IAS13 - Design Guidelines: Real-Life Stories

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2013. All posts will be tagged IAS13. This talk was presented by Rachel Sengers, Lesley Humphreys, Rob Fay, and Christopher Merkel.

  • Rachel Sengers: JDSU (test and measurement equip for telecom)--just started on the design guidelines process
    • kickstarted with workshop week with people from different products, functions, and offices: brainstormed topics, then broke into groups to work on different topics; workgroups continued on guidelines and governance after workshop week
    • management support got it started, workshops developed bottom-up support to keep it going: workshop representatives became embassadors, recommendations were made by people close to the products
    • strategic decision: visual guidelines first, interaction later
      • easier to implement in existing project and show tangible results earlier
      • easier for upper management to grasp
      • makes it look consistent even if workflows aren't
      • don't bite off too much at once--started small (even only key parts of major products) and iterate, hard to make something that covers everything possible right away ("low-hanging fruit")
    • visual design guidelines were made to allow product managers to customize as appropriate (guides had light and dark theme)
  • Rob Fay: Blackboard--started 5 years ago, mid-life of cycle
    • Multiple products were becoming siloed, wanted to modernize, increase usability and shared design framework across products, and free up resources used on re-designing each feature to innovate
    • Took blue-sky design goals to project groups and asked what was feasible now and how teams might move toward the ideal later
    • Design team made images to describe patterns with title, summary, rules of use, exceptions, jsp tags for engineers to use--later added accessibility and text considerations, links to usability research to justify the pattern
      • Most common pattern was standard page
      • Pages contain components and behaviors
      • Behavior can be referenced on its own, may not be visual (drag and drop is a behavior type not tied to page or component)
      • Pages are contained within page flows (e.g. checkout)
    • Tools
      • Used wiki to store design framework, but someone has to maintain it through iterative design cycles; formal steering committee was too much, though
      • Bug tracker is too formal for design process, didn't catch on; now they have a ux representative communicate changes to team instead of formal tracker and any ideas generated are brought back to influence the guidelines
      • Formal onboarding resources for new designers with a point person for each part
    • Design guideline process influenced company culture, created conversations with marketing and design teams on other products, which now look to the flagship product design team to create common patterns across products
  • Chris Merkel: Xerox--9 years
    • 2004 struggling with relevance, needed refresh
    • Brand book for early years in company, but too hard for brand team to manage for all of their products
    • Brand book turned into website, added web guidelines and transitioned between old guidelines to web guidelines (voice, color, layouts could be shared from print)
    • Added de-facto standards in use by various product groups for use in other products (e.g. added a blue used by industrial design team to Xerox red on website)
    • Products need user experience and branding approval, iterate until things get approved and add to brand book
    • Executives spread the word between product silos--even used for marketing, legal, professional services, etc.
    • Cross-product design guides made it easier to rebrand 2007-2011
    • Introduced formal brand training for any new employee
  • Lessons
    • get management support for money, people, and time
    • cross divisional participation
    • start with manageable pieces, grow guidelines over time
    • allow process to grow organically, get support from bottom up and don't force things

Changing element display order in css (without flexbox)

I was recently in a position where I had to build a responsive design that had an image on the left of some text that was centered vertically in the image:

Wireframe with image on left and text on right

But the small-screen version had the image below the text:

Wireframe of text above an image

Since the design was responsive, not a separate mobile site, I could either write the html so the image was before or after the text, but I couldn't have both. It's a lot easier to adjust things to the left or the right than it is to change whether they appear before or after something, so I ended up with the image after the text in the html:

<div class="wrapper">
  <div class="content">
  <p>In good time, the Town-Ho reached her port—a savage, solitary place—where no civilized creature resided. There, headed by the Lakeman, all but five or six of the foremastmen deliberately deserted among the palms; eventually, as it turned out, seizing a large double war-canoe of the savages, and setting sail for some other harbor.</p>
  </div><!-- ((this is how I deal with whitespace between inline block elements))
  --><img src="kitten.jpg" class="image" />

The small-screen version with the text above the image doesn't need any adjustment, but how to get the image both on the left of the text and have the text vertically centered with the image? The new flexbox properties can do it handily, but until I stop supporting IE 9 and below it won't help me. Float:left can get it to the left but we won't be able to center vertically, inline-block can give us vertical centering but the image will appear on the right because it comes after the text in the source--or will it?

