Interface design — fifth and final IA Summit 2007 theme

(Here’s the fifth and final post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here, the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here, the third one on ‘web of data’ here and the fourth one on ‘strat­e­gy’ here.)

It might have been the past RIA hype (which accord­ing to Jared Spool has noth­ing to do with web 2.0) but for what­ev­er rea­son, IAs are mov­ing into inter­face ter­ri­to­ry. They’re broad­en­ing their scope to look at how their archi­tec­tures are pre­sent­ed and made usable by users. The inter­est­ing part for me is to see how a dis­ci­pline that has come from tax­onomies, the­sauri and oth­er abstract infor­ma­tion struc­tures approach­es the design of user fac­ing shells for those struc­tures. Are their designs dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from those cre­at­ed by inter­face design­ers com­ing from a more visu­al domain con­cerned with sur­face? I would say: at least a lit­tle…

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed Stephen Anderson’s pre­sen­ta­tion on adap­tive inter­faces. He gave many exam­ples of inter­faces that would change accord­ing to user behav­iour, becom­ing more elab­o­rate and explana­to­ry or very min­i­mal and suc­cinct. His main point was to start with a gener­ic inter­face that would be usable by the major­i­ty of users, and then come up with ways to adapt it to dif­fer­ent spe­cif­ic behav­iours. The way in which those adap­ta­tions were deter­mined and doc­u­ment­ed as rules remind­ed me a lot of game design.

Mar­garet Han­ley gave a sol­id talk on the “unsexy side of IA”, name­ly the design of admin­is­tra­tion inter­faces. This typ­i­cal­ly involves com­ing up with a lot of screens with many form fields and con­trols. The inter­faces she cre­at­ed allowed peo­ple to edit data that would nor­mal­ly not be acces­si­ble through a CMS but need­ed edit­ing nonethe­less (prod­uct details for a web shop, for instance). Users are accus­tomed to think­ing in terms of edit­ing pages, not edit­ing data. The trick­i­est bit is to find ways to com­mu­ni­cate how changes made to the data would prop­a­gate through a site and be shown in dif­fer­ent places. There were some inter­est­ing ideas from the audi­ence on this, but no def­i­nite solu­tion was found.

Strategy — fourth of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the fourth post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here, the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here and the third one on ‘web of data’ here.)

Like oth­er design dis­ci­plines, IAs are typ­i­cal­ly brought in to solve a prob­lem. The extent to which the design prob­lem is defined and expli­cat­ed is a huge deter­min­ing fac­tor in the suc­cess of their under­tak­ing. More often than not, an IA would take a prob­lem and run with it, not think­ing whether this is the right prob­lem to solve, or even a prob­lem at all!

This has always seemed like a sil­ly sit­u­a­tion to me. Some of the most enjoy­able ses­sions at the sum­mit there­fore were the ones that dis­cussed ways in which IAs can join in on strate­gic think­ing. This way, we can help dis­cov­er the actu­al prob­lem that needs solv­ing, which gives us a bet­ter chance of actu­al­ly deliv­er­ing a suc­cess­ful and valu­able solu­tion.

Gene Smith and Matthew Milan dis­cussed con­cep­tu­al mod­els (which I’ve been play­ing around with for a while) and the more involved rich map­ping, from soft sys­tems think­ing. Key take­away for me was when mod­el­ling a sys­tem we should also describe its con­text (includ­ing the project itself). Oth­er good stuff by peo­ple of Crit­i­cal Mass (Milan again togeth­er with Sam Lad­ner) was pro­vid­ed in the form of ‘back­cast­ing’, a very visu­al brain­storm­ing method to be used in a work­shop ses­sion with a client in order to envi­sion desired project out­comes and map paths from the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion to those out­comes (notes at The Chick­en Test).

