WUD Research-Practice Interaction pre-work

On November 11th - World Usability Day - I will have the honor of giving a keynote "talk" at the Dayton-area event. I say "talk" in quotes because I really want it to be a more interactive session, where I provide enough background to get the discussion going, then the audience (participants, really) take over from there.

In the spirit of trying to make it easier for attendees to become participants, Douglas Gardner, the awesome organizer of the event at LexisNexis, has asked me to compile some pre-work / questions that he can distribute to people who have signed up to attend the Dayton event. I feel like a teacher giving students homework to do, but here goes!

Issues to consider, questions to ask yourself

  • If you are a user experience practitioner, what types of challenges do you face often that you wish you had a "scientific" answer to? Have you tried to find answers in the research literature? What roadblocks did you encounter when looking for answers? What successes have you had in taking research findings and improving your practice?
  • If you are a researcher, what is the value in engaging with practitioners? What is in it for you? Do you have any examples of success stories, where your research got better because of interactions you had with practitioners?
  • What should students of HCI, interaction design and other user experience disciplines be taught about research to better prepare themselves for the practitioner world?

Things to read

Things to do

  • If you are on Twitter, tweet something about the research-practitioner interaction topic with the #uxrpi hashtag.
  • Get a napkin (or some scrap of paper) and sketch something. Bring it to the session, you will have a chance to share this with every one else. (Even better, post your sketch to Flickr.)
  • Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to what you think are the most important research-practitioner challenges. Or make a list of solutions you know about from other fields. Bring it to the session.

Also, I have not quite figured out how to handle the interactiveness with a session in Ottawa who is planning on listening in remotely. My IBM/Cognos colleagues are hosting their own WUD event and will be joining both IBM's Social Media in the Workplace session (at noon ET USA) and mine (at 3:30).

And we might have others joining us remotely. We will have a LiveMeeting and call in: (800) 963-3556 / Conf ID: 266.4656. 3:30pm ET USA, November 11.

I hope I can make the session worthwhile for everyone who joins us.

November 21 update: I finally got around to posting the slides (as presented) on SlideShare.

So you wanna be on our UX team? (BGSU ARTD 4050)

I did an intro to user experience for members of the BGSU ARTD 4050 Interactive Graphic Design classes this morning. The instructors, Amy Fidler and Jenn Stucker, also had guest speakers on kiosk design and social media. Sort of a "mini conference" of talks from practitioners for the students. Always happy to help out like this!

PDF of my slides

I tried something different this time, putting it all in the context of the student applying for a job on my fictional user experience team, and giving them questions they should ask of their potential employer. Sometimes I answered the question from the point of view of a "good" company to work for; sometimes what you might get from a "bad" company.

Below are the set of questions I prepared to seed the discussion. As usual, the class asked better questions than I prepared. The one that I think generated the best discussion was how they, as graphic designers on a user experience team, would work with the technical folks. Good: an integrated team where the developers worked hand-in-hand with the graphic designers. Bad: where designs were thrown "over the fence" and then ignored.

I ran out of time and did not get to do a quick overview of things to stay in touch with to help the students learn more, so let me list those here for the students:

A couple of people (on Twitter, Facebook) thought the idea of using a job interview as the setting for an intro to UX for students was interesting. It seemed to work OK here. But this was my first time trying it, so I already have some ideas on how to do it better next time. I will definitely prepare several "company" scenarios ahead of time - typical company/team profiles that match the types of places the students want to work. I used personal experience at IBM as one profile, of course, but talking with the students, they mentioned "print firms getting into digital" as a more likely company they would be applying to. Procter & Gamble (with its branding focus) was another. Small design agencies, Large design agencies: two more settings that I think would expose interesting answers about UX.

But it was fun trying something different. Getting out of the house. Hanging out with the students.

Finally, here are my prepared set of questions. (If you want my set of good and bad answers for each, sorry, I made up most of those answers up on the spot, only a few are covered in the slides.)