The reason the image appears on the right when both the content and image blocks are set to inline-block is that the text direction is left to right, but we can change that! If we set direction:rtl on the parent of both the image and text blocks, the first inline-block element will appear on the right. Of course, the text is still English, so the direction will have to be set back to left to right on the child elements:

.wrapper { 
  direction: rtl; 
.content { 
  display: inline-block;
  vertical-align: middle;
  width: 30%;
  direction: ltr;
  text-align: left; 
.image {
  display: inline-block;
  vertical-align: middle;
  width: 65%;
  direction: ltr;

This method appears to work everywhere I've tested that supports inline-block (in IE 6 and 7 it's best to just float the image and forget about vertical alignment). Opera does have a bug if you try to give the content element a left margin--the margin ends up at the left of the image instead of between them. Newer versions of Opera probably won't have that problem with the transition to Webkit, but if you need to support devices with embedded Opera and no browser updates it could be a concern.

Here's a demo, including some more complicated padding and margin:

demo page

(Unfortunately the popup isn't resizeable at the moment, you can open it up in a new tab if you want to see it switch over to the vertical design.)

Bonus links

I look forward to flexbox being ubiquitous so I can stop relying on silly tricks like this, but in the meantime here are some nice tutorials on it so we can all get excited about it together:
Understanding the CSS3 Flexbox
Using Flexbox: Mixing Old and New for the Best Browser Support

Adaptive icons

There's a nice little feature of the iphone that the icon for the calendar app updates to show the correct date and day of the week. It's a nice, quick way to see the date without checking, and it doesn't put the incorrect date into your head if you just happen to glance at a calendar icon with the wrong number.

The weather icon, however, does not update based on the current weather. It is forever 73 degrees and sunny.

The calendar icon on the left showing Friday the 25th, and the weather icon on the right showing 73 degrees

I understand that the phone just knows the date but it has to contact outside services to get the weather, but man does it feel like that 73 degrees and sunny is taunting me when the actual weather is 12 degrees and snowy.

Remote testing tool feature and price comparison

As previously mentioned, I've been wanting to start doing remote testing, so I put together this table on features offered by the various tools that are out there. I figured it might be handy for others, too, so here you go. I haven't used any of them except for Userlytics (which I do like), so these aren't endorsements, just things I've found.

All of these tools are focused on testing mockups and live sites, which is what I'm most interested in right now.

static or live* what's tested what you get cost recruits
Usability Hub static (but can do a sequence of mockups with navflow test) you can ask questions about first impressions, see where people click in response to a question, or ask people to complete a task. short responses to comments, click heat maps, or heat maps and funnel success rates free if you do tests, subscriptions start at $20/month for 100 testers/month yes (other designers), or recruit your own (which doesn't use up monthly tester budget)
Usabilla static you can ask people to click on things and optionally add comments click heatmaps with participant annotations subscriptions start at $19/month for 20 participants, 30 day trial no
Chalkmark static (but can do a sequence of mockups) static mockups; you can ask people where they would click in the mockup to do some tasks, and putting several in order would let you test a whole series of actions click heatmaps and completion time 10 participants and 3 tasks per test for free, unlimited for $109/month no
TryMyUI live participants try to complete tasks with the site and answer questions video of participant's screen with think-aloud audio and written answers to questions $35/test yes, with requested demographics
Feedback Army live or mockup visible at a url participants answer questions about the site, which might require them to complete tasks or just play with the site text responses to questions starts at $20 for 10 participants yes, all participants are from mechanical turk
YouEye live participants try to complete tasks with the site video of participant and participant's screen with think-aloud audio 3 videos/month for free, 25 videos/month for $49/month yes, but maybe not with custom demographics. $19 each with free plan, $9 each with subscription, or you can recruit your own for no extra cost
Userlytics live or static participants try to complete tasks with the site and answer questions video of participant and participant's screen with think-aloud audio and annotations and transcriptions of key moments $59/participant with a 5 participant minimum yes, with requested demographics (some demographic requests may require custom price quotes)
Loop 11 live participants try to complete tasks with the site and push a button when they're done or answer questions video of participant's screen, aggregated completion rates, time on task, and other stats $350 per project or annual subscription for $1900 (for a non-profit, medium business and large business are higher) no
OpenHallway live participants try to complete tasks with the site video of the participant's screen with think-aloud audio $19/month (but you can get 3 participants for 10 minutes each for free to try it out) no
UserZoom live and static (they have click testing, timeout testing, and full site testing) participants click, answer questions, or complete tasks on a site heatmaps, clickstream charts, task completion rates, word clouds Subscriptions start at $1000/month or $9000/year, but you need to go up to the next level to get click testing and timeout testing and other tools. Basic plan includes live testing, surveys, and cardsort, others include everything but the kitchen sink yes, they integrate with marketing panels (may be additional cost?)
Google Website Optimizer live automates A/B tests for you on your live website goal completion stats based on cohort, presumably integrated with Google Analytics free N/A, it's your existing users

