A few years ago, Lou Rosenfeld gathered together a small group of people to talk about the convergence and connection between the different disciplines that live under the User Experience umbrella (or tent as some like to say). We're talking about disciplines including information architecture, interaction design, visual design, information design, industrial design, usability, etc. etc. One of the outcomes of that meeting was the ongoing discussion between these UX professionals that led to the formation of UXnet.
UXnet hopes to create a space where people across disciplines can communicate and collaborate. The group plans to organize some volunteer-run initiatives to support the multi-disciplinary field of user experience design. Projects such as the event calendar should make it possible to find out about conferences and events in areas outside of our narrower fields, so that we may become versed in the languages, methodologies and tools of other UX disciplines.
I think this is a great development for the design community. With the smaller discipline-based groups such as Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture and the Interaction Designers Group taking the lead on discipline-based needs, this group will serve to pull together these individual groups (and the messages they carry) under the common goal of discussing user experience design. I'm staying informed via their mailing list to see what develops.
"Testing ever-more users in card sorting has diminishing returns, but you should still use three times more participants than you would in traditional usability tests."
"This essay describes the surprising results of a brief trial with a group of new computer users about the relative ease of the command line interface versus the GUIs now omnipresent in computer interfaces."
Judy Luther's Library journal article, "Trumping Google? Metasearching's Promise" provides a well articulated opinion of why metasearch will be important for the future of libraries. The article interviews staff largely from academic libraries who are using metasearch to meet the needs of Google-era novice searchers who have grown to expect a simple, unified searching experience. I find the following paragraph to be true.
bq. In academic libraries nationwide, the same conversation is taking place between librarians who don't want the interface "dumbed down" and librarians with usability practice who know that patrons basically want the Google experience. It's time for librarians to accept that library users are not interested in being more like us. If we don't understand that the majority of our users are novice searchers who may wish to remain that way, we are missing the opportunity to serve the pragmatic user who is happy with a "good enough" answer.
What's true is the idea that we need to provide "good enough" answers via metasearch to users who don't want to invest the time to find appropriate sources and execute searches for more precise results. As Luther notes, metasearch is for average users, it's not for us (librarians and expert users). This is validated in a recent newspaper article, titled "Students check out the Web instead of library", that discusses the state of information literacy with college students who will use the web as the sole research source for undergraduate work. It's a pretty surprising observation of the state of information literacy in college students. The point is that these libraries need to understand undergraduate students completely -- their preferences, searching behavior, goals -- and need to adjust their systems to match the students' expectations in the physical and electronic experiences. The same should hold true for any provider of information services and resources that expects to remain useful and relevant to their clientelle.
The point in all of this is that "good enough" results in metasearch is likely to be a requirement in any information system that serves a broad range of user needs. We're in an era where we're finding users, such as these undergraduate students, who do nearly all of their information consumption on the Internet. They are telling us that their most satisfying information seeking experiences are transacted on sites such as ebay, Amazon and Google. Libraries have to recognize the importance of doing user research in order to adjust their systems to meet the needs today's web-influenced users.
Peter Morville's site evangelizing findability.
"Findability refers to the quality of being locatable or navigable. At the item level, we can evaluate to what degree a particular object is easy to discover or locate. At the system level, we can analyze how well a physical or digital environment supports navigation and retrieval."
The redesign of DigitalWeb Magazine, coinciding with it's 8th birthday, is the most usable iteration of this valuable site. It's a beautiful and easy to use site. Nick Finck and his team must have spent a lot of team working on IA and design because finding articles on this site is now easier than its ever been. The indexes by author, title, topic, type are great. The tabbed global nav and colored arrow local nav are so nice and make it obvious where you are and where you can go. And it's all done with standards compliant XHTML/CSS to boot.
Congratulations and happy birthday, DigitalWeb!
I'm very impressed with the simplicity of the new Blogger. Apparently Douglas Bowman and Adaptive Path did the redesign. To see what all the fuss was about, I created a test blog. The administration interface is pared down simplicity at its best. The global navigation shows four main tabs -- Posting, Settings, Template, View Blog -- with local links for each tab except for "View Blog", which opens a new window showing your site. The small number of options for working within the functionalities offerd by Blogger makes the job of posting entries and configuring your site very easy. Very nice. And the skins, of course, are incredible.
Other weblog application developers that are interested in the usability of their applications, especially with regard to the administration experience, should take note of how Blogger has approached the UI and user experience. The number of functionalities offered is much more limited than many other blog applications because this is a hosted service and you can't just expand it by adding contributed modules like we do with Drupal. But because of this, the design is controlled and every aspect of the experience with the application is carefully conceived and executed. You can see how a concerted effort involving very experienced visual designers, information architects and interaction designers has produced a well-conceived product here.
In a related blog entry, Whitespace compares the Blogger and TypePad companypaegs -- both provide hosted weblog services.