After about a 4 year break from blogging about information architecture on iaslash (my last post there was 11/2003) I've decided to return to blogging on a wider range of user experience topics. The new blog is called Konigi. Here's a snapshot of how it looks today:
The word Konigi means "to make known." Before I started on this project I wanted to find a way to focus on doing some sort of personal knowledge management related to web design, and somehow I ended up doing this site. I can't tell you how happy I am to have finally found a way to combine my interest in KM, Design and UX, and Blogging into one project.
Herw's what you find on the site for now:
- Interface: A gallery of user interface and interaction examples that are both conventional and accepted solution as well as innovative examples that push the use of medium.
- Design: A gallery of sites that can be described as influential, innovative, and effective at representing their brand and purpose. Visitors may submit designs for inclusion. The submissions that get the most votes will be included among the featured sites.
- Notebook: This is the more traditional blog, pointing to UX resources. For now I'm going to keep the writing lean and succinct. This is also the place where I'll be posting the Collages (Command-Shift-5) I play with occassionally and post to Flickr.
- Function: This is a competitive analysis section that I'm working on and hope to release very soon. Hopefully these pages will start appearing in the Spring.
When I started this project a few months ago, I thought I'd simply be starting a blog or wiki, but somehow it evolved into a more focussed portal of sorts with lots of screenshots. I got my hands on Skitch and started posting screenshots to Flickr. I started a new job last year and found myself taking screenshots a lot more and write a lot less on urlgreyhot. All the little experiments using Skitch on Flickr forced me to organize things and separate these screens from those Ipost to urlgreyhot. This is where Konigi comes in. Hopefully it will keep this stream of screenshots in order so they're findable and reusable by others in the UX community who may be interested in them.
I'd love to hear your feedback.
Lou announces the UX Zeitgeist, an excellent aggregator of recommendations and pointers to published work from user experience thought leaders. Excellent stuff, and I've already benefited from finding new literature here.
Missing Christina's Widgetopia, I've decided to dump my screenshots of examples of user interface and interaction into a flickr group rather than keeping in the vacuum of my own experience. So now you can view screenshots I'm grabbing at the Design Pattern flickr group and feel free to add your own. The example below is from Daylife.
Design patterns are generally repeatable solutions to a commonly occurring problems.
This group was created to post examples of web design solutions seen in the wild to help people compare different solutions, and to find existing and emerging patterns to design problems.
Tagging consistency will certainly help make this useful, but it is likely that people will use different tags to describe problems, e.g. will you use "sign in", "log in", or "login" to tag a sign in interface? Consistency will allow you do things like search for stuff like Design Patterns: clustering.
Luke Wrobleski has written a great article discussing the difference between perceived and actual simplicity and what it means to designers. Simplicity is more than the perception of spareness or bareness of design. In actuality, simplicity probably has more to do with ease of use than with appearance, and achieving simplicity can be a complex task.
Wrobleski illustrates the Pareto principle applied to expert user features on sites like eBay and You Tube. On those sites 80% of activity comes from perhaps 20% of the users. These are often the expert users, who want to do more than simply find products or watch an occassional movie. Those users are the one's that add the most value to the system, so features that enable those users to be empowered need to be addressed. So how does that user type's need impact simplicity of the experience for others?
Tufte speaks of information density, how much screen real estate is devoted to useful information, as a measure of an information object's effectiveness at communicating messages. "Usefulness" is the operative word there. Data dense interfaces don't necessarily lead to ease of use. The point is that if the ratio of useful data to chart junk is good, the object has better information density. It is the usefulness of the interface for helping users get things done is what leads to actual simplicity.
Achieving a simple experience when the spectrum of needs of users are varied is complicated, but possible. He points out that some interfaces have tried to balance those needs, e.g. Microsoft Office's partially hidden menus. I don't know many people that would argue that the MS menu design has lead to a simplified experience.