*Note that everything marked "live" except for Google Website Optimizer can probably also be used for interactive wireframes and prototypes available at a public url, for instance something created with Invision.

In making this list I also ran across a few other tools, but I didn't look at them in the same depth:

If you've used any of the tools above, I'd love to hear about your experiences! Likewise, if you have corrections or additions, I'd love to get those too :)

IA Summit 2012 Notes: Applying value-sensitive design to user engagement

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Katey Deeny (@followsprocess on Twitter). Slides are available on Slideshare.

  • See vsdesign.org for more on value-sensitive design
  • Value-sensitive design is not applied a lot in corporate or business environment, though it has been for non-profits and academia
  • If we know what the values of intended audience are, we have a greater chance of engaging them in meaningful ways
  • Different groups of people value different things--have to balance
  • Values can change depending on what context you're thinking about it in (e.g. you may prioritise your values differently at work vs. at home)
  • Recognizing tensions between values helps surface potential problems, informs design startegy
  • Example: SXSW homeless hotspots (www.homelesshotspots.org)
    • big objection: turns human beings into pieces of infrastructure
    • how to design in a way that would be less controversial?
  • Method
    • Identify value, tech, context of use
    • Identify direct and indirect stakeholders (good to surface a lot of indirect stakeholders and then narrow down to the most important ones)
    • Identify benefits and hirms of stakeholders
    • Map benefits and harms onto values
    • Identify potential value conflics (in the example below she shows listing them all out and finding pairs that conflict)
    • Integrate value considerations into your design work--you may have to privilege some stakeholders before others, may not be able to reconcile all of the values, but identifying and examining them can still help you understand what you're doing and even help you do it
  • SXSW case study
    • value: empowerment
    • tech: wireless access
    • context of use: homelessness and SXSW (two very different contexts)
    • direct stakeholders: homeless, conference attendees, homeless shelter, ad agency that created it
    • indirect stakeholders: wireless provider, Austin community, conference organizers, nearby business owners with competing wifi, homeless people in general, advocacy groups
    • benefits and harms
      • homeless participants:
        • benefit: working with the public for 4 days -> values: engagement, earning, humanization
        • harm: no ongoing support -> values: stability
      • SXSW attendees:
        • benefit: wifi -> convenience, access
        • harm: discomfort dealing with a social problem -> respect, comfort
      • shelter:
        • benefit: helps tenents earn money for residents -> empowerment, philanthropy
        • harm: but no infrastructure to continue the program -> maintainability
      • ad agency:
        • benefit: publicity -> fame
        • harm: criticism -> notoriety
      • autin community:
        • benefit: positive interactions with the homeless -> empathy, change
        • harm: negative attention about the problem -> status quo
      • homeless community:
        • benefit: creates awareness -> hope
        • harm: does not create sustainable change -> sustainability
      • advocacy groups:
        • benefit: could inspire new programs -> innovation
        • harm: highlights the complexity of the problem (can't just do a cool thing for 4 days and expect the problem to be fixed) -> encouragement
      • wireless carrier:
        • benefit: brand equity -> recognition
        • harm: negative brand association (especially if it flops) -> reputation
    • list all values together and find value conflicts, e.g. humanization and notoriety, then integrate into design work

Key take-home Points for me:

I hadn't really heard anything about value-sensitive design, so this is basically an all-new method for me. It can be tricky balancing different stakeholder interests, this method seems like it might help. It also seems like this process should be part of creating anything you want people to really have an emotional connection to. I will have to try it out.

