Archive for December, 2006

Conceding the death of trackback

December 31, 2006

I held out long after all the cool kids had given up on trackback but I haven’t gotten a useful one since Prentiss Riddle pinged me about SXSW panel proposals and a trackback spam attack today finally convinced me to turn it off for all the blogs hosted at Mediajunkie.
Ironically, this post will try to send a trackback ping to Is trackback dead? Are comments on life support? @ Radio Free Blogistan but it will be refused.
Speaking of things that are dead, this blog is also pretty much dead.
Unless someone out there feels like blogging regularly about blogging, I am putting this weblog on deathwatch notice and will eventually transition it to an archive that points to my personal blog.

Communicating Design: A book every user experience professional needs

December 27, 2006

comdesign.jpgAt long last, just in time for the holidays, I received a review copy of Dan M. Brown’s Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning and the book has more than lived up to my high expectations of it. I tore open the envelope and nearly devoured the book in one sitting. If you design or develop websites, if you do information architecture, interaction design, or content strategy, if you care about making online and digital experiences more engaging and easier to use, then this book is for you.
This is not a theoretical book. It is incredibly hands-on, walking the you through some of the most useful user-experience design “deliverables” you’ll need to create for nearly every project you work on. Brown discusses three broad categories of deliverables: user needs documents, strategy documents, and design documents. In this scheme user needs docs include personas, usability test plans, and usability reports; strategy docs include competitive analyses, concept models, and content inventories; and design documents include sitemaps, flow charts, wireframes, and screen designs.
For each deliverable, Brown introduces them with a layer metaphor, first talking about the most impotant elements in each doc, then looking at how to enhance the document, and finally addressing how to fine-tune each document for the project at hand. This layered approach helps the reader see what is essential about each type of document and how to fit the work to the scope of the project.
Brown also recognizes that these deliverables do not operate in a vacuum but rather need to complement and support each other and for each one he explains how they can best work together.
The book includes many real-world examples gathered from Brown’s own work as well as solicited from his vast and deep network of IA’s and other UX professionals. (I submitted a few sitemaps and content inventories to Brown when he was finishing up the book but none made the final cut.)
I probably learned the most from his discussion of concept models, because I have the least amount of experience preparing these types of documents and I’ve always found them to be somewhat intimidating. He explains how to build them up from granular bits and also helps clarify a number of different approaches to connecting the nodes in such documents. He also includes as an illustration a version of Bryce Glass’s after-the-fact Flickr user model, an instant classic of the form.
When talking about wireframes and sitemaps Brown tackles some of the thorniest issues, such as whether and how much to show layout and design elements in wireframes and how best to communicate site flows in an age of increasingly dynamic, application-like websites often built on user-contributed content.
Brown also conveys the complexity and challenges inherent in developing a good content inventory better than I’ve ever seen it discussed before anywhere. He doesn’t gloss over the aspect of drudgery involved in this type of work, and he makes it clear that there is no single cookie-cutter template that is appopriate for every site (nor any useful tool out there to help automate the process), but he equips the reader with the right questions to ask and the right tradeoffs to consider in assembling what is in some ways the most crucial document an IA or content strategist will deliver for any large complex site.
Just to prove I’m not gushing just because I like Brown personally and admire his tremendous contributions to the field, I will say that the weakest chapter is the last one, in which he addresses screen designs (what our visual design colleages typically call “comps”). It may be that because comps are not typically created and delivered by information architects that they perhaps don’t belong in this book. Although the title of the book speaks only of design in general, there are entire realms of visual design that are out of scope here and it may have been better to leave comps out as well. The comp examples are reasonable and inoffensive but uninspiring. The best part of this chapter covers context surrounding these deliverables.
In fact, it is another strength of the book that for each deliverable, Brown describes how best to present the documents: How to run a meeting, how to manage expectations, and – as the book’s title implies – how to communicate the value and meaning of the design documents to your clients. This advice alone justifies the inclusion of this book in any user experience professional’s library. I expect I will continue to refer to this book regularly as long as I’m involved in the planning and design of websites and web-enabled applications.

From the pages of the medical journal 'Duh!'

December 20, 2006

According a study commissioned by a hosting company, websites with poor usability cause stress for users: – Are you suffering from ‘Mouse Rage Syndrome? (via the ixda list).