  • What is your definition of user experience?
  • Within the company, who "owns" the experience with the customer (consumer, citizen, constituent, partner, …) Does anyone think they own it?
  • Which channels does the team focus on – only web? Is mobile "hot" or "huh"?

About the team

  • Who else is on the UX team? What are their backgrounds? Who specializes in what things, which activities are shared?
  • What would my role on the team be? Would I specialize in the graphic design work? How much technical work would I do? Would there be an opportunity for me to branch out into other UX activities?

How the team works

  • How does the UX team collaborate with other parts of the business (such as stakeholders and technical teams)? Tell me a story of a typical engagement for the UX team.
  • Is this a single, centralized UX team, or is it one of several UX teams distributed throughout the company? Is this a "project" team or a "manager" team (which works on many projects)?
  • What UX methods does the team use? Do you have a "methodology" or just "methods"? Agile or waterfall? How would you compare your idea of the "complete method" (all of the steps needed to design for a good experience) compare with the actual methods the team has time/resources to do in practice?

Work atmosphere, culture

  • What professional development opportunities are there? Does our team participate in any local UX communities?
  • What does the team read (together)? Do team members write/contribute regularly?
  • Do we have time to "innovate" (try out new ideas)? Or just heads down and do the basics? Are we rewarded for failing?

The business

  • Who are the users? What are their goals? What specific tasks does the team design for? What is an example of some recent user research you did? Was it focus groups, a survey, ethnographic, remote usability testing?
  • What are some of the specific business goals that the UX team is designing for? How does the team UX strategy support the strategic direction of the company?
  • How is the team measured?

Researcher-practitioner interaction update (UXRPI)

I spent some time lately catching up with the status of various things related to my recent researcher-practitioner interaction efforts, my latest "UX community give back" focus. Something I try to make small advancements in during my "spare" time, with the hope of helping foster some longer-term benefits. Some of this is a repeat of postings/comments on gaps and IUE but it helps me (at least) to compile it all together in a new way.

Information architecture research, practice

Andrea Resmini and I wrote up our view of the IA Summit session we led for the August/September 2010 ASIS&T Bulletin. I think we list some do-able ideas at the end that could turn into something concrete for the community to embark on.

I have not seen any reaction to the report or the possible next steps. Even some negative response would be a sign that someone read it and cares enough to tell us we are full of it.

I do know that Dan Klyn has read it: the same Dan Klyn who ran for office in IAI and won a spot on the board. Andrea and others have already done a good job of showing how to mature the IA practice in IAI's Journal of IA. Perhaps one of the progress grants will focus on the increasing researcher-practitioner interaction in IA. The IDEA 2010 program has a Friday session that is related. "(How Is This All) Going To Work?" focuses on the educational aspect: if they could add the "research" role that educators often share, then it would be right on target. So I have some hope the IA Institute will pick up some of our IA research/practice ideas and challenges and run with them in some way.

As for any ASIS&T follow-ups, a few folks had ideas on how to continue the discussion at the ASIS&T annual meeting next month, but I do not see anything explicit in the program. Euro IA was last week: great looking program, but nothing specific about research/practice interaction. The IA Summit 2011 planning continues, so there is still a chance to have a consortium or some other session to help put specific ideas into motion.

CHI conference

I am still trying to digest all that I learned at the 1-day workshop and follow-up special interest group discussion at the CHI conference. The wiki we set up for the workshop - research-practice-interaction.wikispaces.com - has the position papers and notes from the sessions. I have the physical materials (flip charts and post-it notes) from the sessions and should make another pass through them to see what great points have not been captured on the wiki. And clean the wiki up some more.

One thing that has been useful for me is the overall model of the problem space that emerged for me.

Research, HCI culture on left. Corporate, practice culture on right. Bridges: Education, Knowledge-sharing, Communication.