IA Summit 2012 Notes: Making Business Human: Delivering Great Experiences in a Connected Age

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Peter Merholz (@peterme on Twitter). Slides are available on Slideshare.

  • "Closing the delivery gap"--90% of polled firms thought they were customer focused, but only 8% of their customers agreed
  • Forrester's 2012 Custemer Experience Index showed that more than half of experience are not good--Why? tech is more immediate, accessible, distributed, people are surrounded by better design
  • Design processes and methods are mature, not seeing rapid methodological change like we did before
  • Org chart is perceived as just how things are done, but it was originally invented to help a railroad company manage vast network of rail lines. Good for supporting mass manufacturing, replaces independent thinking.
    • The org chart has become the operating system of a lot of companies and applied (inappropriately?) to office work: the cube farm is an org chart made manifest. Max Weber: "The 'iron cage' of bureaucracy"
    • Good for industrial/information age--products, manufacturing, efficiency, ownership, silos, isolation
    • Not good for connected age--services, customer experience, access, flow of information instead of goods
  • The connected age: the complexification of CPUs (from the information age) + connectedness of internet = chaos and unpredictability
    • People are really good at dealing with chaos and unpredictability if given the license to do so, bureaucracies (and pre-determined rules) are not (e.g. southwest airlines saying that they can't anticipate all problems and giving the employees the license to deal with things under their own initiative)
  • Relationships (a key part of the connected age) are built on trust
    • 2011 Temkin Trust Ratings, 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings (highly correltated with trust rankings)
    • Customers are willing to trust companies where management is willing to trust the staff
      • Southwest vs. any other airline has very humanistic culture, gives staff flexibility because they can't anticipate all problems in advance--gives employees lattitude to act in favor of customers, lets customers trust company
      • Nordstrom's one rule "Use good judgement in all situations"
      • Trust makes it possible to scale empathy, strict rules with no leeway for employee judgement do not
    • How to widen circle of trust? trust the customer
      • USAA bank highest customer experience ranking in the country--they were the first bank to do mobile check deposit, which made fraud more likely but they were willing to do that because they were willing to trust their customers more than anyone else.
        • Trusting their customers to do the right thing unlocked new opportunities, the customer and the business both win
      • Collaborative consumption movement started with craigslist, built on the belief that humans are fundamentally good. Also ZipCar, Couch Surfing, AirBnB
      • Panera's "pay what you can" cafes--they put up the prices that it would cost, on average they get 80%. Most people pay full price, some can't, some won't, and some overpay
  • Trust isn't sufficient: Netflix puts a lot of trust in their employees, but their pricing changes blew up on them.
    • They didn't realize that any relationship, even a business relationship, has an emotional component. Changes made people angry. Services are an ongoing relationship and emotions are especially important.
    • The decline in their stock price is the value of empathy
  • Design thinking: almost everything valuable about design thinking is actually stuff you do in kindergarten
    • Expressing visually and tactilely (drawing and sketching)
    • All contrubutors equal
    • Kinesthetic engagement (cube farm mentality harms ability to create, ought to be creating and working and behaving with whole bodies)
    • TED talk: the marshmallow challenge (build a structure with some specific items): kindergarteners do better than business school grads because they aren't jockying for power and they create successive prototypes instead of trying to figure out teh best structure beforehand
    • Letting kids be kids is actually letting people be people, and the connected age requires business to embrace what makes us human. Side note: don't let Facilities dept. get in the way, have to work around them to get a more kindergarten-like experiences in the workplace.
  • How can you make your organizations more human: be more social, playful, respectful, emotional, interdependent, sensorial, creative, trusting, physical

Key take-home points for me:

I liked the examples of Southwest and Nordstrom. It's something I already knew from my own community management and customer service work, but it's good to hear the reminder every now and then. It's an argument I anticipate having soon, too (right after I convince them that yes, they really do need moderation...).

