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Things to do at the beginning of each project

Nice list by Leah Buley on things to do before starting a project.

It’s been said that the two hardest parts of a project are the beginning and the end.  In the middle, it’s often perfectly clear what should have gone differently at the start.  But when you’re kicking off a project, you’re often so preoccupied trying to establish cordial working relationships and understand the nature of the project that some of the trivial but essential details get neglected.  That’s too bad, because it’s often the trivial essentials that build trust.

What makes a company creative - Ed Catmull

Nature by numbers

Design Patterns: Faceted Navigation

Very nice article by on faceted navigation by Peter Morville and Jeffrey Callenderi. I really like the part where they differentiate faceted browse from parametric search.

“On the other hand, the distinction between faceted navigation and parametric search is relevant. In parametric search applications, users specify their search parameters up front using a variety of controls such as checkboxes, pull-downs, and sliders to construct what effectively is an advanced Boolean query. Unfortunately, it’s hard for users to set several parameters at once, especially since many combinations will produce zero results.”

Classification schemes (and when to use them)

Donna Spencer on the different ways to classify information (alpha, location, task, etc.). A nice pick up from Wurman’s 5 hatracks article.

“When you do information architecture work you’ll realize that most sets of content can be organized in more than one way. One of the challenges for an IA project is figuring out what way works best for your audience, your content and your project’s goals. In this article I’ll talk about a few different classification schemes you can use to organize your content, and offer tips on when and how to use each.”

Dan Mayer shows ho to teach math

Great piece on teaching math that is fun and memorable by Dan Mayer. His blog has more.

Twitter becomes a real collection

A while ago I wrote an article on Designing Collections for the Web. In this article I stated that Twitter was a collection and there are 4 objectives of a collection:

  1. To help users easily contribute to a collection (contributing objective)
  2. To help users find an item in a collection (identifying objective)
  3. To help users easily co-locate similar items (co-locating objective)
  4. To surface relevant and interesting items (relevancy objective)

In the Chirp Developer Conference, Twitter finally added the two objectives that were missing: surfacing relevant and interesting stuff (promoted tweets, although marketing influenced) and co-locate similar items (Twitter annotations).

I am really interested how the Annotations feature will take off. It could really extend the service beyond what we know of it now.

Use Microblogging to Increase Productivity

From Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd, guest blogging at HBR.

“Ubiquity First, Revenue Later. Build an audience first and then uncover how it can lead to increased employee productivity or faster time to competence. Since microblogging is a modest expense, (often as low as $1.00 per user per month) there need not be elaborate ROl studies prior to piloting the service. However, you do need to identify key business goals you want to measure as microblogging rolls out across the company, such as increased brainstorming or greater ease in seeking feedback from employees. Then follow the impact on revenue.”

Starhub’s genres, classification problems, and an idea!

My new post over at PebbleRoad is around the new categorisation of TV channels proposed by local cable TV provider Starhub. My peeve is that the new categorisation is designed to serve internal needs and not the needs of the viewers. We’re required to just memorise the new numbers even though the assignment is ambiguous and confusing. To complete the article, however, I’ve also proposed a faceted classification of the channels and even given a mock of an iphone like interface to replace the last-century-looking remote. Enjoy!

IDSA design research

The design research section of the IDSA now has a website. Also, the current issue of IDSA’s publication Innovation is jam packed with design research related articles. Cool!

Wondeful story on the Greenpeace Nestle PR war

How Conceptual Metaphors are Stunting Web Innovation

Wonderful article by Venkatesh Rao, a researcher in the Xerox Innovation Group. He says that outdated conceptual metaphors such as ‘document’ is slowing down our thinking about new innovations such as the live web. New conceptual metaphors are needed such as ‘stream’ and ‘trails’.

Maya Design explains Information Architecture

A good article with two really good videos explaining information architecture.

“Although it’s tempting to skip ahead to the look and feel of a design, the importance of first defining an Information Architecture (IA) can’t be overstated. Often we find that an existing system has been built as a monolithic solution that jumbles the raw plumbing of the system with the business process and the user interface. Unfortunately this leads to a brittle solution that can’t evolve with new user interfaces, new underlying systems, or new business realities. In fact we often hear the words “Information Architecture” naively applied to only one aspect of an experience (like “Information Architecture for the Web”) and then disregarded or ignored when an experience bridges interfaces (like when a user has to interact with a mobile application that integrates with related information in physical places).”

Scrolling and attention

Big finding from Jakob Nielsen. Now clueless managers are going to sing this mantra and demand that everything be above the fold.

“Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold. “

Africa’s Gift to Silicon Valley: How to Track a Crisis

A nice story from the NY times on a Kenyan product called Ushahidi. This is an informant mapping tool and works like this: anybody on the ground can call a cell number and and point out a location, it could be of a rape or a terrorist hideout, and all of this information is aggregated and represented on a map. If there are many pointers to a particular location, troops can be called in to look. Brilliant stuff.

“When the Haitian earthquake struck, Ushahidi went again into action. An emergency texting number was advertised via radio. Ushahidi received thousands of messages reporting trapped victims. They were translated by a diffuse army of Haitian-Americans in the United States and plotted on a ‘crisis map.’ From a situation room at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, outside Boston, Ushahidi volunteers instant-messaged with the United States Coast Guard in Haiti, telling them where to search. When the Chilean earthquake struck, Ushahidi deployed again.”

Personal pronouns: It’s okay to own your web copy

Wonderful post from Brain Traffic on using personal pronouns in your web copy. I do agree, at times, it can be difficult to sell this in some organisations, but I also agree, it may be just a matter of adopting or getting comfortable with a style.

