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May 2009 Issue

By Mike Hughes

Published: May 25, 2009

“Reuse is something we need to manage and, more important, something we need to plan for.”

Single sourcing and its pragmatic flip side, reuse, remind me a bit of the early days of the personal computer. Everybody wanted one, but many weren’t sure what they would do with a computer if they got one. Even among seasoned user assistance architects, single sourcing and reuse remain elusive concepts. I recently heard someone at an STC chapter meeting define single sourcing as producing the same document as both a Help file and as a PDF file. Basically true, but one would hope there is more to it than that.

Content reuse got its start when a technical communicator first realized a paragraph in one topic could be used in another. She copied and pasted the paragraph from the original topic into the new one. There was joy and jubilation at the innovation: “I saved time by not recomposing a paragraph that already existed. I eliminated the retyping effort, and my two topics are consistent.” The practice spread like a California wildfire in front of a Santa Ana wind. Unfortunately, as Figure 1 illustrates, early reuse efforts were primitive and could have untoward consequences. Three months later, engineering changed the user interface, causing the original paragraph to be inaccurate. By that time, the writer had moved on, and no one had a clue as to how many times that paragraph had been pasted or where. That was the day the reality of reuse slapped us in the face: Reuse is something we need to manage and, more important, something we need to plan for. Read moreRead More>

By Ron Gagnier

Published: May 25, 2009

“Following a software design process can offer the same kinds of benefits you gain from following a recipe when cooking: getting reliable results.”

There are many good processes for software design. By process, I mean a prescribed way of performing software design. Every software company I’ve ever worked with has a design process they’ve adopted or created to meet their needs. However, after working on numerous software projects, I have come to realize how few projects actually follow their companies’ intended design processes. Why is it that so many companies don’t follow their existing processes for software design?

Following a software design process can offer the same kinds of benefits you gain from following a recipe when cooking: getting reliable results. For example, if I have a recipe for gingerbread, but I don’t follow the recipe, should I still expect to get gingerbread? It depends, of course, on how much I choose to deviate from the recipe. Could I substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour? Sure. Could I substitute cardamom for ginger? Hardly. Could I substitute honey for molasses? No. Could I cook the gingerbread at 400 degrees instead of 350? Maybe. Would the result be something I can recognize as gingerbread? The answer: It depends. Read moreRead More>

By Joe Lamantia

Published: May 25, 2009

“Everyware’s core principle is that computing will escape the tight confines of dedicated machines to permeate the wider world.”

Everyware’s core principle is that computing will escape the tight confines of dedicated machines to permeate the wider world. Mark Weiser described what we now call everyware as “machines that fit the human environment….” [1] In his view of the future, computing is fully integrated into the environment surrounding humanity, but remains essentially separate from and external to human beings in body, mind, and spirit. Weiser used this implied boundary between human and computer—and the ubiquitous computing scenarios he and John Seely Brown wrote were careful never to cross it—to maintain a distinction between the research and development efforts taking place in business and academic contexts and the speculative realm of science fiction.

However, the goal of this column is to explore and understand the evolving relationship between design and everyware, so it is useful to cross Weiser's boundary and look further ahead, at what may happen when meaningful distinctions between humans, technology, and the environment dissolve and all of these elements become fully integrated into a truly ubiquitous experience. In his novels Ilium and Olympos, author Dan Simmons creates just such a lifeware scenario, in which humanity itself is consciously and deliberately designed in all of its emotional, ethical, moral, political, social, cognitive, and cultural aspects. In the future Simmons envisioned in Ilium and Olympos, humanity is inseparable and indistinguishable from computing technology in all three aspects: mind, body, and spirit. Read moreRead More>

By Steve Baty

Published: May 25, 2009

UXmatters readers can receive a 20% discount when purchasing Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories directly from Rosenfeld Media, by using the discount code UXMATTERSCS.

Donna Spencer is one of Australia’s best-known information architects, organizer of the UX Australia conference, and a frequent presenter at UX conferences in Australia, the US, and Europe. I caught up with Donna between her appearances at the IA Summit and RedUX DC to talk about card sorting and her new book, Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories, which Rosenfeld Media recently published.

SB: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started?

DS: I was working for a big government department in the very late 90s. (Actually, I worked there for all of the 90s, but not on the Web.) I moved to the Web team right when they were expanding the Web site from 20,000 to 200,000 pages. At the same time, there was lots of discussion on the Internet about information architecture (IA), and that’s when I found my thing.

But that’s about how I found information architecture. You are probably also interested in how I found card sorting. There’s a story for that, too. Read moreRead More>

By Greg Nudelman

Published: May 11, 2009

“There is simply nothing else on your search results pages that can come close to offering the same potential as thumbnail images for dramatically increasing your conversion rates and revenues.”

In search results, the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words rings true. When it comes to making your search results more efficient to use, more relevant, and more attractive, images reign supreme. There is simply nothing else on your search results pages that can come close to offering the same potential as thumbnail images for dramatically increasing your conversion rates and revenues.

While your Web site’s image requirements are likely unique, there are some common pitfalls you might encounter in using images in your search results. The good news is that you can easily avoid most of these mistakes with awareness and a little foresight. Read moreRead More>

By Peter Hornsby

Published: May 11, 2009

“As UX professionals, there is much we can learn from good software engineering practice.”

The ability to take a broad view of the world and incorporate lessons learned from other disciplines distinguishes the best practitioners in any field. As UX professionals, there is much we can learn from good software engineering practice, which maps a team’s understanding of a problem at a human level onto the implementation of a technical solution. The essence of good software engineering practice is effective user experience—from developing the high-level design documentation that describes how the main elements of a system interact to its implementation in clearly written code. Though the relationship between software engineering and user experience is not always an easy one, software engineers and UX professionals share some common goals. Both have a vested interest in producing systems that are useful and usable.

This column, Innovating UX Practice, will explore how we can apply software engineering concepts and practices in the context of user experience design and, hopefully, build greater understanding between the two disciplines. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: May 11, 2009

Send your questions to Ask UXmatters and get answers from some of the top professionals in UX.

We discuss two topics in this column:

Ask UXmatters is here to answer your questions about user experience matters. If you want to read our experts’ responses to your questions in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Pedro ‘Adler’ Jorge

Published: May 11, 2009

“People gathered in Vancouver to share their experiences, discuss the future of the discipline of interaction design and the organization itself, and had the opportunity to finally meet the people, from all over the world, who are behind the daily email discussions.”

Interaction09 was very exciting, with stimulating presentations blended with a lot of tweeting and great food! With a community comprising over 60 local groups and 10,000 members worldwide, IxDA (Interaction Design Association) certainly needs an international conference. Following the success of the first conference last year, Interaction08, in Savannah, Georgia, USA, IxDA put together another team to organize this year’s conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada, shown in Figures 1 and 2. On February 5–8, nearly 500 people gathered in Vancouver to share their experiences, discuss the future of the discipline of interaction design and the organization itself, and had the opportunity to finally meet the people, from all over the world, who are behind the daily email discussions. Read moreRead More>