about the “front stage” and “back stage” sides of a business model. The front stage is all the customer-facing elements of a business. The back stage refers to the internal business processes. This division is reflected in the canvas. In this light, the business model canvas is a type alignment diagram.

For more on alignment diagrams, see my presentations and writings:

#3. QuestionStorming – Framing The Problem

2 November 2011

Unlike #1 in the list, I fired this post off fairly quickly. It’s still quite valuable though.

I came across this technique in The Innovator’ DNA, which I was reading just at the same time we were planning an innovation workshop at USEEDS° for a client. The timing was perfect. In order to prepare myself for using the technique, I did a little research on it and was able to share what I found in a blog post.

I’m actually surprised this was only #3: judging from visibility this post got on Twitter, it felt like this would be the winner. I’m still seeing people mention this post on Twitter…

#4. Fighting The “Air Sandwich”: Aligning For Success

18 Sept 2011

I was really happy to have come across the notion of an “air sandwich” in Nilofer Merchant’s book The New How. She clearly explained and articulated what I’d observed in the companies I’ve worked for. She writes:

An Air Sandwich is, in effect, a strategy that has a clear vision and future direction on the top layer, day-to-day action on the bottom, and virtually nothing in the middle–no meaty key decisions that connect the two layers, no rich chewy center filling to align the new direction with the new actions within the company.

In the post, I don’t think I highlighted well enough how alignment diagrams can be used to address air sandwiches. It’s kinda hidden at the bottom of the text. Maybe I’ll circle back on that in another post.

#5. The Myth of Fixed-Width Layouts–Revisited

3 October 2011

This post shot up very quickly, probably because Jan Jursa (@IATV) picked it up on Twitter.

Fixed-width layouts have been a pet peeve of mine for years–ever since I wrote one of my first published pieces: “The Myth of 800×600.” Over a decade ago, working on a project for Audi, I came to the firm belief that designing a web page for a single size is a flawed practice. The web is a digital medium, and pages should be fluid and flexible. Back then–in 2001–we even built in a type of low-level responsive web design into the the Audi website. We weren’t targeting mobile devices at the time (heck, we were still looking at WAP back then), but the website did end up with 3 different optimized sizes–small, medium and large.

Anyway, I’m glad to response web design finally taking off and will be a supporter of that movement moving forward.

Honorable mention: Faceted Navigation: Grouping – An UnTapped Potential?

6 Dec 2010

OK, you noticed–this post wasn’t  from 2011. But it was close. And it also got a lot views, so I decided to include it in this recap anyway. It was also one of my favorite posts, so it gets an honorable mention.

The thing I find interesting about grouping is that there are no commercial examples that I know of it, although the Flamenco faceted search UI makes use of it. I suspect that’s because there’s little or no real business value in it. In fact, it may add complexity that could actually hurt the overall user experience of a faceted navigation system. But that’s precisely the challenge that’s fascinating to me. I’d like to see a commercial use of grouping that brings value to users and to the business.

Here’s a quote from the post:

With grouping–as with the scatter/gather interface–users can see a presentation of results in a more structured way. The theory is, structuring a results list by clustering items around a topic better reveals “aboutness” of subsets of items, and this in turn potentially increases the chance of relevance. This isn’t only true in academic settings: studies show that grouping results can be of significant benefit in broader contexts on the web.

Read the whole post for more. Or come to my workshop on Faceted Navigation on March 16 in London. I’ll be talking about grouping and many other techniques in faceted navigation.

Happy new year!

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Success at MURAL

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