  • There is a "pillar" of challenges associated with the research culture overall and the HCI research culture in particular. Those are on the left.
  • Similar pillar of challenges on the right: the corporate culture overall and user experience practice culture in particular.
  • It is hard to change culture. There may be some opportunities to address some of the challenges directly in each/both pillars, but be aware what you are getting yourself into if you try to tackle them.
  • There are 3 levels of bridging, across the middle: Education (fundamental training and schooling), Knowledge-sharing (helping researchers and practitioners by sharing details on a regular basis) and Communication (just making sure we can talk with each other in an intelligent way).
  • Improving simple communication between researchers and practitioners is one place to start. Sharing knowledge is harder (but has the bigger pay-off) and forming an educational foundation should lead to the ability to address deeper challenges.

Net: what I learned at CHI is helping me understand the landscape. It also inspired me to continue with all of this.

But the workshop/SIG had some specific goals around driving improvements for future CHI conferences. Lots of good ideas were generated, but like all volunteer efforts, they only come to be when someone steps up to make them happen. Here is what is in the works for CHI 2011 to improve researcher-practitioner interaction:

  • Communities, communities, communities. Arnie Lund is leading a revival of the community aspect of the CHI conference. The 4 "established" communities drive specific parts of the program and act as "entry points and guides for researchers and practitioners...help attendees and authors find ways to connect with the conference more effectively." New in 2011 are "featured" communities that provide more ways to increase RPI. For example, Health lists the benefits of research-practice interaction several times.
  • For the UX community (that I am most interested in), Elizabeth Buie and Jhilmil Jain are building upon the CHI 2010 workshop that they helped organize. They have set up a LinkedIn group for the CHI UX community to help the cause. Join it!
  • There are other efforts in progress to fine-tune parts of the process and to make the program more accessible to practitioners (like, doing a better job of providing "practitioner take-aways" for research papers). As I hear about specific advances, I will let you know. The key is always volunteers to make things happen, so if you are interested in helping out, let me know and I will put you in touch with the right people.

Norman, translational developers

As you start pouring time into a volunteer effort like this, you start to wonder if this is an important problem to try to solve. If you are lucky, then someone prominent is reaching the same conclusions as you are. That happened in May when Don Norman published his The Research-Practice Gap article. It appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of interactions later. A must-read for anyone interested in this topic.

When I posted a comment on my site about the article, I mentioned I did not agree with everything in the article. Don replied and that started some email discussion back and forth between us. So in the spirit of disagreeing a bit, let me point out a few things about the article (knowing it is dangerous to debate with someone who is a lot smarter than you):

  • I do agree that the gap between researchers and practitioners exists within professional associations (and their conferences), but one thing that Don does not point out is that those are some of the best means to address the gaps. Don calls for a new discipline, translational developers: it should be created within our existing organizational structures, in my opinion.
  • Separate "discipline"? I am not convinced we need a new "discipline" - maybe we just need more people who are willing/capable of working across disciplines. Find ways to have more people spend a few years as a researcher, then a few years as a practitioner, and so on. And "discipline" seems academic: I am more interested in business models which make this a career path that our best and brightest are interested in.
  • Translational developers? Why "developers"? In my UX practitioner world, "developers" means you write code. In one of his talks, Don used the term Translational Engineering. A little better. I think we need some work on what to call this thing. "Translational entrepreneur"?: someone who has figured out how to get rich doing this.

And on a more "write a better article" slant, I enjoyed learning about Pasteur's quadrant but it really bugged me that the article did not include a figure that was an actual quadrant. So I drew one myself - and Don kindly made it better.

Pasteur's quadrant with quotes from Don Norman's article.

I have not seen any blog postings or online discussions of Don's article, so maybe this post will stir up something. Having Don "raise the flag" should help all of us make progress.

Internet User Experience panel

Don's article was one of the topics at a panel I organized at the IUE conference (slides, Twitter stream and other details). I hope the attendees found the session useful, but I liked it because:

  • I got 3 more people engaged as panelists. Susan Weinschenk, Danielle Cooley and Mark Newman did prep work together to create short and long versions of their position on different issues. They have their own critiques of Norman's article, for example: now we need to figure out how to get the discussion going.
  • We did more napkin drawing to get the audience engaged. That has worked twice now, I want to keep doing it more.
  • One of Mark's points was about the trend of translational research that is catching on in medicine. This is a good reminder that many fields are struggling with the same issues: we may need to look beyond our traditional "industry" for some answers.

