Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Research Methods

I’ve had the opportunity to learn and use a very powerful program this semester for statistical analysis called SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). I also had the please of finding out about Google's Spreadsheet-based Forms.
During our usability testing, we can draw conclusions from the participants’ behavior and from direct questioning, but in order to catch some of the larger ramifications of our design choices it would behoove us to learning statistical analysis methods. And these two programs provide a strong mechanism for doing so.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shortcut Information Architecture

The first step in developing a website is to determine the site’s goals and objectives. Usually, this is where personas and uses cases come in, but for a super-quick method this arena is sometimes truncated as the designers take on informal roles as the personas (thereby defining the audience) and also define a few use cases off the bat just to get started. You can then jump into sitemaps and wireframes. This also fleshes out the project scope and description. A key element to this segment of information architecture is Competitive (Heuristic) Analysis. What are the other guys doing? What are they doing wrong? What are they doing right? This is also a form of technical analysis. Some will hand off their sitemaps and wireframes to a designer for the completion of the project. In the case where all this goes on in-house, the iterative development process can continue, designing a more robust and innovative product. The end?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paper Prototyping

Such a wonderful thing as paper prototyping has often been overlooked as unprofessional in appearance, a first step but nothing you should test, or unnecessary. These are all fallacies. The utility of paper prototypes stems from their low-resolution appearance and quick turn around time. You can test one user in the morning and correct any flaws by your afternoon session. The low-res appearance makes the tester more likely to point out functional flaws and not design, which is the goal of initial testing. So buy a good book on the subject (I suggest "Paper Prototyping" by Carolyn Snyder) and try it out on your product development today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Use Cases

It seems as if Use Cases are too obvious to mention, but with the great amount of mystery surrounding these deliverables, I feel the need to mention a few definitions. First of all, a Use Case can be text or graphical, as in a state diagram. The basic attributes involve identifying the user intention and the system responsibility. More complexity is added as you consider the relationships between objects, the preconditions, the post-conditions, and the business rules. Therefore, a Use Case can come in different flavors. I have a graphical one below, roughly based on a decision-reaction flavor. Depending on your point of view, they may also be confused with taskflows, scenarios, etc. The information represented in each of these does involve a certain amount of overlap, but depending on the project they may not all be necessarily included.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Information Horizons

I would like to introduce the concept of Information Horizons. For the more scholarly, please feel free to read the work of Sonnenwald in regard to this concept.

The Information Horizons approach to studying information-seeking behavior takes into account the larger world of information instead of one particular source. With any subject matter in mind, from a scientific inquiry to which blender to buy, we can see that multiple sources are often searched through including not only the internet, but friends, family, magazines, newspapers, etc. Anything that can relay information can be seen as a source of information.

In an IH study participants are asked to map their information horizons creating a network where the nodes represent information sources. Sometimes the lines going from the information seeker to the source represent primary searches, sometimes the lines go between sources (as in after asking Aunt Betty about her blender, I then searched items on Amazon from that same company).

I am excited to be performing a study using IH in terms of the presidential campaign. Hopefully, the results will be eye-opening for all students of Information Communication, Behavior, Architecture, and the like.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Usability Testing

One of the most fundamental usability methods is, of course, user testing, but the lack of time and resources sometimes makes this approach unfeasible in a corporate setting. Problems also arise and compound the difficulty of achieving relevant test results when we include user testing with an iterative design process. Therefore, one must differentiate between formative evaluation and summative evaluation.* Formative evaluation is performed in conjunction with steps of an iterative design process. Summative comes at the end and evaluates the overall quality of a design. This later evaluation type is most commonly used.
* From Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering

another version of the blueprint graphic.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Style Guide Documentation

Finding myself smack dab in the middle of writing a style guide for the company (a relatively new direction for us) and requiring some assistance for this uncharted territory, I have found a wonderful resource in the GNOME guides for their developers, namely the Human Interface Guidelines and the Style Guide they utilize. It is well written, succinct and comprehensive. As far as usability, a fairly modern concern, goes, it is rich in reasoning for their methodologies.

So google it. And learn. If you want.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Book Report: Usability Engineering by Jakob Nielsen

One of the most useful takeaways from this book is the listing for “Discount Usability Engineering.” Nielsen bases this on four techniques – User and task observation, Scenarios, Simplified thinking aloud, and Heuristic evaluation. At the last IA Summit, while listening to a lecture on usability testing, the following information came to the fore. Apple did very little “standard” user testing for their iPhone, instead relying more heavily on user observation. They looked at how the user interacted with their system. And the product they came up with is notably user-friendly. This goes back to Nielsen’s “Discount Usability Engineering.” These methods have proven successful in Apple’s case and, more importantly, where the budget is lacking, i.e. in almost every other company.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Communication Design for Container Gardening

This semester at RPI my team has taken on the task of creating a web site for container gardening inspiration and creation. One of the sources of personal inspiration for creating this site was the RHS Chelsea flower show and one presenter in particular. We've used a basic structure (a shallow hierarchy) for organizing the information, using the pictures and evocative titles to say most of the story. If I have free time after this semester, this is something that I would like to build and share with the world. Here's a little preview.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From Poetry to Information Architecture

