October 2006 Archives

Interaction Design

I've invested much of my career defining information architecture as distinct from interaction design. So, it was funny this summer to find myself working on a couple of Web 2.0 projects that pulled me way into the left of Jesse's diagram.

At a certain point -- I think it was the drag-and-drop interface that pushed me over the edge -- I realized it was time to go back to school (not literally).

So, I've been reading up on the topic:

Dan's book provides an excellent overview of the history and concepts surrounding interaction design. Jenifer's book digs deep into the patterns of effective and successful interaction design. It's a good read and a great reference. I haven't read the other two yet, but they're on my list.

Ironically, I was a technical reviewer for Designing Interfaces. When I read the manuscript, a long while back, my head was so deep into information architecture and findability, I didn't really engage. I wasn't ready for the interaction. It took a bit of pain to make the content relevant.

Also ironic, just when I'm ready to join IxDA, I'm starting a very large (and exciting) traditional IA engagement. But that doesn't dull my interest. Even on content-centric projects, I think there are intriguing opportunities to design for information interaction at the crossroads of these sister discplines.

So, now that I'm ready to learn, what else should I read?

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A Garden of Forking Paths

Stacy Surla recently reminded me of an article I wrote almost a year ago entitled A Garden of Forking Paths. It's one of my strangest literary creations, right up there with UFOs. It's also one of my favorites. It sure was fun to let the metaphors run wild. Anyway, today I noticed my article makes the Top 10 on a Google search for garden of forking paths. I love the idea of Jorge Luis Borges scholars and students serendipitously searching their way into my little garden.

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I'm very excited. My lemur slides are among the Top 20 most popular of all time! Okay, so SlideShare has only been around for a few weeks. So what? Anyway, I'm happy for Rashmi. It looks like SlideShare is off to a great start!

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Web Accessibility 2.0

I missed the original ruling against Target, but thanks to a post by Alok Jain on iai-members, I've been catching up. I found an excellent legal commentary:

Just last month, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel...ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to some commercial websites. The holding was the first of its kind. Unless Judge Patel's ruling is reversed on appeal, its upshot will likely be that many retail websites - in particular, those intrinsically linked to companies' brick-and-mortar operations - will have to start complying with the ADA. However, because Judge Patel's decision did not reach web-only retailers, it may be necessary for Congress to revisit the ADA if it wishes to ensure that all web retailers make their sites accessible.

In other words, the inevitable legislation of equal access to digital spaces and services hangs like the Sword of Damocles over the owners (and perhaps the builders) of all the inaccessible Ajaxian sites and rich internet applications being created today under the aegis of Web 2.0 (please note that the views of the publisher do not necessarily reflect the views of the polar bear).

Of course, Ajax and accessibility aren't totally mutually exclusive. There's plenty of good reading on the topic:

In fact, the W3C has announced a roadmap for accessible rich internet applications, but it's still early in the process and sounds like an awful lot of work. The good news is that after the Web 2.0 bubble bursts, designers and developers will be kept busy for years, retrofitting for accessibility.

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Participatory Culture

The MacArthur Foundation recently launched a five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.

There, I found Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (PDF), an interesting white paper by Henry Jenkins about media education.

Henry presents eleven new skills or literacies...

  • Play - the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance - the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation - the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
  • Appropriation - the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking - the ability to scan one's environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition - the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence - the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment - the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation - the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking - the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation - the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

...and three concerns:

  • The Participation Gap - the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  • The Transparency Problem - the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.
  • The Ethics Challenge - the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

Henry also argues that "textual literacy remains a central skill in the twenty-first century" and that traditional research skills "assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians into the more open space of the web."

In considering goals and challenges regarding the education of our two daughters over the next decade or so, this feels like a pretty good roadmap.

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University of Washington

Last week, thanks to ASIS&T UW, I visited the University of Washington iSchool, where I shared the stage with my old friend, Joe Janes, also known as the Internet Librarian and founder of the Internet Public Library.

Joe discussed the past 50 years of searching (PDF). I talked about the present and future of findability (PDF). We had a great discussion with the audience, and then went out for drinks. A podcast should be available soon (see below), and in the meantime you can read my Silverfish interview.

I also made my requisite IA pilgrimage to the Seattle Public Library, where I had fun climbing the Dewey Decimal Books Spiral. Lou will be there tomorrow for Enterprise IA, and then IDEA starts up on Monday. I wish I could make it!


Unfortunately, the quality of the UW Podcast isn't great, at least at the start. If you want to hear my voice, this Library of Congress Webcast sounds better.

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Finding Findability

Yesterday, I received an unusually high volume of fan mail about Ambient Findability. I already posted one message. Here's the other:

Mr. Morville:

I've had various roles in the computing business since the mid '80's and am now in the business of acquiring marketing and customer satisfaction information for bank executives. Ambient Findability is the most important book on information I have ever read. It's helping me personally and professionally. I can hardly believe how many good ideas are in the book. It's incredible. Thank you very much for writing it.

I am recommending it to everyone I work with in the computing and information business, and keep a copy of it handy at my desk so I can show it to people.

I thought you'd like to know how I came to find Ambient Findability: About a month ago my 9th grade son started a school science project, and part of the required work was to prepare a bibliography. When I asked to see his work I was aghast to see that all of the references in the bibliography were found on the Web using Google. He had not even considered using a library for this task. I insisted that he needed to find sources that were known to be authoritative and that we would go to the library at once to research it. The library had not opened yet, so we went across the street to Barnes and Noble and went to the Science section to start looking for references. While there, I wandered into the Engineering section and found your book by happenstance, started reading it, and bought it before we left.