Again, check out the compilation of info about the panel to find out more. These are just a few hi-lites.

Demarcating UX

One more thing to mention. I was invited to the Demarcating User eXperience seminar that took place 2 weeks ago. I could not make it, but Elizabeth Buie kindly agreed to attend to help connect researcher-practitioner interaction efforts.

This quote from the seminar shows the relationship: "UX is seen as a holistic concept covering all aspects of experiencing a phenomenon, but we are facing the point where UX has become a concept too broad to be useful in practice. Practitioners have difficulties to understand the concept and to improve UX in their work, and researchers rather use some other term to make their research scope clear."

From what I have heard (and seen), the seminar went well and I am looking forward to what they share as a result (some sort of white paper). You can check out the position papers and other preparation material.

Since I was not there, I will not comment a lot on the preparation material, but my personal favorites are statements from the practitioners whom I know.

  • Nigel Bevan: "UX Should Not be Demarcated!"
  • Elizabeth: "If the practitioners can't use it [the white paper], it doesn't work!"
  • David Gilmore: About the relativity of experience, and the innovation cycle

Staying in touch

As these different strands of activity progress - and more crop up - and we discover other strands that are already in motion, staying in touch with it all is a big challenge. What is the simplest thing we can do? To me, that is to use a common tag that people can attach to different objects that represent progress in researcher-practitioner interaction.

I did some poking around and thought that uxrpi would be a good starting point. Short form of "User experience researcher-practitioner interaction". So I started tagging my tweets with it. And Flickr photos. And this blog posting. Let's see if it provides any value. If we need more mailing lists or groups or whatever, then that is fine, we can do that too.

If this post inspires you to write up your own comments on Don's article, or to dispute something that I said, or if you know of more going on to try to improve researcher-practitioner interaction, use the UXRPI tag. That will help others discover it.

What is next for me? A keynote about this for the Tri-State World Usability Day at LexisNexis & Elsevier in Dayton (Ohio) on November 11th. Hope to see some of you there!

(Oh, and this really did start out as a short blog post. Then it grew and grew and grew...)

Toledo Region Brand Platform

The beta version of assets for the Toledo Region Brand Platform were distributed back in June. I took a peek back then, have re-read them a few times since, but thought I had better try to write up something to help me make sense of it. This blog posting is just "what it is" - without any commentary on what I think about it (which will come later).

But wait: what the heck is this initiative and why do I care about it? It is part of a long-term effort to take the best of corporate branding techniques and apply it to where I live, with a focus on improving economic develop efforts. Place branding is one term for it. So far, I have gone to several of the community forums & one of the working sessions, and pestered the guys at Applied Storytelling (who are helping lead this) with my feedback and user experience point of view. I probably only know enough to be dangerous.

I am interested for several reasons. I see some similarities to what I do for IBM (help translate corporate branding goals into digital experiences) and taking this "public sector" view might give me insights to help me do my IBM job better. I think I can contribute to these regional efforts: designing digital experiences will be an important part of the Toledo branding efforts. And anything I can do to help the Toledo-area economy grow might help my kids later.

(If you want to learn more about these effort, start at toledoregionstory.com. You can also do some searches for "toledo region brand" to find some local media coverage.)

On with my recap of the 3 documents from June 16th, the beta version of the Toledo Region Brand Platform:

About the initiative, so far (pages 3-22)

  • Why? Competing for jobs, talent, investment money. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh examples.
  • Bring together messages for key audiences. Tell a good story of what makes us unique, clear promises.
  • Lots of existing background research (including IBM study). Community work sessions, interviews with business leaders.
  • Brand: unique & valuable, what NOT to be, fit with reality, some industries lead, others follow.
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. Universities. Smart manufacturing. "Toledo" in the name. Downtown. Water. Infrastructure. "World-class assets in a mid-sized package".