By the way of mathematics, lest we forget, I have traveled from poetry to Information Architecture. The story itself is long and meandering, but the end (as of now) is quite clear. But, as much I have faith in myself and my journey, it is nice to know that someone out there helped pave the way and wrote a nice little quote to cover it. For those of you who know me personally, this quote I believe will sum everything up quite nicely. Hence, I here the call:

I see the field of library and information science (L&IS) highly centrifugal and greatly in need of high-quality syntheses.
…I would give warm encouragement to writers who show a talent for creative integration and criticism of ideas …I would particularly like to see books that attempt to organize whole segments of L&IS through some single, powerful metaphor …
…I would like critical explications of noted individual authors…by some-one who reads them in full…… I am calling for persons who add the skills of a poet to whatever training we can give them as scholars or scientists —

scientist-poets, if you will...

(This is also posted and cited on my new homepage at

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Using CSS in Faceted Classifications

So here's an interesting thing one could do with CSS. Considering that CSS allows for inheritance of properties, one could create a list of items with varying properties and categorize those using different attributes including color, spacing, bold, etc. text elements. CSS and a faceted classification scheme go hand in hand.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Take Homes on Wireframes

We've been discussing hi-fi versus low and medium-fidelity wireframes.

Fidelity refers to the "realness" of the presentation, whether or not one includes mock-up content or "Greeking" with lorem ipsum. And in class, my group was called out for using color in our presentation. It was a matter of debate with the client. They disliked the color scheme, but when we tried to assure them that this was not the purpose of the meeting, that we were only here for the information architecture of the site and not the design, it was still distracting. So we changed it, and all went well from that point on.

p.s. We also moved our site constants to create a global nav below the header, deleted the adobe icon, and moved the calendar well above the fold.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Notes for Five Trends in Tagging by Gene Smith at the IA Summit, ‘08

These notes provide very wonderful words that should be googled, and sites that should be checked out.

1) Structure: uses sticky tags, uses tags as part of the resources, bubble-up type, semantic tags – ex. ia (information architecture), mined Wikipedia
2) Leveraging communities: LibraryThing – user-driven vocabulary to combine or separate tags
3) Automanual Folksonomies: mixed approach at Etsy (like eBay for handmade items, unique items), LibraryThing tagmash – like set math with Union and Intersection, “semantics on top of minimal structure”
4) Pace Layers: speeds of innovation from nature level up, starts with Mr. Brand, moved into IA by Peter Morville, (faceted tags)
5) Sparking innovation: Flickr, Dan Catt, geotagging

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Vocabulary of Information Architecture Deliverables

There is a fine line these days between application, web application, and web site. I find myself talking of actors to one group of co-workers and of personas to my classmates, though the overlap is considerable when taking into account the basic idea of a role. Now, for a more formal application, the actors must include every type of user. That is, they must be exhaustive. While more leeway is generally given to the idea of a persona. Though they too must be exhaustive and mutually exclusive to be the most efficient.

In the world of words, our definitions are oftentimes ambiguous, based as they are on context. However, this provides a fantastic space for sharing and learning. The trick comes in hearing what someone else is saying to the extent that you can argue for there position.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bias in Computer Systems and Search Engines

Recently, reading the work of Nissenbaum on Bias in Computer Systems and search engines has been quite eye-opening in terms of my everyday unconscious bias in my personal search methods and programming. For the most part, it seems like the algorithm design for most search engines is a mixture of hard work and some intellectual laziness. To truly determine the relevance of a given site to a search term requires more than just simple surface reading or simple-minded spiders crawling around the internet. However, short of an artificially intelligent search resource of impeccable morals, true relevance independent of moneyed backing is not something that will soon surface, unless of course, we somehow utilize the digg and approach of allowing the user to qualify the relevance of a site. This of course can also be prone to abuse as more than one user has managed to digg fallacious information, giving it the credentials of a truly useful resource.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Information Architecture and Library Science

One of the topics of research in my IA class is Ranganathan, the father of Library Science in India. In order to place books in more intuitive locations, with less relying on previously determined constructs, he determined that each book has facets. These are the following:
Personality, Matter, Energy, Space, and Time.
Personality—what the object is primarily “about.” This is considered the “main facet.”
Matter—the material of the object
Energy—the processes or activities that take place in relation to the object
Space—where the object happens or exists
Time—when the object occurs

It then becomes an interesting game to come up with these for each book or even each document file on your hard drive. There is no extremely useful reason for doing this on a small scale, but I suppose if you have a free Sunday and an obsessive need to classify, then you might just give it a try. It’s a fun thing to consider when you are placing pictures into a filing system.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

systematic individuality

when the secret sort of asking-control
kindly insists -

let me make you understand
no line on earth lies straight
but curves
around her form -

I’ll take from you this need

this so-longed-for rectitude
the already damaged meek