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Internet User Experience 2007 - Day 1

Day 1 from Internet User Experience 2007 conference. Rough notes taken during the conference - I missed a few sessions because of work.

Techstreet.com redesign (with Enlighten)

  • Not like e-commerce since engineers are different and doing very specific things on this site
  • Increase browse/buy from 2% to 2.5%
  • Advice to presenters: Put the screen shots up front, instead of having talking points and saying "you will see the screen shots later"
  • Lawrence is the generalist and loved working with the Enlighten specialists ("wow, you get to be an IA all of the time?")
  • Old home page design - very functional but indicative of adding to and never removing, 11 years grew organically, never said "no" to stakeholders
  • New home page design: Branding focus ("who are we as a company?"), less navigation at the top of the page, shop by task (more than by publisher), pushed the customer service telephone number front and center, browse + search equally prominent
  • Search results: Most used page on the site. Correct document in correct format (52 choices). Example: Search for "usability" on Techstreet.
  • Publisher information page: Heavily indexed by search engines (thus often first page users see - designed like the home page). Example: NSF. Added branding element ("serious real estate"). Elevated the services (on the left) - global nav, not contextual to this publisher.
  • "The agency said no." (would not listen to Lawrence when he said the same thing)
  • Launched on Friday (so no data yet - will take months to measure this)
  • Questions: Rollout process? Flipped the switch to completely new site. Did you add new functions? No, moved things around, focused what was there. Better experience just by cleaning up. Re-did the code (to CSS).

Tec-Ed redesign

  • "The cobbler tries to make shoes for his children"
  • DIY challenges: Politics, content, customers, committees
  • Iteration from the internal designers: Heuristic evaluation and then user testing (to move forward, beyond internal struggles) and treat it as a "real project"
  • Usability testing: painful but useful (bad labels, dense content, images not appealing. Result: hire outside firm.
  • Like Techstreet, shocked at the state of proposals they received
  • More testing: "Why Tec-Ed?" is a good label. And so on.
  • End result: Very happy, outside design firm had great suggestions. Pictures of people and technology. Summary info at 3rd level (less dense text).
  • Lessons learned: Expertise does not mean you will have the time. Internal debates. Priorities. Bandwidth. What is OK to outsource? Fresh eyes.
  • Questions: Early struggles? Usability testing uncovered hidden requirements. Recruiting? Easy this time, colleagues and customers. Feedback so far? Very positive, reaching out to audiences they were aiming for. Budget crisis? Realized what you need to commit to a project like this.

Mini-workshop on "Positioning user experience in your organization" - Good wide-ranging discussion, from standardized, boring deliverables, to initiating organizational change, to usability vs. UX as a name, to being in IT vs. on the business side, to management prioritization.

Brand on web sites, John Yesko (now at Roundarch)

  • Graphic design: White/negative space = luxury; pack in the information for "nothing over $20" market (cramped is not lower quality design, just more appropriate design for the brand)
  • Navigation/IA: Separating totally different ideas into separate navigation, Users browse by category vs. Business pushing their marketing categories, Org-chart navigation (cannot find mobile phone products - left nav is their org chart). "Phones & consumer products" cf. "Business products". Want dish vs. Got dish? (nice try).
  • Bringing off-line brands online. Clear product categories (instead of being an adventure). Convention: Sales link in upper right for retail sites. "Gear bag" instead of "shopping cart" (trying to be branded/cute vs. web conventions)
  • Voice / copy writing. Serious vs. whimsical.
  • Questions. Profit vs. non-profit branding? Non-profits tend to be more territorial. Defining vs. communicating the brand?

Building an online community (Inner Circle Media): I missed the talk but Drupal was mentioned during the Q&A.

Guerilla Personas (not personas of gorillas), Matt Rehkopf, Fry

  • Why not more personas? They seem to get axed from projects often (the user research piece appears to be the killer expense)
  • Better personas: Downplay the personality, demographics; explain the behavior more. Connect to design decisions.
  • Difficulty mapping personas to business goals
  • Primary research not needed. "Buyer", "Shopper", "Browser" (with 3 versions of each) - 5 of them stick out from analytics.
  • Design decisions: 60 day shopping cart. By room, by topic. Easier to explore, big paging buttons. Iconic navigation. Quick order. Catalog badge.
  • Can you reverse engineer assumed personas?
  • Questions: How to leverage web analytics? What if starting from scratch - no data to start with? Do primary research.

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Save the date for DUX: November 5-7

The date and location for DUX 2007 were just made public: November 5-7, Chicago, Illinois, USA. This is the 3rd Conference on designing for user experience. I missed the first DUX in 2003, attended the second in 2005.

We are planning some UXnet meetings in conjunction with the conference - so I am definitely going. The challenge will be to get back home for World Usability Day on November 8th. Being in Chicago will help.

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Development in the fast lane

The CIO article Development in the fast lane has some interesting stories about the combination of simulation software, user-centered design, usability engineers as business analysts, and agile methods.

Innovation for everyone

One of the US ibm.com home page features this week is Innovation for everyone. Instead of building a world which people (are forced to) adapt to, let's have the world adapt to human differences and special abilities.

(While the Flash version is acceptable for getting an overview of the topic, I personally find the plain-old HTML version easier to read in depth. The audio version is more than just a nice touch in this case.)

There are 3 major themes to the article:

  • Shades of ability: Going from a black-and-white "normal/disabled" model, to shades of ability, to the social focus on access, to a complex model that takes into account environmental context. The innovation happens when we take down the barriers within an experience designed for certain abilities.
  • Open standards open doors: Examples where open standards enable user customization, so people can make an IT environment that matches their unique abilities.
  • Designing for everyone: Universal design principles as "good business design."