The brand platform (pages 23-74)

  • Essence --> (Promise | Positioning | Personality) --> (Logo | Visual system | Messaging/Backstory | Tagline | Name | Descriptor) --> (Brand Visual Guidelines | Brand Voice Guidelines) --> (Digital Media | Event Environments | Packaging | Print Communications | Advertising).
  • Essence: Toledo Region, appealing region in the State of Ohio.
  • Brand drivers: Access, Affordability.
  • Positioning: Economic Development. Secondary: Learn, Quality of Life, Play.
  • New manufacturing. Computing. Deploy technology. Sustainability. Product customization. Across industries.
  • Position #1: "The Toledo Region is the destination of choice for tomorrow's entrepreneurs and leaders in the New Manufacturing Economy." Yes, it is Credible, Ownable, Defensible, Relevant.
  • Position #2: "The Toledo Region offers the highest quality of life at the most reasonable cost of virtually any other place in the nation." C-O-D-R.
  • Position #3: "The Toledo Region is the water recreation capital of the Midwest." C-O-D-R.
  • Promise: Find everything you need to accelerate your opportunity -- in the heart of the New Manufacturing Economy.
  • Descriptors: Plug and play. (Plug in and learn.) (Live the best for the least.) (More scenic. More shoreline. More fun.)
  • Personality: warm (interested in people), worldly (well-informed), enterprising (decisions, motion). (Often under-utilized. Emotional aspect of the brand.)

Messaging (pages 75-95)

  • Relevant/resonate, Clear/organized, Well-integrated, Different ways to communicate with audiences. Based on the brand promise.
  • Audience #1 (Economic development): Toledo Region-Based Entrepreneur. Wants: infrastructure, talent, peer support, low COB, business success. Promise: Existing activity, efficient business operations, academic & peer support.
  • Audience #2 (Quality of life): Talent. Wants: quality/affordable housing, cultural activities, schools, medical; professional and personal fulfillment. Promise: Low cost-of-living, world-class but more intimate amenities, "big small town".
  • Audience #3 (Education): Prospective College Student. Wants: Options, top programs, career, affordable. Promise: academic options, business connections, job in the new manufacturing economy.
  • Audience #4 (Tourism): Leisure Tourist. Wants: character, experiences, nice people, easy to get to. Promise: water, recreation, sports.

The story for ED (pages 96-109)

  • New Manufacturing Economy. Manufacturing mindset. No more centralized command and control.
  • Research, design, manufacturing, logistics. Talent, capital, networks.
  • Shorelines, islands, riverbanks (not concrete). Deep, lasting roots.

Channels, touch points and integration (pages 110-131)

  • All channels, every channel.
  • You have no choice but to build a brand online. Web site as hub, fed by social media. Web experiences.
  • Web site mock-ups. Living-Working-Visiting-Learning. Banner ad, mall sign, mobile.
  • Integration into local company marketing efforts: Mud Hens example.
  • Transparent participation in social media. YouTube instead of TV.

Implementation (pages 132-133)

  • Obviously, there is a lot more detail to the plan than is shown here. Is looks like a local agency (or several of them) is set to be hired soon. Then developing something by the end of the year and launching it in January.

Again, this posting is really just a way to force me to comb through the material to help me understand it better. If you found it useful or interesting, great! Now to find some time to figure out what it all means.

Internet User Experience conference, July 26-28

I am doing some prep for this year's Internet User Experience conference. (6th year? This "regional" conference has stood the test of time and only gets better.) I plan on being there Monday-Wednesday, July 26-28. Exactly which sessions I will attend, when I arrive/drive home, and which sessions I skip to do some IBM work while I am there is TBD, but there are 2 things I am doing for sure (panels that I am on):

The research-practice interaction panel is good because it is forcing me to go back to the CHI and IAS work from this spring, and add in newer things like Don Norman's interactions article (that just arrived in paper form).