I also liked the point that the drop in Netflix's stock was the value of empathy, I hadn't thought about that before. I'm already on board with the need to understand and empathise with my users, of course, but you don't often get such a dramatic demonstration of the monetary value. Perhaps value sensitive design would be useful in making sure this doesn't happen?

IA Summit 2012 Notes: A Different Grid: Multi-Channel Service Design, the African Way

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Franco Papeschi (@bobbywatson on Twitter). Slides are available on Slideshare.

  • GDP growth in sub-saharan africa has been much more positive than US or Europe in the past 5 years, majority of population is becoming middle class: there is a technological and cultural renaissance in Africa, but it's different than the technological revolution in the US and Europe
    • Prevalence of mobile phone 53%, vs 1.4% with landlines, or 12.8% with internet
    • 5% of phones are smartphones, 25% feature phones, the reast dumb phones that were popular in the US and Europe 8-9 years ago: "dumbphones for smart people"
    • Phone number is a proxy for identity: used to label owned items, can call the number and ask to use it
    • People and workplaces are very mobile, e.g. photographer with no shop: he has a motorcycle, a portable printer, and a camera
    • Radio is a key channel in rural regions: low-density population, strong oral tradition, great way to share information among themselves. Community radios (for farmers, by farmers) used to discuss local topics
  • Can't really talk about Africa as a whole, really big place. One key differentiation is 6 different large language groups, 2000-3000 different languages Secondary (colonial) langauges are used to communicate across communities.
  • 63% adult literacy rate, but higher in young people. Formal reading and writing not necessarily functionaly literate, people lose it if they don't practice it.
  • Some example services and applications that people are building
    • Ushahidi: developed after protests and violence of 2007 Kenyan election shut down parts of Nairobi and made it hard to know what parts of the city were safe. People report things to Ushahidi, which puts it on a map. Has also been used after Haiti earthquake, Japanese tsunami
    • iCow: helps farmers keep track of the fertility and health of their cattle, gives information and tips on how to make cows healthier, and makes it easier for farmers to keep their cows healthy when there isn't easy access to a vet
    • Taxirank: allows citizens of Capetown to compare quality, price, etc. of different taxi companies
    • M-Pesa: only 20% of the African population has a bank account (banks consider them unprofitable because there's little money and they transfer too often), so people have to physically travel to lend or borrow money. M-Pesa puts it on a simcard and makes it easy to transfer or pay at the supermarket without carrying money around. Has mvoed 1.8 billion dollars, 5% of the GDP of Kenya.
    • Esoko, a market information service (like Bloomberg for farmers in Kenya)
      • 60% of people working in Africa work in agriculture: many farmers are mostly personal consumption with some to sell to gain money and grow their business. They have to decide what market to go to to sell their goods, but they don't know where they will be able to get the best price that day.
      • Esoko employs agents to gather prices of different commodities across different markets and keeps records of trends over time so you know if you should sell all of it now or wait
      • Many groups with different needs and different communication channels
        • buyers use phones and newspapers
        • farmers have phones and newspapers and word of mouth
        • big farmers (communities of farmers) use the internet and smartphones
        • traders (who buy and sell at the market) have phones, smartphones, internet, word of mouth, but newspaper wasn't fast enough; traders need to see trends, find ways to manage your stock and flow, and manage the relationship with their customers
        • Esoko agents have smartphones, internet, word of mouth
      • They started as a service but became a platform with many modular features (prices, maps, trends, CRM...) that vary depending on context (with technology apparently used as a proxy to guess at the user group's needs)
      • Esoko's agents gather information, but are also delivering information face-to-face, that became one of their main touchpoints so they provided agent with more tools to track their informal conversations--not just phones, smartphones, internet, etc., their human infrastructure became and additional word-of-mouth channel
      • They test new features in each channel, try to see what is the impact on other channels when feature is added in one
    • Radio Marché: community radio in Northern Africa, solves the same problem as Esoko but for a mostly non-literate, tightly knit community with a strong oral tradition
      • Ethnographic studies and "technology probes" (give tech to people and see how they use it) showed that people had trouble trusting new technology that wasn't tied into existing habits and that most people don't seek out information (as with Esoko) but would rather receive it from people who are broadcasting it
      • A farmer gives price over the phone to an automated service, which automatically converts it to text and aggregates with other prices. Prices are turned back into synthesized speech and broadcast to local community radio and made available at a phone number. Each community radio has a different text-to-speech voice, and the uniqueness creates trust.
      • Shows that SMS is not necessary, can just use audio and web (however, a deaf audience member points out that it may be better to combine channels, speaker says yes, not advocating discarding channels, but perhaps necessary to move toward multi-sensorial as well as multi-channel)
      • Prioritizes community and how community works and behaves over technology
  • Ask yourself
    • what channels are likely to expand or shrink the size of the audience, relationship of audience and channels
    • can you divide your service in "small doses" that are flat, combinable that allow you to become almost like a platform
    • how do you facilitate contribution and remove friction: collect information vs allow farmers to shout information
    • how do you increase trust in the servce
    • what is the consequence of your workflow on your design? Esoko agents as internal mechanism become touchpoint
    • how does your channel strategy change your business model? Esoko vs radio = different business model, costs, activities
  • Tech shapes culture, culture shapes technology: need to foster both directions, see how tech is changed by culture

