Archive | Information management

Letting Go of Perfection: Developing IA Agility

Chris Farnum and Serena Rosenhan from ProQuest

They’re going to talk about their journey from waterfall to agile methodology, and how they accommodated its demands with their IA work.

They’re showing a lovely waterfall chart…business case, functional design, tech design, implementation, test, release.

Waterfall lets you think through all the implications. Most IA activities happen in the functional design space.

Gives the Wikipedia definition — iterative, incremental approach to development. See http://agilemanifesto.org for more.

In agile, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration. Planning has to be adaptive.

Agile chart — it’s a cycle, not a flow. Planning, requirements, design, develop/test, iteration release. [These roll up into product releases.] Where does IA happen now?

Still performing lots of IA work in the design phase, but it’s much shorter and more frequent.

What they were comfortable with in waterfall:

  • Define systems, navigation, etc. in comprehensive, scalable user experience
  • Use upfront research to inform designs
  • Provide detailed and elegant deliverables to developers
  • Save $ and development effort by reworking and testing before code is written.

In agile, can only design for known requirements. Can’t do all the research up front. Can’t do detailed deliverables – no time. Coding begins before design is finished. Where’s the benefit?

What are the requirements for success in agile? Had to let go of old ideas of perfection, change how they think and work.

Opportunities in agile:

  • Design iteratively
  • Freedom to make mistakes earlier
  • Working prototypes for testing come earlier
  • Refactoring…it’s a good thing!

Changing how they thought:

  • You don’t have to understand the whole universe up front.
  • You have to prioritize requirements
  • Have to focus on simplicity
  • Personas and use cases are critical to agile success
  • It’s OK for to have a moving target

Increment your way to perfection. Additional features aren’t always better, and elaborate designs do not always create the perfect UX.

So, how can this change the way you work?

Tells John Mayo-Smith’s story of two ways to build a pyramid.

How do you create a fully functioning system and then increment?

Think in terms of basic functions, enhancements, embellishments. Farnum shows an example from their work — how they pared down to basic functionality — think of the engineering behind the basic functionality.

Rosenhan has nice phrase — bifocal design. Keep an eye on the big picture, the framework, but deliver on very detailed design of small aspects of the system.

Deliverables are not the end goal. You may still create deliverables, but how you do it will change in agile. You have to think lightweight. From the Agile Manifesto: Working software over comprehensive documentation.

You do NEED documentation — don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Use “dirty deliverables” — sticky notes on butcher paper for a sitemap.

ProQuest uses simple, annotated wireframes — but often incomplete wireframes. Just what’s necessary.

Create simple user stories with links to details.

Do you have to let go of perfection to be agile? Just remember it’s not about perfect deliverables, it’s about a highly usable product.

Here are the slides from this talk on doing IA in an agile environment.

 

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Architecting Search-Engine Friendly Websites – Shari Thurow.

Next up, a talk from Shari Thurow on search engines and IA.

Thurow is starting with the basics of SEO. If you don’t do these 4 basic building blocks, you can forget it. Doing them makes your content easy to find — both on Google and your internal site search.

Thurow hates search engine spam. She turns people in regularly for it.

Why should IAs care about SEO? Because people search.

Thurow shows a couple of pages from a website — beautiful images — but no copy. Search engines can’t evaluate them.

Talks about a usability test on a site with a high-tech audience, with a huge Flash presentation at the top. It was the shortest usability test she ever did — the users hated the Flash so much they wouldn’t look at the site.

SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines.

SEO is not magic pixie dust.

Two great sites for SEO: Apple and Mayo Clinic.

SEO covers architecting, designing, writing, programming.

What search engine optimizers need to do:

  • Need to label content
  • Organize website content so it is easy to find
  • Ensure search engines can access right content
  • Ensure search engines can’t access undesirable content

4 Building Blocks of SEP

  • Keywords: Text
  • Architecture and design
  • Link development
  • Searcher goals

Most important text: Title tag, Most important [top] content, URL structure

The first two, keywords and architecture, are on-the-page and entirely within the site owner’s control.

