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Letting Go of Perfection: Developing IA Agility

Chris Farnum and Serena Rosenhan from ProQuest

They’re going to talk about their journey from waterfall to agile methodology, and how they accommodated its demands with their IA work.

They’re showing a lovely waterfall chart…business case, functional design, tech design, implementation, test, release.

Waterfall lets you think through all the implications. Most IA activities happen in the functional design space.

Gives the Wikipedia definition — iterative, incremental approach to development. See http://agilemanifesto.org for more.

In agile, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration. Planning has to be adaptive.

Agile chart — it’s a cycle, not a flow. Planning, requirements, design, develop/test, iteration release. [These roll up into product releases.] Where does IA happen now?

Still performing lots of IA work in the design phase, but it’s much shorter and more frequent.

What they were comfortable with in waterfall:

  • Define systems, navigation, etc. in comprehensive, scalable user experience
  • Use upfront research to inform designs
  • Provide detailed and elegant deliverables to developers
  • Save $ and development effort by reworking and testing before code is written.

In agile, can only design for known requirements. Can’t do all the research up front. Can’t do detailed deliverables – no time. Coding begins before design is finished. Where’s the benefit?

What are the requirements for success in agile? Had to let go of old ideas of perfection, change how they think and work.

Opportunities in agile:

  • Design iteratively
  • Freedom to make mistakes earlier
  • Working prototypes for testing come earlier
  • Refactoring…it’s a good thing!

Changing how they thought:

  • You don’t have to understand the whole universe up front.
  • You have to prioritize requirements
  • Have to focus on simplicity
  • Personas and use cases are critical to agile success
  • It’s OK for to have a moving target

Increment your way to perfection. Additional features aren’t always better, and elaborate designs do not always create the perfect UX.

So, how can this change the way you work?

Tells John Mayo-Smith’s story of two ways to build a pyramid.

How do you create a fully functioning system and then increment?

Think in terms of basic functions, enhancements, embellishments. Farnum shows an example from their work — how they pared down to basic functionality — think of the engineering behind the basic functionality.

Rosenhan has nice phrase — bifocal design. Keep an eye on the big picture, the framework, but deliver on very detailed design of small aspects of the system.

Deliverables are not the end goal. You may still create deliverables, but how you do it will change in agile. You have to think lightweight. From the Agile Manifesto: Working software over comprehensive documentation.

You do NEED documentation — don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Use “dirty deliverables” — sticky notes on butcher paper for a sitemap.

ProQuest uses simple, annotated wireframes — but often incomplete wireframes. Just what’s necessary.

Create simple user stories with links to details.

Do you have to let go of perfection to be agile? Just remember it’s not about perfect deliverables, it’s about a highly usable product.

Here are the slides from this talk on doing IA in an agile environment.

 

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Architecting Search-Engine Friendly Websites – Shari Thurow.

Next up, a talk from Shari Thurow on search engines and IA.

Thurow is starting with the basics of SEO. If you don’t do these 4 basic building blocks, you can forget it. Doing them makes your content easy to find — both on Google and your internal site search.

Thurow hates search engine spam. She turns people in regularly for it.

Why should IAs care about SEO? Because people search.

Thurow shows a couple of pages from a website — beautiful images — but no copy. Search engines can’t evaluate them.

Talks about a usability test on a site with a high-tech audience, with a huge Flash presentation at the top. It was the shortest usability test she ever did — the users hated the Flash so much they wouldn’t look at the site.

SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines.

SEO is not magic pixie dust.

Two great sites for SEO: Apple and Mayo Clinic.

SEO covers architecting, designing, writing, programming.

What search engine optimizers need to do:

  • Need to label content
  • Organize website content so it is easy to find
  • Ensure search engines can access right content
  • Ensure search engines can’t access undesirable content

4 Building Blocks of SEP

  • Keywords: Text
  • Architecture and design
  • Link development
  • Searcher goals

Most important text: Title tag, Most important [top] content, URL structure

The first two, keywords and architecture, are on-the-page and entirely within the site owner’s control.

The latter two are off-the-page criteria. In off-the-page criteria, quality trumps quantity. Who links to you matters more than how many you have.

Many SEOs don’t pay attention to searcher goals. Navigational [people want to go to a website], informational, transactional

For navigational, people rarely look past slots 1-2. When site links show up, something in the search indicated navigational intent.

Up to 80% of searches are informational. When Wikipedia shows up in results, something in the search demonstrated informational intent.

Least common type is transactional query. Here, people don’t always type in the words they expect to see on the page. [They don't type, "watch" or "cart" when they want a video or to purchase something.]

Thurow shows this horrific result….when you search for

United.com FAQ

You get in Google what looks like the right page…but you go to the page, and there are no FAQs. Total fail.

Are you communicating to humans and technology the right information scent and aboutness of your content?

We know that content can be organized in multiple ways, but we have to determine how the target audience would organize it. SEOs think everything needs to be organized by topic. Keyword research tools shouldn’t be used to create architecture. But it is helpful to find out how people label things.

SEOs and IAs both work on labeling — are we using the right keywords on our labels? Are we properly indicating aboutness?

Prioritizing: Don’t put too many links/labels on the page, but definitely put them in the right order. Usability testing can help you figure this out.