I will also try hard to get to these sessions:

The content strategy and agile UX sessions look good. I do not know a lot about eye-tracking, so I might hit one of those sessions. Many other sessions are interesting, but it will depend on my work schedule, or if I am in the middle of a good conversation in the hallway, etc. (One more: UPA's Usability Body of Knowledge (BoK) project, if I can stay that late on Wednesday.)

I hope you can make it to the conference as well! If you are a user experience professional in the Toledo/Detroit/Ann Arbor area, there is no excuse for missing this great event.

Blog topics: 

Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic: Players on Twitter

This week is the 2010 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger here in the Toledo region. (I will be there Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings as a volunteer.) Last year, I followed some of the LPGA players who were in the field on Twitter: added to the tournament experience. So I decided to again see who was on Twitter.

Working from the Tournament Field List (on LPGA.com and as a PDF), I used the LPGA Players on the Web page, @LPGA's Tour Players list and some Twitter/Google searching to get a list of 44 Twitter accounts for the 148 players (see the table below).

I made my own Twitter list (jfocc-2010-players), in case you want to follow what the players are talking about during their week in the Toledo region.

Kyeong Bae: @KyeongBae Christina Kim: @TheChristinaKim
Mallory Blackwelder: @MalBlackwelder Mindy Kim: @mindykim89
Amanda Blumenherst: @Blumenherst Cindy LaCrosse: @CindyLaCrosse
Jane Chin: @janechin1121 (added, did not start)
Nicole Castrale: @NicoleCastrale (withdrew)
Stacy Lewis: @Stacy_Lewis
Irene Cho: @TheIreneCho Brittany Lincicome: @Brittany1golf
Chella Choi: @ChellaChoi Pernilla Lindberg: @pernillagolf
Paula Creamer: @ThePCreamer Paige Mackenzie: @Paige_Mackenzie
Diana D'Alessio: @DeeDAlessio Catriona Matthew: @Beany25 (did not start)
Meredith Duncan: @Meredith_Duncan Jill McGill: @jillymcgilly
Allison Fouch: @AllisonFouch Kristy McPherson: @KRISTY2208
Louise Friberg: @louisefriberg Janice Moodie: @Scotgolfer
Sandra Gal: @TheSandraGal Jane Park: @The_JPark
Morgan Pressel: @morganpressel76 (late addition to my list)
Julieta Granada: @Juliegranada Anna Rawson: @TheAnnaRawson
Natalie Gulbis: @natalie_gulbis Beatriz Recari: @BeatrizRecari
Nicole Hage: @NicoleHage Jean Reynolds: @TheJeanReynolds
Mina Harigae: @minaharigae Marianne Skarpnord: @MSkarpnord
Maria Hernandez: @Mariasgolf Angela Stanford: @Angela_Stanford
Maria Hjorth: @mariahjorth Karen Stupples: @Kstupples
Vicky Hurst: @TheVickyHurst Kris Tamulis: @kktamulis
Liz Janangelo: @PumpkinPutts Yani Tseng: @YaniTseng (withdrew)
Nicole Jeray: @golfnjeray Mariajo Uribe: @MariaJoUribe
Katie Kempter: @KKempter Alison Walshe: @Walsheyyy (late addition to my list)
Leah Wigger: @leahwigger

(Updates to the field made at 7pm, June 28. Again at 8am on July 2. Again at 2pm in July 3.)

I bet I missed some players in the field who have Twitter accounts, but since I found 9 players that were not on the LPGA lists, I thought I did pretty good. If you happen to know of anyone I missed, let me know.

Also, if you are tweeting about the tournament, I suggest you use the hashtag #JFOCC to give fans a single place to go for news and updates for the week.

Blog topics: 

Research and practice gaps

I will have a focus on the gaps between research and practice in user experience during my April conference run.

From April 7-10, I will be in Phoenix at the 2010 IA Summit. On Saturday the 10th, I am hosting a discussion on Bridging IA Research and Practice with Andrea Resmini.