The latter two are off-the-page criteria. In off-the-page criteria, quality trumps quantity. Who links to you matters more than how many you have.

Many SEOs don’t pay attention to searcher goals. Navigational [people want to go to a website], informational, transactional

For navigational, people rarely look past slots 1-2. When site links show up, something in the search indicated navigational intent.

Up to 80% of searches are informational. When Wikipedia shows up in results, something in the search demonstrated informational intent.

Least common type is transactional query. Here, people don’t always type in the words they expect to see on the page. [They don’t type, “watch” or “cart” when they want a video or to purchase something.]

Thurow shows this horrific result….when you search for

United.com FAQ

You get in Google what looks like the right page…but you go to the page, and there are no FAQs. Total fail.

Are you communicating to humans and technology the right information scent and aboutness of your content?

We know that content can be organized in multiple ways, but we have to determine how the target audience would organize it. SEOs think everything needs to be organized by topic. Keyword research tools shouldn’t be used to create architecture. But it is helpful to find out how people label things.

SEOs and IAs both work on labeling — are we using the right keywords on our labels? Are we properly indicating aboutness?

Prioritizing: Don’t put too many links/labels on the page, but definitely put them in the right order. Usability testing can help you figure this out.

Don’t put glossary content in a popup window — you’ve orphaned that really informative content to Google.

Information architecture decisions have a direct impact on SEO. Don’t wait til a site is ready for launch to bring in an SEO.

Most pages on a website should be treated as a point of entry. Do you give users enough context to figure out how to get where they need to go?

Some findability solutions can cause search engine problems — faceted classification, tagging and site search pages.

Thurow is an amusing and educational speaker. Great info.

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The Future[s] of IA

This session is from Peter Morville and Karl Fast.

Morville speaks up for defining the damn thing — says it’s central to information architecture.

The kinds of information architecture

  • Classic IA — The polar bear book.
  • Web strategy — Making web, mobile and social connect.
  • Cross-channel – Making physical and digital work together.
  • Intertwingularity — Ubiquitous, ambient findability.

All exist today but they are unevenly distributed.

Morville has been working with the Library of Congress for 3 years — improving their web presence. [Good!! Their sites are horrible!! Whew!] He has given them lots of wireframes and recommendations, but says the most important work he’s done is educating them on the need for IA.

Morville shares a great quote from Jorge Arango:

Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, information architects use nodes and links to create environments for understanding.

Making the argument that everything is intertwingled –we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how intertwined our information, products, experiences, spaces and knowledge are.

Who gets it? Who makes intertwingled experiences?

  • Apple
  • Nike–Making running social. Conspicuous consumption->conspicuous experience.
  • GlowCaps–Medicine bottles that remind you to take your meds.
  • Smart scales that can tweet our weight: Morville: “A good reminder that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Need to keep redefining what we do to stay flexible.

IAs need to go beyond wireframes — map the org chart, the systems, the workflow, the people and the process.

Going back to the first IA Summit, IA is about empathy for the user.

Karl Fast is up next.

Facebook is the largest photo repository in the whole world…and it isn’t their core mission. Talks about number of searches in Google, number of videos uploaded to YouTube. The numbers are too boggling for us to understand.

We are now in a place that we have always tried to achieve–ubiquitous access to information. Says it is a disservice to argue [like Nicholas Carr in The Shallows] that information overload is bad for us.

We don’t just have more information — we have more information, computation, devices and people.

How do we deal with all this information? Three ways:

  • Deliberate structure — the IA approach.
  • The Google approach — Computation.
  • Coordinated group action — the Wikipedia approach.