Key take-home points for me:

I loved hearing about familiar techniques solving very different problems and even solving the same problem in two different parts of Africa very differently based on cultural context. It's a strong reminder to research existing practices and keep them in mind when introducing something new to make sure that it's accepted. I also loved the point about the Esoko agents changing from being necessary infrastructure to a key touchpoint&emdash;another reminder to pay attention to what people are doing after a solution is introduced and evolve with evolving practices!

IA Summit 2012 Notes: Crowdsourced Remote Unmoderated Usability Testing

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Inge De Bleecker (@ingedebleecker on Twitter). The slides are available on Slideshare.

  • Remote usability testing usually has a participant and a moderator in the same session with screen sharing and audio, moderator can ask participant to complete task and ask clarifying questions
  • Unmoderated--participant and moderator not sharing session, you need online means to provide tasks to the participant
  • Crowdsourced--how we go about recruiting participants, outsourced to undefined, large group of people without any constraints
  • Examples
    • Screenshot click test: Usabilla, Userzoom, Usabilityhub
    • Screenshot timed test (participant gets to look for only ~5 seconds, then is asked questions): Userzoom, Usabilityhub
    • Task-based usability study with online survey (longer session, mirrors in-lab testing more closely): Usertesting.com, Loop11, Userzoom, DIY
  • Advantages of remote unmoderated testing
    • use of personal devices, get a nice breadth of devices
    • in own environment
    • fast turnaround time
    • cheap(er)
  • Disadvantages of remote unmoderated testing
    • no additional questions
    • can't observe participant (but you may be able to get them to do screen capture and audio)
  • Process same as most usability tests: recruit, task plan, test, analyze, report
  • Need committed participants for higher quality, better completion rate, longer sessions
    • Compensation: if you pay peanuts you'll get monkeys
      • For one of her clients the sweet spot is $35, but may have to pay more for very specific profiles
    • It can help if the participant has loyalty to something tied to test, e.g. to crowdsourcing company that recruits them b/c crowdsourcing company provides ratings for participants and they want to keep rating up (usertesting.com)
  • Tips for writing a task plan--unmoderated remote testing is high risk, you have to make sure that will go perfectly or you will lose people and completions even if they are highly committed to completing the tasks
    • Participants can't get blocked while completing tasks or answering questions
    • You only get one shot, can't observe so can't help participants work around troubles--but you can babysit results to see if the first few people can get through tasks and questions, fix test if they can't
    • Tasks need to guide without influencing behavior
    • Make all questions required so participants don't get lazy (but make sure there's an answer available for people who really don't know what to do)
    • Encourage people throughout survey to think aloud or write down: generally people are pretty good about doing it
    • Task and question types depend on tool--DIY is more labor intensive, but there are very few constraints relative to commercial tools
  • DIY remote testing: put questions questions in Survey Monkey (or Google Docs), participant must open site in another tab and go back and forth
  • Results are all self-reported data, have to think about how you interpret that--however, people still are explaining their thinking and you can still get a lot of information
  • Can use for tests in a language that the moderator does not speak and use translator
  • At least 10 or often 15-20 participants per profile (bumped up from 8 for lab test)