We tried to get a pre-conference consortium organized, but will settle for this meeting to hopefully get a head start on 2011. The "research track" at the IA Summit has been a slowly traveled, winding road. One bend was a panel in 2006 and I wondered then if we had turned a corner. Still looking.

From Phoenix, I fly directly to Atlanta for CHI 2010. I am part of a great team that organized a Sunday workshop on Researcher-Practitioner Interaction (the call for participation has passed, but it has a good overview).

I am looking forward to the workshop because I get to spend the day with people who know a lot more than me about the challenges facing the HCI research and practitioner communities. There are a lot of great ideas for closing the gap which have surfaced in their position papers; but there are no easy answers.

If the topic interests you but you are not already part of the workshop, then you can attend our special interest group meeting at 9am on Wednesday, April 14th: How to bring HCI Research and Practice Closer Together. We will recap the workshop and engage more people in the conversation. After it is all done, I hope we will have something substantial to back to the community.

So far, I only know of 1 other person crazy enough to hit the overlapping IA Summit and CHI conference. If you are also one of these crazies, contact me. If you are just a "normal crazy" who is attending only one of these 2 awesome conferences, then be sure to track me down and say hello.

Blog topics: 

Google search results to include breadcrumbs (again)

A recent Biznology article by Frank Reed talks about the impact of a Google search results change on search engine optimization efforts. Google recently announced two changes in the way it helps users understand how an item in its result set fits into the context of the destination site:

  • Replacing the URL (that appeared after the abstract) with a breadcrumb. The breadcrumb is a combination of domain name and the site hierarchy that Google has extracted from the site.
  • Having each element of the breadcrumb go to the appropriate high level section of the site. What was once a single URL (was it a link or just a URL?) to the page could now be several links to higher-level pages on the destination site.

Frank worries about how this affects SEO activities: you work hard to get a specific page listed for a specific search term, and then Google lets the user go to a different page on your site. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Of course, I am more interested in the breadcrumb aspect. These are what I call "attribute breadcrumbs" because they help describe the nature of the object. (The debate about the value of location breadcrumbs on pages continues.)

I wonder if anyone on the Google team remembers back around 2002 when their results also had breadcrumbs? In those days, the breadcrumb was a "category" from the Open directory project. Here is an example I grabbed back then, for a search on "monty python and the holy grail":

Look for the "Category" links after the abstracts and before the green URL. They give you a clue to what the link is about. Notice the first result, for PythOnline: the title and abstract are not clear but the Category says it is about a video game. The 3rd result is actually about Flying Circus; the 4th result is indeed about the movie; the 5th, trading cards. The category, presented as a breadcrumb, might help you find your holy grail...

Back then, the "category" was a single link to ODP, not a list of links to the destination site. For example, the 4th result would be Arts > Movies > Titles > M > Monty Python and the Holy Grail where you can find more links about the movie.

Will this version of breadcrumbs survive longer? Does it fix some key problem the previous version of breadcrumbs had? Perhaps users are more familiar with presenting a hierarchy in this format now? Will users understand the "..." in the middle? What user research is driving this change? The Google blog posting says this will both improve the way it represents web sites and help users explore content. I guess time will tell.

And what will the ripple effect be of Google using attribute breadcrumbs on its search engine results page (SERP)? Will more sites start doing breadcrumbs as a result ("Google told us to add breadcrumbs to our site")? What about multi-faceted web sites that do not have a single hierarchy for their pages: will they be penalized by Google? Will users start to pick up on them on SERPs and expect them on the rest of the web? When user experience teams do evaluations of their web sites, will they notice more users making comments about breadcrumbs? Will sites built on platforms like Drupal that do breadcrumbs well see a boost in traffic? Will there be a backlash against bothering with carefully-crafted URLs if they do not show up on SERPs any more?