Three new ways:

  • Deep interaction — Not just touch. Why do we talk with our hands? Just like raising voice, pausing, it gives extra information. Why do we do it on the phone? Ah, it’s learned behavior. Why do people who are blind talk with their hands? Cognitive psych studies about this suggest that gesturing helps us think, and that not gesturing constrains our thinking.
    Embodied cognition tells us that thinking about our brain as the processor, the body as the output, and senses as input is a very limited view.
    Spectrum: One one end, mind and body are separate. Other side, mind and body are integrated with each other and the world around them — Fast says we’re far on the first side, and we need to shuffle over toward the integration side.
  • Coordination — or orchestration. Our lives are about coordination.
    PHINGS — Physical, Haptic, Interactive and information-rich, Networked and Next-Generation, Stuff on Surfaces
    We coordinate information, but people, things, etc.
  • Mess — Compares two images of Steve Jobs…one in spare environment that appeared in Time, an iconic image of “the genius at work.” The second, a photo of his home office, a complete disaster. Fast says mess is a fundamental part of how we work and learn. Why do we think order is better? Why is mess negative?

Fast: Information is cheap. Understanding is expensive.

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The History of Information Architecture…And What’s Changing

Great panel to kick off the conference:

Changes they’ve seen:

  • Schleicher notes that today, more developers are moving toward IA, and prototyping is changing the conversation.
  • Scott worked at Borders.com 10 years ago, and notes that companies who don’t support ecommerce and the web do not succeed anymore.
  • Schleicher points out that people are increasingly recognizing the value of context in any decision.

Schleicher: You need to understand the impact you want to have, as much as you need to understand the user.

Stemen would love to get rid of the idea that everything needs to fit into a hierarchy. [I love this idea, but I also still struggle with getting people to understand the need for organization, finadability and even the customer experience — never mind getting them to go beyond hierarchy.]

Schleicher: Still absolutely essential to visit real users and see their spaces or places. Did work for Ford and visited customers…and their cars. Made very effective decisions for the website based on knowing how real people used their cars.

Question from the audience: Does the panel expect all IAs will have to have development skills in the future?

Scott says no. It’s fine to, but the skills of communication, empathy and user understanding are central to IA.

Stemen: Cites Paul Resnick as saying that when you design at the edge of your understanding, your design will be amateurish. You need to understand a couple of levels deeper than where you’re designing.

Question from the audience: How have end users changed?

Scott: What hasn’t changed is basic biology and cognitive structures. What has changed is how much we use technology and how much more [frequently] we relate to it. Technology will be pervasive.

Schleicher: Most user research done 10 years ago is obsolete and dead. The user will be dead in 5 years — we will have technology as our copilot and not our servant. The changing demands of the workplace are radical right now.

Danger for the future: Stemen says his concern for the future is that IAs become all about documentation and just have to update the wireframes to match the comps….[Oh wait. That happens already.]

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Google Doesn’t Make You Stupid

I’m re-reading Nicholas Carr’s famous Atlantic article from 2008 titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I’m 10 paragraphs in and I’ve now stopped 4 times, twice to check email, once to tweet about how I keep stopping and now, to start writing this blog post.

So it seems, off the cuff, that the answer to Carr’s question must be, “Yes, yes, immediate access to information, tools and other people through today’s electronic media is, in fact, making us stupid.” I haven’t even read far enough into it to say that I am confident I remember Carr’s central premise — I first read the article when he wrote it 3 years ago.

[Brief pause]

OK, I’ve re-read the whole thing, and I’m still arguing with Carr.

Carr leans heavily on anecdote here, as he has to — there’s still precious little research about the long-term effects on humans of  being “wired” vs. not being so. Additionally, part of Carr’s point is that the move toward using artificial intelligence and relying on it in the ways we now do is systematizing our thought processes, or at least, our intellectual work in ways that are unnatural for humans.

Yet early in the article, Carr notes that reading isn’t intuitive for humans, either. While writing [and thus reading] was developed about 5000 years ago, human society is far older. Each human learns anew how to read — no one is born with that ability.