Key take-home points for me:

I just recently read Nate Bolt's Remote Research (highly recommended, btw) and I have been wanting to put some of that into use. What was most interesting to me about this talk was that she goes one step further, to say that yes, you can have unmoderated tests that mirror the moderated ones, with questions in some external tool like Survey Monkey. That loses even more of the ability to see what the participant is thinking, but it might be something worth trying out while I'm trying out other remote research techniques.

IA Summit 2012 Notes: Empower yourself. Negotiate for the user.

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Carol Smith (@carologic on Twitter). The slides are available on Slideshare.

  • Even if you have the best design you won't get a good user experience if you can't negotiate and get it to happen
  • You need need confidence in negotiation, and the best way to get it is to have a Best Alternative To Negotiation Agreement (BATNA): knowing what your course of action will be if negotiation fails (not the same as a walk-away point) gives you
    • a standard to measure negotiated options against and determine if you have something better than no negotiation at all
    • freedom to pursue more creative solutions (because you have that standard to compare against)
  • Make sure you ask for more, and don't accept the first offer
  • The better your BATNA the greater your power. You don't have to disclose it, especially if yours is weak.
  • Preparation for negotiation
    • Who are you dealing with and what is important to them?
    • What are their preferred negotiation strategies?
  • Separate people from the problem
    • Match culture to minimize misunderstandings (clothing, attitude)
    • Not about the people in the room--minimize emotions (positive or negative)
  • Compromise is the goal of negotiation, you want to come up with the best solution for everyone. Focus on your shared interest:
    • Use "we", not "you" or "me"
    • Work toward mutual gain within constraints: cost, time, resources/people, level of insights, etc.
  • Use objective criteria and standards like web analytics, surveys, internal measurements over time. Have the analysis beforehand or offer to go gather it as part of the negotiation.
  • Resources
  • Audience question: her boss's BATNA is "I said to do it so do it." Speaker says "I always say that when people actually see usability tests it turns their world upside-down"--make advocates in your organization, maybe in your own time (e.g. organize brown-bags and other events)

Key take-home points for me:

Having a clear picture of what I will do if negotiation completely fails sounds like a great idea and is something I should remember to do. And I should really read that Getting to YES book.

IA Summit 2012 Notes: Clutter is King

This is part of a series of notes from the Information Architecture Summit from 2012. All posts will be tagged ias12. This talk was presented by Paris Buttfield-Addison and Jon Manning (@thesecretlab on Twitter).