The implication is that you probably want to find a way to make expert-enabling features available because they probably serve that 80% of value to your product or service. Making those features available is what makes the experience simple for those users. But how to do it? One suggestion in the comments is practical and probably generizable for most web sites. Michael Zuschlag writes:
I think the answer is that, while experts do use expert features, even they rarely use them. Most of the time expert features are a distraction even for experts. That doesn’t necessarily mean designers must eliminate or hide expert features, but it does suggest that designs should be proportional, with commonly used features easy to see and select, and rarely used expert features being less obtrusive, even if less convenient.
Sound simple enough? The proof, I suppose, is when the executed design is deemed useful to the types of users it serves.
Google announced their Custom Search Engine Beta. Like the similar Rollyo service, Google CSE allows you to specify the sites you want searched. You can also tell the CSE to search the entire Google index, but give weight to those sites. It also gives you the option of excluding sites. You can also use patterns to specify parts of sites, e.g. to filter out urls including certain words.
There is an option to include the search form and results in your own site. To see that in action check out this job search page on my site.
One of the nicer features is refinement labels. This allows you to tag sites with a descriptive label that can be used to refine results. If, for example, you label sites in your set using facets, e.g. subject, type, etc., then those can be used to narrow the result set.
You can see the CSE I'm playing with for UX-related sites to see how this works (e.g. search for "sparklines"):
Or try this search of some of the newish niche web design/development job sites:
I've made these CSEs open so anyone can contribute to them by adding other UX-related sites to the list. I've also set the CSEs to limit to the sites specified. I tried with the option to search all of Google, but I noticed a little noise because many of the results were outside of the UX scope. It's simple enough, I suppose, to expand the search by clicking the "Web" radio.
I'm not sure how much I'll actually use this. I stopped using Rollyo after playing with it for a few days. But the added refinement functionalities make this service a bit more useful to me.
I had been looking for literature comparing the behavior of Intranet vs. Internet users as follow-on research from a blog entry I wrote about Ze Frank's Web 0.2 presentation and in reponse to a colleague's comment on the subject. The harder questions came up when I began exploring the topic of Internet/Intranet culture. As the increasing community of prosumers push the use of technology, as Internet users flock to social software and collaboration sites, how does this affect users of technology in the enterprise. Are business users taking risks with information technology? If they're not, why not? How does this all impact the evolution of collaborative technologies and how does that information feed back into products.
What I ended up reading didn't really answer all of these questions, but did get me to start thinking more about the evolution of blogs as social software. But, first, I want to talk about what I did find in the literature. The observations I found about intranet users were totally obvious. Culture and politics are key influencers when it comes to collaborating on the intranet. I'd already been saying that in my blog presentations. It's obvious. No major surprises there. Nothing in the research or academic literature seemed to be illuminating beyond that.
In the middle of attempting to read through papers, Boris Mann pointed me to a comment referring to karma as a motivator for collaboration in Drupal. Boris suggested that we might get to a point using Drupal where karma could be the basis for incenting collaboration.
I began wondering how these ideas apply in the corporate enterprise if at all. "This is excellent", I thought to myself after reading through this. Drupal developers thinking about more complex problems related to collaboration and how they can be solved with technology. But, to return to my problem, is this type of enabling technology pointless given a culture where people are not inclined to share? I once called this type of space a clenched-fist knowledge culture.
This is the space I was most concerned about when this inquiry started, because I perceive large companies that don't have a rich participatory information ecology to be positioning themselves for failure when it comes to knowledge management. But, while I'm generally interested in the topic of how to help transform clenched-fist knowledge cultures into open ones, that's not where I want to spend my valuable cycles these days. Instead, I'm interested in what to do to enable participants when the cultural space is open. How do you help them express themselves in that space?
I was reminded of some KM vendor presentations I had been to a few years ago where monetary incentive was mentioned as one key to sustainability. I don't remember the names of the products, but I found the suggestion interesting, but philosophically wrong. Years later, the explosion of blogs as the 99 cent KM solution emerged. The idea of incentive was interesting, but using money as the motivator was wrong-headed. With blogs we see that individuals may be more driven by selfish and unquantifiable incentives, e.g. self-promotion, prestige, authority, participation in a communal system because it gives back what individuals put in. These are not external motivators. They arise organically from within individuals -- from the grassroots.