But I think the part that bothers Carr is the reduction in narrative. It is a human quality to make meaning of our world, to create a story where one did not exist. And deep concentration and deep reading greatly assist us in developing narrative. But developing the skills needed to sort, evaluate and synthesize the vast amounts of information available to people in modern society is also valuable.

I view many of the ways I use information, systems and technology today to aid me in clearing my brain for this deeper kind of thought. The more I can create routines and mechanize my information management, the less brainpower I have to devote to that — and the more I can devote to what I find truly valuable: pattern identification.

Finding the connections between ideas and information makes the original information all the more valuable. Pattern recognition is an essential skill in creating a narrative and telling a story — and in receiving a narrative or a story from others.

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You must become an accountable content organization

If you’re in health care, like most of our clients at Creekmore Consulting, you are already familiar with the term “accountable care organization.” ACOs have become a hot topic in health care — last year’s health care reform bill really promotes the idea that health care organizations should be reimbursed based on the effectiveness of treatment, not just on the fact that they provide services. Health care providers are now working to figure out the best ways to demonstrate the effectiveness of the care they provide, so that the government and insurance companies will pay them.

We see a related [though thankfully, very, very rarely life-or-death] issue in our content strategy work: The need for accountable content.

Accountable content starts with a business goal. [Just a quick note to say that your problem is not a good definition of your business goal. For instance, your problem is that your help content is hard to keep current and no one uses it. Your business goal is creating useful help content that reduces call volume by XX% this year.]

It’s too simple to say that everything else flows from the business goal, but it’s true. You have to make every decision about your content through the lens of your business goal. Should you write your own content? Should you license it? Should you hire a freelancer or seek a long-term relationship with a content development firm? Who will approve and manage the content? What kind of technology will you use? How will you measure the results? You’ll give better answers to every question with the business goal pasted on the wall.

We’ve worked with many organizations through the years that do not realize how much content they’re already managing, and the overhead they’re already putting into the process. Very few organizations don’t have content. Most don’t have the right kind, or don’t manage what they have well. The real opportunity sometimes comes in the ability to narrow down your content-under-management to only what truly serves your business need.

Is your content accountable? Is it working for you? Or are you working in service of your content?

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Ditching my paper planner: Lessons in online organization

Somewhere around 1994 or 1995, a friend introduced me to the Franklin planner. From that time, I was rarely without one. Over the years, I got bigger and smaller versions of the annual planner, depending on the size of the bag I liked to carry and how much stuff I was trying to organize, but until this spring, I haven’t been without it. I’d go so far as to take it to church on Sunday mornings [they make announcements you need to remember!] and to dinner with friends on the weekends. I learned long ago that my brain is an unreliable short-term storage device, so if I thought there was a possibility I’d hear something I needed to know later, I took my planner with me.

I have purposefully avoided most business travel the last 2 1/2 years, while I was pregnant with and nursing my youngest child. I made a day trip here and there, but I avoided being gone overnight. [When I went to South by Southwest last year, I took my mother and both my daughters….exhausting and lots of fun, but not sustainable for your average trip.] But now my youngest has turned 2, and she does just fine when I’m on the road for a few days. So this spring, I booked several conferences I’d been wanting to attend to better network within the content strategy/IA/UX industry.

For quite some time, I’ve been lugging around a 15-inch MacBook Pro, an 8″ x 10.5″ x 2″ Franklin planner, and many days, a 14-inch [but damn heavy] Dell. After one trip this spring, I realized what I’d known in the back of my head for a long time, even as I carried all this stuff around in my car every day:

This is stupid.

I tend to be an early adopter on technology and I’m really comfortable with it, so I can’t give you a rational explanation why I was still carrying all that stuff around, especially the paper part. I’ve just always been in the habit of writing down what I have to do, so it was easier to continue to use the task system that has served me well for more than 15 years.