Because his subject was a bit unusual, I explained the importance of reference librarians and how they can help find materials to support research. We went to the library, introduced ourselves to the reference librarian, and subsequently found good quality information that he needed. Although he found the critical information he needed to form his hypothesis in a book, I don't believe he took that exercise seriously, and seems to think it's odd that Google isn't sufficient for academic work. Our next conversation on this subject will be about how free technology isn't a complete answer, just partial, and needs to be augmented by a variety of other media, including for-fee online services.

Best regards,

Rudy Smith

Ham Lake, MN

I love hearing how people found the lemur book, and it's good to hear a first-person story about the challenges of selecting sources and evaluating authority. So, keep those email messages coming. Cheers!

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Lemurs, Long Tails, and Museums

After watching Chris Anderson talk about the long tail at i-conference 2006 this morning, I returned to my office to find the following email message, re-posted here with permission:

Dear Peter,

In the preface to Ambient Findability, you question how readers located your book and why they did so. Here's how...

1. In my Conceptual Design course in George Washington University's Museum Studies Program, I had one day remaining to pick a paper topic. I decide to write about wayfinding in museums. It's such a vast topic that I can write an incredibly vague essay proposal without pushing myself into a corner and being stuck with an impossible topic.

2. I look online and discover that I've chosen an impossible topic. Alas.

3. I use JSTOR and EBSCOhost through my school's library and discover that peer-reviewed articles accessible to me may not yet have decided that "wayfinding" is a good topic to write about. In fact, academia debates that "wayfinding" is even a word. Ditto for "way finding" and "way-finding."

4. LexisNexis knows it's a word but doesn't think it deserves any critical discussion, just announcements that so-and-so company is going to re-do such-and-such hospital's signage. Boring.

5. I resort to actual books printed on actual paper. Big mistake. Searching for "wayfinding" in GW's library system leads me to a small set of books. Most of them are about computer programming. I pick up your book and decide that the lemur is cute enough that nobody will know I'm reading a book for techie people.

6. I also search for Wayfinding: People, Signs and Architecture, which you quote in your book. While it's apparently "available," it's in the dreaded N section. Oversized books. Nothing in this section is remotely organized because the books are all too massive to wrangle into a neat and organized shelf system. I sprawl on the floor and stand on my tip toes, but I fear that the Wayfinding Bible is, in fact, un-find-able.

7. At the check-out counter, the librarian stamps the back of all four of the books I'm checking out (the other three are for other classes) and looks at me strangely. "What?" I ask, thinking I have an $80 late fee. "Right here, right now, is the first time any of these four books have ever been checked out." We stand there in silence for a moment just to commemorate the occasion.

8. Ten minutes later in the Starbucks next to the library, I read about how unlikely it is for me to have found your book. I could have won the lottery instead.

There you go. That's how I found your book. Does that make you think twice about ever publishing a book in large format? Since this all just happened a few hours ago, I haven't read the entirety of your book. I plan to. I'm scanning through your borg/blog/thing right now and some of the links you've posted. Since you are currently my one and only source and I've decided I like both you and your lemur (and the new polar bear), I'm going to quote you. But do you think you could say something that applies to wayfinding within museums or museum exhibitions?

My essay is going to be about how the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum share the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture in China Town, DC. It's one historic building (it used to be the Patent Office) holding two totally separate museums--each has its own staff and mission statement. Just walking around, visitors constantly pass through Portrait space as well as American Art space. The signage is bad (I frequently see people walk right past restrooms when they are looking for them) and they're still working on the central courtyard, so you can't see through the building because of all the scaffolding. There are so many entrances and exits, that you never know if you're on the G Street side or the F Street side, yet staff continously give you directions as if you know what intersection you're at when you can barely see outside. Neither museum has much of its own identity because of this mishmash and I'm not sure if anybody discerns any palpable difference when they pass through galleries belonging to different museums. The designers don't seem to have had much empathy for the user.

Do you think museums have been affected at all by the trends you talk about in your book? Museums are different from libraries and from the internet, but there is still a sense that visitors need to find what they're looking for -- or at least the time period, artist, or country. Their experience in wayfinding must profoundly affect their visit, their appreciation of the art and the time spent with their family members. How do you think wayfinding in museums will change in the future -- how should it change?

I would appreciate any kind of response you could give me.

Thanks for wading through this long e-mail. I plan on recommending your book to the other students in Conceptual Design. I may even mention that it has pictures. We'll check and see if they're ever able to find it by looking at the stamp in the back.

Have a fantastic day,

Erin Blasco
Museum Studies Graduate Program
George Washington University
Washington, DC

I don't know much about wayfinding in museums, though it seems there's great potential for geocoding and location aware devices to enhance the museum experience...so, can someone out there help Erin? What's the future of wayfinding in museums? You better reply quick, before her paper's due. Thanks!

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What's New in the Third Edition

Lou and I have received a few questions recently from faculty hoping to use the 3rd edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web in their Winter 2007 courses. Well, we have good news. According to O'Reilly, the new polar bear will be available by the end of the year.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3rd edition

And, to help with course planning, here's an excerpt describing what's new:

We've maintained the overall organization of the book while bringing the concepts, examples, and illustrations in each chapter up to date. We received substantial help from the information architecture community in the form of responses to a series of surveys we conducted in 2006. The chapters on organization and navigation systems have been expanded to address tagging, folksonomies, social classification, and guided navigation. The chapter on design and documentation includes new sections on the role of diagrams in the design phase and the when, why, and how behind blueprints and wireframes. The education and the tools and software chapters have been revised based upon survey feedback. And, the chapter on enterprise information architecture enjoyed a major rewrite to accommodate lessons learned over the past few years. Finally, we've updated the appendix to include pointers to the most useful information architecture resources available today.

This edition was a real collaborative effort. Thanks to everyone who helped!

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