Peo­ple from Avenue A Razor­fish (Gar­rick Schmitt, Marisa Gal­lagher) talked about their frame­work for tying togeth­er lots of dif­fer­ent user research such as click stream analy­sis, search logs, eye track­ing and oth­ers. This remind­ed me of Jared Folkmann’s excel­lent talk at last year’s Euro IA Sum­mit in Berlin.

Final­ly, I attend­ed one nice talk (by James Robert­son) on the val­ue of con­tex­tu­al enquiries, which if noth­ing else has made me all the more deter­mined to try this myself the next time an oppor­tu­ni­ty presents itself.

Web of data — third of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the third post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here and the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here.)

Typ­i­cal­ly, IAs have con­cerned them­selves with the design of web sites. The metaphor most suit­ed and used for the web so far has been space. Even the term ‘infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture’ points to this. Nowa­days, besides hav­ing to tack­le the social dimen­sion (as per the pre­vi­ous trend men­tioned) IAs are forced to rethink the spa­tial metaphor in favour of a new one: the web as plat­form. This means design­ing for a web of data, where sites become data sources and tools to view and manip­u­late that data. This is a far cry from the old hier­ar­chi­cal mod­el. Like design for social soft­ware, IAs are still explor­ing this new ter­ri­to­ry.

There was an excel­lent pan­el on this sub­ject (notes and audio at The Chick­en Test), with amongst oth­ers Tom Coates and Matt Bid­dulph (both pre­vi­ous­ly employed by the BBC). Coates’ pre­sen­ta­tions (Native to a Web of Data and Greater than the sum of its parts) are essen­tial resources. He gave a super short overview of what design­ing for the web of data is all about. Matt went beyond screen based media into the realm of phys­i­cal com­put­ing (see the first trend) show­ing some cool exam­ples of Arduino pro­to­types feed­ing into Sec­ond Life.

Jared Spool talked about the usabil­i­ty chal­lenges of web 2.0 and focussed on (among many things) the short­com­ings of RSS and the dan­gers of mash-ups. RSS as a tech­nol­o­gy is pret­ty cool, but no nor­mal user intu­itive­ly under­stands its appli­ca­tion. This is a tech­nol­o­gy still look­ing for a killer app. Mash-ups are typ­i­cal­ly made by enthu­si­as­tic ama­teurs look­ing to com­bine avail­able data sources or inter­faces. This means we’ll see a wave of sites with seri­ous usabil­i­ty issues. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing per se, but still some­thing to look out for.

Social — second of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the sec­ond post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here.)

The recent web revival, that I will not name, pushed one trend to the fore­front – social soft­ware. The most chal­leng­ing aspect of design­ing social sites and appli­ca­tions is that you’re not ‘just’ design­ing for sin­gle users, but also for groups as a whole. The IA com­mu­ni­ty is still in the begin­ning phas­es of cre­at­ing a body of knowl­edge about how to best go about this.

Andrew Hin­ton gave one of the best talks of the event, first describ­ing the unique prop­er­ties of net­work-like com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice and how to design for them. From there he made the point that IA itself is a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice, not a for­mal dis­ci­pline, which means it should try to stay open and flex­i­ble.

Bonus: Gene Smith took a stab at the build­ing blocks of social infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures and came up with this nice mod­el.

Tangible — first of five IA Summit 2007 themes

I’ll be post­ing a top 5 of the themes I noticed dur­ing the past 2007 IA Sum­mit in Las Vegas. It’s a lit­tle late maybe, but hope­ful­ly still offers some val­ue. Here are the 5 themes. My thoughts on the first one (tan­gi­ble) are below the list:

  1. Tan­gi­ble (this post)
  2. Social
  3. Web of data
  4. Strat­e­gy
  5. Inter­face design

1. Tangible

The IA com­mu­ni­ty is mak­ing a strange dance around the top­ic of design for phys­i­cal spaces and objects. On the one hand IAs seem reluc­tant to move away from the web, on the oth­er hand they seem very curi­ous about what val­ue they can bring to the table when design­ing build­ings, appli­ances, etc.