So after having to take way too much Advil to soothe my screaming neck and shoulders this spring, I decided it was time to go cold turkey on the paper planner. I’m also planning a computer change later this year, so I’ll have a much lighter, more portable machine when I’m on the go, but I knew the paper planner was a big part of my “stuff” problem.

The technology I’m using so far:

  • Google Calendar: I use Google Calendar for both my home and work life organization. My husband and I started using it several years ago, before we got married, to keep track of all the schedules for the family. It is great, but offline access was a problem when I was traveling.
  • BusyCal: I bought BusyCal for the Mac. With BusyCal, I can sync back and forth seamlessly with my Google Calendar, so my husband, my employees and everyone else [through my Tungle.me account] can stay up-to-date on my whereabouts. BusyCal gives me offline access and a few more task features than Google does. I use BusyCal for my personal task lists. [Why not iCal? This program is free on my Mac, but I’ve never liked it. My initial problem with it, several years ago, was that it only supported 6 or so colors for your calendars. At last count, I’m following or managing 20 calendars, so 6 colors didn’t cut it. Now, iCal does seem to have support for plenty of colors, but there’s still something about it I don’t like. It was worth it to me to pay for BusyCal, but your mileage may vary.]
  • Basecamp: My company uses Basecamp to track projects, tasks and to-do lists. I love it and use it daily, but I feel like I’m shoehorning things in when I put personal items here, or try to track appointments, so I’m still using other tools for these purposes.
  • Moleskine notebook: Not only did I use my planner to keep track of appointments and to-dos, but I also depended on it for meeting notes. I got a large Moleskine notebook to have for this purpose, but I’ve noticed the same problems that Michael Hyatt details here. You’ve got to get those handwritten notes into your online system if you want to be able to track and manage the information. So I’ll likely look for the EcoSystems notebook he recommends [all pages are perfed for easier removal/scanning] when I finish this Moleskine.
  • Evernote: Here’s where I’m starting to feel like I don’t fully have a handle on my new system. I’m using Basecamp, BusyCal and Evernote to manage different kinds of information. I feel like it should be easier to consolidate, but no one of them seems to be exactly perfect for my needs. I am currently using Evernote for meeting notes, but I feel like I could use it better. I’m eagerly reading posts like Michael Hyatt’s helpful ones on using Evernote to get organized to continue to inspire me here. [If you’re thinking that Michael Hyatt has become my personal productivity guru, you’re not far off. He has great insights on this topic.]

The upshot? I’m online, but I don’t feel settled yet in my new task system. The one thing I HAVE been largely successful at over the past few months [preceding my paper exodus by a bit] is getting my task list out of my email inbox. So I’m making progress, but I’m not done yet.

What are your best tips for managing calendars, tasks and information?

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QR Codes: Ready for Prime Time?

Great post from Paul Merrill on QR codes:

It’s as if each company said, “We need to get something out there with a QR code on it – and it doesn’t matter what it says or links to. Just get it out now, now. We only have two weeks till the event kicks off!”
Fail.

— From Paul Merrill. Get the rest at Shiny Bits of Life

QR codes [stands for Quick Response codes, but you’ll never hear them referred to by the full words] are getting hot with marketers. Merrill’s right; they were everywhere at South by Southwest last week, but I’ve also seen them in print magazines and on ads in the subway in New York.

The idea behind QR codes is solid: You see an ad [or an article, or a product package, whatever] with a QR code, and you whip out your ubiquitous smartphone, scan the code and get delivered to a website where additional, fabulous information awaits you.

It’s the fabulous part we’re struggling with right now.

This is fundamentally a user experience problem. Marketers haven’t yet sorted out what is best delivered via your phone, or your computer or a printed ad. So right now, they’re throwing it all at you, every which way they can. Given some time and excellent examples, this kind of thing will sort itself out. The only potential problem is, if we become inured to poor QR code usage in the meantime, it will take a lot of work to get people to start scanning them again.

So marketers of the world, please be careful with your QR codes. Stop using them when you can’t be fabulous.

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