IA for dashboards and portals

December 19, 2006

Quick hit ‘n’ run linking: Joe Lamantia’s The Challenge of Dashboards and Portals at Boxes and Arrows.

What Is User Experience Design?

December 15, 2006

Kimmy Paluch at Paradyme Solutions has a good article up that helps clarify the meaning of User Experience Design in regard to those other buzzword disciplines such as interaction design, information architecture, usability, and so on.

Ever wondered where Google is heading?

December 14, 2006

Check out this zoomable whiteboard image showing the Google Master Plan. I’m not really sure where the cattle mutilation fits in….

Farewell, Princess Winter Spring Summer Fall

December 13, 2006

I didn’t know Leslie Harpold very well. We corresponded briefly in the early pre-blog days of the web when I was doing Enterzone and she was Smug (and later Hoopla). Smug was everything I wanted ezone to be: beautifully designed, cleverly written, artistic.

Leslie was always involved in all the coolest leading-edge web creative projects and communities. People I eventually met later all knew her before I did. She was always kind and friendly to me in email and later when we met in person.
We had lunch once near Sixth Avenue west of Rockefeller Center. We compared notes on freelancing, doing content strategy consulting, the dotcom boom, why zines were hard to keep going, the blog explosion, mutual friends. She was sweet and sarcastic.

We both read at the Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter end in 1999. She read her story Princess Winter Spring Summer Fall. I think Levi may have the video of her reading up on his Litkicks site somewhere. I’ll ask him.

I found out Leslie had passed away from Levi today. I was standing in a Kinko’s waiting to fax something and checked my gmail on my phone. Levi was complaining that I have too many blogs (he’s right) and looking to see if I’d posted anything in remembrance of her. This is it.

I thought I saw Leslie once in SFO when I was flying to New York probably to visit family. I sent her an email message asking if that had been her. It was. She was moving out to San Francisco. I remember thinking she looked unhappy or pained at the time. I was sorry I hadn’t gone up to her. We kept agreeing to have lunch or coffee and we never did. She was going to come to one of Gwen‘s Ladies (and Gentlemen) Who Lunch in Oakland but I think she had that new-to-SF thing I used to have about never crossing the Bay.

I haven’t kept up with Leslie well since then. I didn’t know she had moved to Michigan. I assumed she was out there writing, creating, making friends. I counted on her being around. It’s very sad to hear not only that she has died tragically young but also that she experienced a series of losses and setbacks in her time.

The explosion of memories and thoughts of her posted online since the news came out are a testament to Leslie’s spirit and the large number of people she touched through her heart and mind and soul.

Keep reading about her:

Prototyping tools

December 13, 2006

Scott McDowell has written an article for Boxes and Arrows called Visio Replacement? You Be the Judge about tools for prototyping rich interaction designs. We recently adopted Axure here at Extractable and we’re very jazzed about the way it’s enabling us to do IA work and interaction design and tie together wireframes with sitemaps and process flows and then export them all as a clickable HTML prototype (even if the HTML is still spaghetti).
In this article Scott compares Axure with a number of other products, all of which he calls simulation tools (comparing them to aerospace simulations):

User experience professionals who leverage simulation technology are able to visualize projects much earlier within the development lifecycle, while producing requirements that are much clearer than those generated through traditional requirements gathering processes. In fact, two of these packages, iRise and Serena, were actually created to help business analysts visualize requirements when they didn

Hey, look – it's another book on interaction design

December 12, 2006

This one, Analog In, Digital Out: Brendan Dawes on Interaction Design is new from Peachpit:

In this unique book, Dawes invites readers inside a series of his personal projects to get a view of his process–his creative seeing, making, and playing. He encourages designers to look beyond the normal tools of their trade to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places: tubs of children

Pictures from the Extractable holiday party

December 11, 2006

As promised, here are some shots of last week’s merry-making, courtesy of Elton:

our founders


party bus

party bus

tables five through eight in the house (boat)

one table
another table
still another table
yes, another table shot

abovedecks for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge

viewing the Golden Gate bridge
Enjoying the fresh air
upper deck
another group shot above decks
okay, now we're cold


Elton sings Ziggy Stardust
Susan belts one out
Proud Mary keep on boining
doing my best Van on Brown-Eyed Girl