The open­ing keynote was deliv­ered by Joshua Prince-Ramus, of REX (notes by Rob Fay and Jen­nifer Keach). He made some inter­est­ing points about how ‘real’ archi­tects are strug­gling with includ­ing infor­ma­tion­al con­cerns in their prac­tice. Michele Tep­per, a design­er at Frog talked us through the cre­ation of a spe­cial­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tions device for day traders where indus­tri­al design, inter­ac­tion design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture went hand in hand.

More to come!

IA Summit 2007 — Leaving Las Vegas

I’m sit­ting in the North West Air­lines World Club in Detroit using my eleven hour (!) lay-over to work away all the email and RSS feeds that have been pil­ing up dur­ing the past days of being (most­ly) off-line.

I had a great time at the IA Sum­mit. It was def­i­nite­ly worth the trip. Attend­ed lots of thought-pro­vok­ing talks and met a whole bunch of inspir­ing peo­ple. It’s inter­est­ing to now be able to put the Euro­pean IA scene in con­text of the ‘inter­na­tion­al’ one.

I’m sin­gle-quot­ing inter­na­tion­al, because to be hon­est, I think the IA Sum­mit is a North Amer­i­can event. Of course there were quite a few vis­i­tors and even speak­ers from out­side the US & Cana­da, but I can’t help but feel that the major­i­ty of atten­dees real­ly are not very aware of the tru­ly inter­na­tion­al char­ac­ter of the IA com­mu­ni­ty.

That’s a shame.

One exam­ple is some­thing I real­ly should have fixed dur­ing 5 minute mad­ness: the announce­ment of the Euro­pean IA Sum­mit. Apart from men­tion­ing the event’s name and URL, peo­ple weren’t exact­ly per­suad­ed to come over. It wasn’t even men­tioned that this is in the beau­ti­ful city of Barcelona!

Any­way, I’ll just use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to invite all my Amer­i­can col­leagues to make the trip and get a taste of how we do things in Europe. Seri­ous­ly, I’m sure peo­ple will enjoy learn­ing about the unique issues we’re deal­ing with (I did the oth­er way around). Like Jesse James Gar­rett said: “embrace ambi­gu­i­ty”.

On a dif­fer­ent note, I’ll prob­a­bly be doing a series of posts over the com­ing weeks like I did for the last Euro IA Sum­mit, once I get my notes ordered and fil­tered. Stay tuned.

Packing for the IA Summit

Just fir­ing off a quick post while pack­ing for the IA Sum­mit. Tomor­row morn­ing I’m tak­ing off on my flight to Vegas. For any­one curi­ous about my doings while in the states, your best bet is Jaiku1. SMS-ing the occa­sion­al update should be afford­able and won’t take too much time. No live blog­ging I’m afraid, I will be tak­ing plen­ty of notes2 and promise to do a prop­er write-up when back.

1. Although all the crazy Amer­i­cans are hooked on Twit­ter like an addict on crack, so to keep up with what’s going on there I’ll need to switch between two pres­ence apps. Grum­ble.

2. A fresh squared Mole­sk­ine pock­et note­book is ready for action.

IA Summit 2007 — one week to go

IA Summit 2007 logo

While we’re on the top­ic of attend­ing events: I’m lucky enough to attend this year’s IA Sum­mit. It’s all the way in Las Vegas (a long flight from my hum­ble coun­try) so there’ll be plen­ty of jet lag to cope with. Also it’s just the con­fer­ence for me, no time to attend the pre-con­fer­ence work­shops (which is a shame real­ly, because there’s plen­ty of inter­est­ing stuff). Regard­less, I’m look­ing for­ward to expe­ri­enc­ing the moth­er­ship con­fer­ence after two years of being at the Euro IA Sum­mit and meet­ing lots of new inter­est­ing peo­ple. Per­haps I’ll see you there?