IBM home page executive editor Derek Baker also interviews John Kemp.

I chatted with Derek briefly while he was working on this feature - about how universal usability fits in nicely with innovation for everyone. Nothing specifically about UU made it in, but it still turned out to be a very good Idea from IBM.

Involution goes Mad(house)

News item: Former Toledo user experience guru Dirk Knemeyer (now on the west coast) and his Involution Studios tapped Perrysburg firm Madhouse Creative to help design templates for a Yahoo! small business product.

Thanks for sending some work back home, Dirk. We do have some talent around here. And I hope my link for Madhouse makes them a little easier to find on Google - there is another "Madhouse Creative" in British Columbia that gets top billing - let's change that.

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Nexus for Change

I dipped my toe into the field of organization development last year when I attended a workshop on Management by discovery. Despite being a total outsider (I was among people who had advanced degrees in this), people seemed interested in my stories of how large organizations were adapting to the challenges triggered by the web. It only takes a few examples for people to see how designing a user-centered web site can expose gaps in how the business is organized. And how businesses are changing in order to survive. It is sorta a corollary to Conway's Law:

Organizations which build web sites are constrained to produce information architectures which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations

(Thanks to Steve Portigal for helping me find that Conway article from 1968. I started looking for it 6 months ago. Our local library has it stashed away somewhere, but would not send me a copy - who has time to go visit a library?)

I am going to dip a larger body part into "organization development" in two months. I will be attending Nexus for change, March 22-23, at BGSU. "An unprecedented conference bringing together practitioners, researchers, leaders, activists, and educators to advance participative change methods."

I won't be the only user experience person there. Peter Jones of Redesign Research and fellow UXnet local ambassador in Ohio is presenting.

A few hours after this event is over, I will be getting on a plane for the IA Summit in Las Vegas, so I am hoping I will be able to synthesize something from these worlds.

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Five things about me

I finally got tagged for the "5 things you probably do not know about me" chain letter blog doohicky. Thanks Bryce - sorta. Here goes, I will play along, but I do refuse to pass this on.

  1. One of my first brushes with fame as a lad came in a local parade, where I pushed a wheel barrow behind a horse-drawn float. There was only 1 incident where I had to use the shovel, but it was at the end of the parade, in front of the grandstand full of people. I was known as the "pooper scooper" for a while after that. By the way, those are the same grandstands you would sit in if you attended the National Tractor Pulling Championships.
  2. I cannot count the number of times I have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I know all of the lines by heart. The kids enjoy the movie too - not sure if that is a sign of a good or bad parent. I would happily go see Spamalot once a week.
  3. I got started down my career path in 8th grade when I bought my own Ohio Scientific computer. In my senior year of high school, I was programming an IBM 360 for college credit.
  4. In the late 80's / early 90's, I was very active in the college hockey community. My antics varied, from developing "The College Hockey Computer Rating", to consulting for the NCAA, to editing the BGSU Falcon hockey fanzine "Beulah's Bugle."
  5. I also play ice hockey - goalie. I am not very good but I enjoy it.

If you really want to know more about my "personal side", then check out instones.org - our family blog.

IBM and the local economy

IBM's engagement with RGP to build an "economic identity" database for the region is over and it sounds like it was a success. (See my earlier blog post on the announcement.) This is the only coverage of the final result that I have been able to find:

Leave a comment if you find any other news of this.

I do not know if this is related or not, but IBM has a classified ad in the jobs section of the Toledo Blade this morning.

IT - IBM Corporation. Maumee, OH, surrounding locations and various locations throughout the U.S. We are looking for experienced Technical Professionals, including but not limited to Engineers, Software Engineers, IT Architects/ Specialists, System Analysts/ Administrators, and Business Consultants. Competitive salary and benefits. Preferred experience in Java, C++, Unix/Linux, AIX, SQL, UML, or SAP, etc. Bachelor's or Master's degrees required, or equivalent.....

In IBM HR lingo, I am one of those "IT specialists." Good to see IBM interested in this area. Maybe, since they built the database, they saw a trend that this area was an untapped market for IT professionals? Or maybe this is just part of a normal sweep for applicants.

The ad listed a PO Box for resumes, but of course you can also search online.

  • US jobs for an overview of employment at IBM
  • Search for IBM jobs - "Powered by peopleclick" so it does no good to send me usability problems you encounter (^:

I did a search for all IBM jobs associated with the major cities in the area (not just Toledo but also towns like Lima, Upper Sandusky and Archbold) and got 937 results. I did not see anything specific to the area - all of the locations were "Flexible". Still, if you live in this area, IBM could have a job for you - I have been a happy employee for almost 6 years now....

Guy Kawasaki coming to the area, April 13th

Guy Kawasaki is coming to BGSU in mid-April as part of the 4th Annual Sebo Series in Entrepreneurship.

Tom Kelley of IDEO spoke last year, but I did not learn about it in time.

I think I can make this one - just waiting for more details from the BGSU Entrepreneurship program (and yes, that is local-boy-done-good Scott Hamilton helping to fund all of this).

Update:

IUE panel on the state of the web UX

I will be a part of the panel "The State of Web Site User Experience in 2007", along with Dave Mitropoulos-Rundus and Stephanie Rosenbaum on February 21st. This will wrap up the second day of presentations at Internet User Experience 2007, a conference in Ann Arbor.

This panel explores the user experience that is most prevalent on web sites today and debates the highest impact options for making improvements. The panelists, each of whom is involved in web design, explain how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with the state of web site usability today. Attendees will walk away with a sense of purpose and focus on the highest impact improvements for today and the future.

Dave runs these panels about once a year; I am glad that I could return after participating in 2003. I wonder what I will say! And how will I make sure folks come away with a "sense of purpose...for today and the future."

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