This new feature has not appeared on any normal Google searches I have done since the announcement, so obviously, it is still too early to tell. According to This week in search, 11/20, there are some queries where the attribute breadcrumbs are showing up. My favorite is Venn diagram (too funny given the number of 3 circle diagrams generated by the user experience community). What I notice:

  • Only a few items have breadcrumbs instead of URLs.
  • When the green URL is shown, it is never clickable (was it before?). When an attribute breadcrumb is shown, the domain name is not a link either.
  • The most interesting example is Wolfram MathWorld where the site has three location breadcrumbs at the top and Google used the first. Exactly how Google extracts breadcrumbs from pages could drive some "interesting" changes to sites.
Blog topics: 

My schedule, November 10 & 12

I am attending two "local" events in mid-November. Hope to touch base with colleagues in the area I have not seen in a while - and meet some new ones, too, of course.

The first is the Smarter Cities Cleveland Forum on November 10th. From the description:

Cleveland Smarter Cities Forum will create a peer-to-peer exchange for mayors, civic leaders and businesses to engage with like-minded thinkers and shape the blueprints for smarter cities. We will discuss new approaches to regional partnership, identify roadblocks, evaluate frameworks for investment and review the tools and technologies that are making our urbanizing planet more instrumented, more interconnected and more intelligent. As leaders, we all have a vital stake in ensuring that our cities become more resilient, more sustainable and more secure. Indeed, the health of our planet and of society depends on it. We are pleased you will be joining us to start shaping that future.

IBM has hosted larger Smarter Cities events, so I am excited to be able to attend one near me. I am going partly to get out of the house (telecommuting is great but it wears on you), partly to learn some things myself, but mostly to spend time with my users. That is, get a little closer to the people who are interacting with aspects of the Smarter Planet web presence. I won't be doing any formal usability studies, just hanging out and listening.

If you are attending, leave a comment, send me an email, DM me, whatever, so I know to look for you there.

Two days later on November 12th is World Usability Day, with its theme of Designing for a sustainable world - a definite connection with Smarter Cities. Each year of WUD, I have done something different (05/San Francisco, 06/Hosted locally, 07/Chicago, 08/Cleveland) and I had several good options again this year.

Since I was in Cleveland last year, I decided to attend the festivities in East Lansing, Michigan this year: Designing for Sustainable Communities. It has been several years since I went to something hosted by the MSU Usability & accessibility center, too long.

Cleveland is having a great WUD event again and Dayton has another great WUD event planned (with a warm-up for the "kids"). Kent State has its own this time. There is one in Columbus but usually a few others emerge in the capital area as well. I am sure I am missing other World Usability Day events near me.

IBM celebrates World Usability Day with an internal company-wide webcast. It might be opened up to the outside this year, which would make it fun to attend while at a face-to-face event.

If you are also from the Toledo area and going to the MSU WUD event, drop me a line. I could use a ride up, but do not need a ride back.

Panel: Effective user experience professionals and teams

I am honored to be one of the panelists at tonight's Michigan UPA / MOCHI meeting: What makes an effective user experience professional and team (UX management perspectives). Here is an outline of what I will cover in my 5-10 minute introduction.

A few related conference sessions I have been to:

Possible debate topics:

  • Methods and deliverables for individuals and teams. Personas, usability test analysis, how many users, … Does any of it even matter today? Which methods and skills will stand the test of time? Which will not?
  • Engagement models for "the UX team" (and org chart concerns). Part of the organization, Loaned to the team, Part of the project, Consultant, Reviewer, Enforcer, Ignoring. Should there even such thing as a "UX team"? When short on resources, it is OK to "teach and deputize" UX responsibilities?
  • Agile vs. Waterfall. Is Agile evil or what "UCD" has meant all along? Or both? Are you a Newtonian or a Quantum mechanic? Is there a unified field theory for UX? Do the UX skills transfer between Agile & Waterfall? What else may need to change?
  • Individual UX skills. Jack-of-all trades/generalist, T-shaped, Specialist. Should you be an "Interaction designer/IA/etc.", a "UX person" or a "person who does good work, including planning good experiences"?

Looking forward to hanging out. Hope we get good participation from the audience and a lively debate.


Subscribe to Keith Instone RSS