Using personal pronouns may sound like a simple, common-sense web writing best practice. Speaking directly to users with the word “you” is something most companies get on board with easily enough. But those same clients often ask us to avoid self-referential pronouns like “we,” “our,” and “us” in their web copy.

15 Desktop & Online Wireframing tools

From UX booth:

“Like most things today, the world of interaction design moves quickly. Although a pen and notebook may suffice when it comes to simply jotting down ideas, planning a series of website screens can sometimes demand additional precision and cohesion. This is where today’s wireframing tools come in.”

Filenaming Conventions and Knowledge Sharing

Patrick has posted an article on file naming conventions. Good. Now I don’t have to hunt for them every time!

The Ethnography of Design: A Series

New series on Ethnography by Catapult Design:

This post is the first in a weekly series called “The Ethnography of Design” about the relationship between anthropology and design and how the ethnographer’s toolkit can be applied to build more effective world-changing, problem-solving products and systems. Each post in the series will be paired with – and will explore – a video or article that highlights an innovative design solution or product that has taken into account (successfully or unsuccessfully – and why) ethnographic research methods and human-centered design thinking frameworks.

Making teaching stick

After reading Switch (highly recommended) by Dan and Chip Heath I headed to their website to get more resources. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of resources they have there. From a short summary of the book to how-to guides on using the principles in different settings. The one that caught my eye was Teaching that Sticks, a resource from their previous book, Made to Stick. It is a wonderful article-length read that gives a handful of strategies that you can try immediately, such as using the unexpected to create focus and interest.

2010 Intranet Innovation Awards are open for entries

The 2010 Intranet Innovation Awards are open for entries. Entries close on Friday 23. 

I like this award. It highlights how teams are thinking of making their intranets useful and productive. It starts a discussion on ideas and themes. I met some of the winners at the KM World conference in San Jose last November and I could clearly see their enthusiasm and determination in making their intranets work. I walked away with more than a few ideas to try out.

Designing collections for the web

Designing collections for the web - my new article over at PebbleRoad. The idea of the article came up when the team was discussing how best to leverage and surface homogeneous information. We were doing a redesign of a hospital website and found out that patients wanted to be connected with getting care in many different ways - by clinic, by doctor, by diseases and conditions etc. This idea let us to investigate collections, first as used by libraries, and then modified and as used by social media. This article compiles our experimentation and learning on the subject.

“A collection is a list of homogeneous items. A collection on the web can be as simple as a blog (a list of posts) to as complex as a library collection (multiple lists of different library materials). Collections are an integral part of many websites, but not all collections are designed with ease-of-use and ease-of-retrieval in mind.  In this article, I’ll cover some theory and give practical advice on designing online collections for the websites and intranets.”

Streams of Content, Limited Attention

An interesting take by Danah Boyd on how the information streams that we are living in (blogs, tweets, facebook, buzz, etc.) need some change in order to be relevant. The main argument here is that it is difficult to direct attention to something in a stream. And if we do manage to do that, it is difficult to hold on to it. I feel the same way when living in the stream of blogs and tweets. At times I long for the slow pace of a book. If only I could control the pace of my stream….

“To be relevant today requires understanding context, popularity, and reputation. In the broadcast era, we assumed the disseminator organized information because they were a destination. In a networked era, there will be no destination, but rather a network of content and people. We cannot assume that content will be organized around topics or that people will want to consume content organized as such. We’re already seeing this in streams-based media consumption. When consuming information through social media tools, people consume social gossip alongside productive content, news alongside status updates. Right now, it’s one big mess. But the key is not going to be to create distinct destinations organized around topics, but to find ways in which content can be surfaced in context, regardless of where it resides.”

Primary 1 math paper - cruel usabilty problems

I came back from work today to find my 6-year-old daughter in a bad mood. She was upset because Mommy told her that she got low marks in a math test! Surprised? Yes, in Singapore, reality hits early! I find it surreal that tests are given so early but I’m going along with it to see how all this works. So I’m biased over here. But that is not why I’m writing this post. I decided to write this post after what happened next.

I picked up the math paper and it took me a while to figure out how to do the sums. I’m pretty sure it will take you a while too. Here is part of the math paper.

Primary school math

Were you confused? I was. The instructions are too complex and there are just too many distractions on the page. The sums are numbered, the options are numbered and then the answers too are numbers! And did you find the “brackets”? They are on the right hand side, a trick I guess to test the range of the eyes!

See my daughter’s first answer in the brackets. Now see her second answer. Do you blame her for putting in the right answer in the bracket? Read the instruction, which number do I put in the bracket? The option number or the correct answer?

The point of this test I gather is to help the student better ‘see’ math in abstract and concrete terms. That’s fine, but where does trickery come in to play?

So, I took a shot at redesigning the paper and this is what I came up with in 5 minutes.

Schoo math paper - redesigned

I gave the same paper to my grumpy daughter and asked her to try the sums out. She looked at the paper and knew exactly what to do. She had a smile across her face. That is when I decided that I should share my concerns with the world.

We live in a scary world where 6-year olds are asked to do such math sums. The least we can do is to motivate and encourage them to take on this challenge. Giving badly designed papers to these kids is such a cruel thing to do. So, if you come across papers like these then please do something about it.

Smashing Silos

Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration, writes about his 5 ways to bust silo mentality at work:

  1. Eliminate Needless Formality and Hierarchy (easy access)
  2. Provide One-Click Access to Entire Organization (easy access to everyone)
  3. Design Dedicated Physical Spaces for Collaboration
  4. Adopt Common Systems and Processes (standard platform)
  5. Establish Cross-Functional Mentoring

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