One trend I have noticed in many video games produced within the last couple of years is that the game teaches you to play it as you play it and assumes that you haven't read the manual. More often than not, those assumptions are well founded. Mario&Luigi: SuperStar Saga is one of those games where I need the on-the-job training, and Project Gotham Racing 2 (PGR2) isn't.
The manual for Mario&Luigi is so bad that it should be training me on how to use it (like the O'Reilly books do). On every page of the manual there are page numbers for more in depth explanations of the game mechanics, and quite often, there really isn't any info at all except for the page reference. IMHO, good manuals cover the basics up front in a linear fashion (ie, know this, then know this second thing and then know this third thing and you should have enough to go on). The manic, random access info architecture of the Mario&Luigi manual makes it a complete HASSLE to read and nearly impossible to grok when your job, wife and daughter are placing high premiums on your time.
Not that I'm planning on it, but if I was going to start Argus II, our motto would be "We put the 'I' in 'IT'!" Whether bundled with IT or not, that should be the goal of information architects in the marketplace. And maybe it's time to seriously consider unbundling IA from IT.What I'm wondering is how this would play out in companies like Sapient where the whole IA part of the project is just that, a part of the project (not a review phase or initial design phase). How would those employing Xtreme Programming be impacted (assuming they bothered to get IA into the project as a priority)?
Back at my last job, IA came in the form of robust discovery sessions and application prototypes occurring in short time frame iterations. How would a decoupling impact the speed at which an application could be prototyped, developed, and CHANGED?
How would a decoupled IA go about getting a user centric feature change implemented in a half-developed system? How and why does Lou's perspective, skills and experience lead him to this idea? I can't help but think I am misunderstanding something.
PTI is IA on TV.
August 8, 2002 10:03 AM
I don't know if Info Architects are sports fans. In fact, I'd be willing to guess not, but if there's any sports show to make the IA feel at home, it's Pardon The Interruption, better known as PTI. Take a look at the interface when the show comes on and you will have a basic idea about what they will be talking about, what they did talk about and how long they are talking about the current subject.
On top of all this, or serving as a foundation is a simple idea of two guys (complete sports junkies) talking about sports, but in a Sportscenter++ kind of way. And if you take time to compare PTI to Sportscenter you will see a concrete example of Nathan's Venn-like diagram in his Field Theory showing data becoming information and information becoming knowledge and knowledge becoming Wisdom.
Sportscenter is based on Data and Information while PTI is based on Knowledge and Wisdom, and makes it the best sports show on TV.
When prototyping, go for broke.
August 1, 2002 4:27 AM
In Chris Farnum's article What an IA Should Know About Prototypes for User Testing, the issue of the 'degree of fidelity' is addressed...
Usability practitioners like Barbara Datz-Kauffold and Shawn Lawton Henry are champions for low fidelity --the sketchier the better! Meanwhile, Jack Hakim and Tom Spitzer advocate a medium- to high-fidelity approach that gives users a closer approximation of a finished version. You'll want to make a decision about the right approach for you based on the needs of your project.
I'll add in my two cents and say that the higher the fidelity the better, within the constraint of the cost of the prototype. As in, the more you can make the user forget about the medium of the prototype, and thus the more you can make them focus on what's important, the better. In my experience, clients, customers and users (often, all the same person/people) have a hard time getting around anything in the prototype that doesn't make sense. I have often had to fully immerse the user in the prototype by including relevant and current data in a prototype.
Again, when the user/client was able to 'suspend their disbelief' (a term often used within the scope of watching a movie) due to a high fidelity prototype, they were more apt to comment on the interaction design and usability of the prototype. This point is made is made in Farnum's article, and I'm offering a concrete example.
Unfortunately, the higher the 'fidelity' of the prototype, the more it is going to cost, in terms of time and money (and time is money).
To go thru the effort of creating a prototype that is very similar to the envisioned finished product means you need to get real data, real information, real design and real effort involved. None of that is cheap, and will often dictate how realistic the prototype can be made. I my opinion, prototyping is like buying a computer. Figure out how much cash[time] you have to spend and buy the best thing you can afford.