  • Piles vs files: research from the 80s on understanding software by looking at the way people manage their pysical offices and workspaces: documents, scraps of paper on desks, filing cabinets, etc.
    • A piler heaps chunks of content all over their desk, create a very messy desk (most people are pilers)
    • A filer has an organized, rigid, controlled, possibly complex system for managing stuff
  • Many users prefer working in clutter, measurably more productive and efficient. This is because piling lends itself to:
    • Discovery--finding links between two previously separate topics or projects
    • Reminders--it's at the top of the pile, front and center, so you'll remember it; things that are used a lot are close at hand, things that are new are on top
  • Physical layout of stuff maps closely to their mental model; piles on the desk mirror how things are grouped in their mind
  • People who are messier feel more in control, that they have a better grip on how their work is organized. They don't learn rules, the organization flows naturally from how their mind works.
  • The real world is not a neat little box like your application may be: contrast between clean, simple applications surrounded by cave of clutter. The workspace is not their work, the room is their work.
  • Filing creates a lot of cognitive overhead in addition to the actual work
    • extra stress if fail to adhere to system, not doing what you're supposed to
    • extra stress if something is misfiled--can't find it, what if other things are misfiled
  • Take lessons from piling into computer, design interfaces for clutter (none of the following is about visual design: cluttered organizational system can still be visually clean). Applications should think in piles, too.
    • People put stuff on the desktop and understand that they'll come back to it back later; if they can't find it spatially they can use search
    • iWork suite on desktop & iPad: iPad has no unified tool to represent document, each one must have its own representation of files. In Pages, most recently used stuff goes in the top left.
    • Top sites in safari: behaviorally the same as bookmarks but there is no categorization, it's generated as you browse
    • Twitter favorites: most people use to save tweets with urls to read later, it's a pile with the most recent on top
    • All of these feel relaxed and the user knows where their stuff is. There is no overhead, it's simply put there and the user knows how and where to get it when they need it. Flexible, no restrictions.
  • Making a clutter-friendly app does not mean you can be lazy about thinking about organization. It's actually more work than a rigid system because you have to
    • make app conform how people really organize their work
    • make it so the user can always find where they were and quickly get to it and go
    • let an emergent structure appear; user may never notice, and doesn't have to express preferences, it just emerges from how they work
  • Responsive but not smug
    • Intelligent agent is designed to work with user in semi-human approach; never intelligent enough. E.g. Siri: has a very limited set of commands that it can actually respond to even though it converses like a human and uses human voice, fails expectations
    • Safari top sites just quietly organizes sites; done well, the user never even notices
    • Pages for iPad: uses animations to move most recent document to the top left, helps tell the user about thge layout of their work and build mental model
  • Fault tolerant but not lazy
    • Encourage user to make mistakes because mistakes have no consequences, allows user to relax
      • Undo: we talk about it in terms of content, but rarely in terms of organizational structure. Gives people freedom to explore without the possibility of destroying things (e.g. undo menu in the finder can undo renames, deletes, etc.)
    • Encourage user to do what they want organization-wise
      • Stong rigid organization system makes people feel like they're not living up to what the design wants them to do (e.g. Jira and other bug reporting systems--however, see comments below on shared systems)
  • Attractive no matter what kind of clutter the user puts into it. Allow for organizational complexity while still being visually clean. "If you're going to let your users make a mess it should damn well look good...because they're going to make a mess."
    • People put stuff in Pinterest and don't care about organization, but the layout makes the images look nice and clean even though they don't naturally go together
    • iPhoto works out which photos belong together (gps, time) and user can just create a group: filing system is done for you, obviates the overhead of filing system while still providing the organizational benefits
  • Adapt your design constraints to fit what the user wants
    • Opposite of guiding users to fit your apps constraints
    • You need mental models
  • Sharing piles of stuff is trickier. If piles are the user's mental model, it's hard to transfer that between people. You need something more rigid, e.g. Jira and other bug reporting systems (however, Trello is apparently more flexible?)
  • Recency effect? people will look at the bottom of the pile when presented with a large pile of stuff so the stuff at the bottom doesn't get lost
    • also stuff is related, so people remember
  • Scalability: e.g. in email, the bigger the inbox gets the more you rely on search
    • piling approach is really a variation of filing, piles can represent regions of time, can create archived folder monthly, yearly, etc. and remember the rough time period (can do in a way that doesn't impact your immediate needs)
  • Present need vs archival need--how do I find the tweets that I like a month ago? piling facilitates now, but need structures and models for accessing later
    • often people don't need that, but iPhoto will generate archival system for you
    • the presenters have not not really been looking into the point at which they file their stuff away
  • Duplication of data--ad hoc organization doesn't solve that, but filing after the fact could

Key take-home points for me:

I think the most interesting part of this presentation was not just that the applications I develop should allow people to organize things how they want, but that it might be possible to create a no-overhead filing system that symply emerges from the stuff being organized so there can be benefits of both piling and filing without any of the extra work. I love the example of iPhoto creating groups automatically using data embedded in the photos, and I'm going to think about how I do things like that in my future projects.