In spaces where open knowledge sharing exists and where people seem to be getting as much from collaboration as they give, social software seems to fluorish. On the Internet, people take to Wikis, Weblogs, social networking communities and social bookmarking communities like mosquitoes to still water. Viewing the enterprise as a cultural petri dish, all you can do is set up the right environment and watch to see what grows.
For the most part, you can't simply drop social software into any cultural situation and expect it to "take". (I'm thinking about eggs attaching themselves to uterine walls as I write this. Sorry. Enough with the bad metaphors.) Install an enterprise wiki into a cold corporate space and no one will hear it die it's slow death. Perhaps a few users will exploit the technology, but if if the technology doesn't fit in with the culture, you're probably wasting valuable time. At a local level, this might not be the case, but in a large enterprise this might not cut it. Think of behemoth enterprises that drop SharePoint into the mix just because they can. Creating the pre-conditions for the right culture may seem to require withcraft or alchemy rather than business savvy. I can't tell you how to get that kind of change, although I'd like to see literature that talks to that issue.
If and when the cultural pre-conditions are right, then the enabling collaborative technology can be introduced. But we need to be certain that it focuses on objectives that provide value to users, that design for ease of use, efficiency, and relationship formation. When the object of the technology is relevant and the tool is implemented correctly, expression within an open culture may happen naturally and a rich, diverse ecology may emerge.
Here's an interesting job posting that came via Mark Hurst's Good Experience newsletter. Microsoft is hiring senior user experience people to "engage in a dialog about the impact of user experience on business and life." Fascinating!
Job Opening: Microsoft (Microsoft User Experience Evangelists )
Title: Microsoft User Experience Evangelists
Location: San Francisco/Bay Area and New York
Salary: $80 – 130K + bonus + options
Are you 'all about' user experience? Do you have a passion for design and the creative process, technical exposure in design and web development technologies, and curiosity and exceptional communication and presentation skills?
We are looking for User Experience Evangelists across the US and globally to engage the broader design community in a dialogue about the impact of user experience on business and life in general, and on how Microsoft's newest platforms and tools (MS Expression release 2007) are leading the market in enabling customers to build rich, immersive, compelling end-user experiences. These are NOT sales roles. Additionally, you will form a critical part of a strategic end user experience research group that delivers accurate feedback to the product development teams.
I'm not advertising this as much as I'm pointing it out as a bit of commentary. That they're taking user experience seriously is a good thing. But the Apple user in me wonders what it means that they're hiring people to sell it. Apple hires designers who espouse it and then let it emerge as an integral part of that brand's promise. Design is a core value at Apple. Is there a sea change in Microsoft where we can expect this kind of transformation into a company that truly cares at its core about elegant and simple user experiences rather than merely slapping on a graphic, rolling out it's long list of features and calling it user friendly?
I'm reminded of the Presentation Zen blog entry comparing the presentation styles of executives at Apple vs. at Microsoft. Apple presentations exude simplicity and elegance. Microsoft presentations pour everything at you including the kitchen sink. It's like the difference between a designer's approach to displaying a list and an engineer's. The designer obsesses over how to communicate effectively. The engineer takes care to be comprehensive in her presentation. (Sorry for the generalizations.) But I've digressed a bit haven't I?
I'm just wondering what brought about this need to hire evangelists. I wonder how they can "make" an evangelist of someone. I wonder how effective this campaign will be. Is it an attempt at viral marketing of the simplicity meme? I don't know. But if you're interested in applying, contact Rita Sue Siegel Associates.
Just noticed this new wiki feature today. Broken in Safari at the moment. They must have been adding this as I was trying it, because when I added the link to the wiki on Lou and Peter's book page, the URL wasn't clickable initially. When I revisited the page a short while later, the link was clickable. Strange. Wonder how this will be abused.
I noticed the citations feature today as well. Don't know how long it's been there. These are the citations for Lou and Peter's IA for the WWW book
Talk about feature creep. Amazing how much stuff they're cramming into these pages. Peter pointed out to me that they removed the sidebars, a detail I actually didn't notice before he mentioned it.
Many design elements work for Amazon.com mainly because of its status as the world's largest and most established e-commerce site. Normal sites should not copy Amazon's design.