At any rate, I started putting together an overview of the field, and come up with the stuff you see below. I found it pretty interesting to see what I included and what I didn't...
Usability is a varied field under a parent field called Information Architecture (IA). The most well known and controversial Usability person is Jakob Nielsen who's AlertBox is usually a good read and offers practical advice. Im my opinion, Nielsen is the Pat Buchanon of web design due to his somewhat right wing, reactionary and rigid rules. He's a scientist, not an artist.
Nielsen has several books out on the market. The Designing Web Usability book is pretty good, and is a common sense guide to good usability. His other, more recent book is a good visual guide to the mistakes of others, which helps you avoid those mistakes in your own work.
Raskin wrote a great book called "The Human Interface" that is academic, but approachable and very readable. He gets bogged down at times in interface efficiency which I think is a low priority in commercial web design (my opinion!). For applications that involve repetitive tasks, Raskin is a great person to look to for help on designing humanely. but again, he's not a visual designer. Neither is Tog, even though he worked with Apple on the Mac interface back in the good ol' days.
Cooper is the stand out in my opinion. His company is an IA firm that offers help on designing apps that are usable, attractive and user centric.
Morville and Rosenfeld wrote the seminal book on usability and IA called "Information Architecture". I own it, and when I read it, I knew everything already, but it was great to see all of the basics encapsulated in one book. Another book called "Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience" is, in my opinion, a sister to the IA book. Both should be read and understood thoroughly by any User Interface professional.
Nathan Shedroff wrote Experience Design which is a nice visual book that present examples of design experiences, which are not always web based. I really like Nathan's style and subscribe to his preachings. Recently, he was the lead IA on the new Herman Miller Red site.
Jesse James Garret has produced a visual Vocabulary for interaction design that I have slowly adopted in my work at WebCritical. I've made my own modifications to it, but it works as a flow charting language that is tailored to the needs of the web interaction designer.
Beyond these people there are MANY other resources on the net that can be of help to the Information Architect. I won't bother listing them all here, because Garret has a nice list available on the web. But it doesn't mention 37signals which has a good periodical about good and bad design on the web.
Don't forget, science informs knowledge.
February 15, 2002 4:39 AM
In jjg's latest ia/recon installment he says...
If our discipline continues to develop along its current course, we will have developed an entire body of knowledge about information architecture that amounts to little more than a set of tips and tricks for beating the test. Meanwhile, the real creative problems inherent in our work will remain as poorly understood as they are today.
...and I have to believe that there is a lot of practical value in that result. You see, there has been some discussion in the past about 'practical IA' vs 'fundamental IA.' Garret asserts that "It's a lot easier to defend science than it is to defend opinion, even when that opinion is informed by experience and professional judgment." I expect the best IA's will be those that can offer evidence of 'beating the test' with the confidence of experience to back it up.
This will be old news to some people, but it's worth bringing up again...
Christina Wodke is working on a new site called badpractices.com that will be some sort of websites-that-suck archive with an eye towards bad usability, bad interface and bad Info Architecture. Since Christina's site is in Blog format, some people posted their feelings/ideas about the project. In particular, I found the following quote in a post from Nadav important...
"I would personally find goodpractices.com more helpful."
And perhaps he's right, but there is still a ton to gain from examples of bad practices. Personally, I find examples of bad stuff, and why it's bad, to be more helpful. Now, Mark Twain has been attributed the following quote...
"Good decisions come from experience, experience comes from bad decisions"
...and I tend to agree. It seems to me that being told what is good or 'correct' doesn't help creativity. It tends to narrow things down by offering the proven and easy path. Having an open ended path suggested by things to avoid keeps the creative door open to new solutions.
Humans have a rich awareness of location and situation that directs how we interpret and interact with our environment. The Information Architecture project seeks to create information spaces, where people will use this awareness to search, browse, and learn. In the same way that they navigate in the physical environment, they will navigate through knowledge.That sounds a lot like Adobe's Atmosphere application. MIT's efforts will be a bit more academic than Adobe's or Triplecode's, complete with various publications with titles like "Ligature: Gesture-Based Configuration of the E21 Intelligent Environment." Just go here and click on the publications link to read more.