Don’t put glossary content in a popup window — you’ve orphaned that really informative content to Google.

Information architecture decisions have a direct impact on SEO. Don’t wait til a site is ready for launch to bring in an SEO.

Most pages on a website should be treated as a point of entry. Do you give users enough context to figure out how to get where they need to go?

Some findability solutions can cause search engine problems — faceted classification, tagging and site search pages.

Thurow is an amusing and educational speaker. Great info.

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The Future[s] of IA

This session is from Peter Morville and Karl Fast.

Morville speaks up for defining the damn thing — says it’s central to information architecture.

The kinds of information architecture

  • Classic IA — The polar bear book.
  • Web strategy — Making web, mobile and social connect.
  • Cross-channel – Making physical and digital work together.
  • Intertwingularity — Ubiquitous, ambient findability.

All exist today but they are unevenly distributed.

Morville has been working with the Library of Congress for 3 years — improving their web presence. [Good!! Their sites are horrible!! Whew!] He has given them lots of wireframes and recommendations, but says the most important work he’s done is educating them on the need for IA.

Morville shares a great quote from Jorge Arango:

Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, information architects use nodes and links to create environments for understanding.

Making the argument that everything is intertwingled –we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how intertwined our information, products, experiences, spaces and knowledge are.

Who gets it? Who makes intertwingled experiences?

  • Apple
  • Nike–Making running social. Conspicuous consumption->conspicuous experience.
  • GlowCaps–Medicine bottles that remind you to take your meds.
  • Smart scales that can tweet our weight: Morville: “A good reminder that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Need to keep redefining what we do to stay flexible.

IAs need to go beyond wireframes — map the org chart, the systems, the workflow, the people and the process.

Going back to the first IA Summit, IA is about empathy for the user.

Karl Fast is up next.

Facebook is the largest photo repository in the whole world…and it isn’t their core mission. Talks about number of searches in Google, number of videos uploaded to YouTube. The numbers are too boggling for us to understand.

We are now in a place that we have always tried to achieve–ubiquitous access to information. Says it is a disservice to argue [like Nicholas Carr in The Shallows] that information overload is bad for us.

We don’t just have more information — we have more information, computation, devices and people.

How do we deal with all this information? Three ways:

  • Deliberate structure — the IA approach.
  • The Google approach — Computation.
  • Coordinated group action — the Wikipedia approach.

Three new ways:

  • Deep interaction — Not just touch. Why do we talk with our hands? Just like raising voice, pausing, it gives extra information. Why do we do it on the phone? Ah, it’s learned behavior. Why do people who are blind talk with their hands? Cognitive psych studies about this suggest that gesturing helps us think, and that not gesturing constrains our thinking.
    Embodied cognition tells us that thinking about our brain as the processor, the body as the output, and senses as input is a very limited view.
    Spectrum: One one end, mind and body are separate. Other side, mind and body are integrated with each other and the world around them — Fast says we’re far on the first side, and we need to shuffle over toward the integration side.
  • Coordination — or orchestration. Our lives are about coordination.
    PHINGS — Physical, Haptic, Interactive and information-rich, Networked and Next-Generation, Stuff on Surfaces
    We coordinate information, but people, things, etc.
  • Mess — Compares two images of Steve Jobs…one in spare environment that appeared in Time, an iconic image of “the genius at work.” The second, a photo of his home office, a complete disaster. Fast says mess is a fundamental part of how we work and learn. Why do we think order is better? Why is mess negative?

Fast: Information is cheap. Understanding is expensive.

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The History of Information Architecture…And What’s Changing

Great panel to kick off the conference:

Changes they’ve seen:

  • Schleicher notes that today, more developers are moving toward IA, and prototyping is changing the conversation.
  • Scott worked at Borders.com 10 years ago, and notes that companies who don’t support ecommerce and the web do not succeed anymore.
  • Schleicher points out that people are increasingly recognizing the value of context in any decision.

Schleicher: You need to understand the impact you want to have, as much as you need to understand the user.

Stemen would love to get rid of the idea that everything needs to fit into a hierarchy. [I love this idea, but I also still struggle with getting people to understand the need for organization, finadability and even the customer experience -- never mind getting them to go beyond hierarchy.]

Schleicher: Still absolutely essential to visit real users and see their spaces or places. Did work for Ford and visited customers…and their cars. Made very effective decisions for the website based on knowing how real people used their cars.

Question from the audience: Does the panel expect all IAs will have to have development skills in the future?

Scott says no. It’s fine to, but the skills of communication, empathy and user understanding are central to IA.

Stemen: Cites Paul Resnick as saying that when you design at the edge of your understanding, your design will be amateurish. You need to understand a couple of levels deeper than where you’re designing.

Question from the audience: How have end users changed?

Scott: What hasn’t changed is basic biology and cognitive structures. What has changed is how much we use technology and how much more [frequently] we relate to it. Technology will be pervasive.

Schleicher: Most user research done 10 years ago is obsolete and dead. The user will be dead in 5 years — we will have technology as our copilot and not our servant. The changing demands of the workplace are radical right now.

Danger for the future: Stemen says his concern for the future is that IAs become all about documentation and just have to update the wireframes to match the comps….[Oh wait. That happens already.]

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I’m Blogging From World IA Day in Ann Arbor

Today I’m blogging at World IA Day in Ann Arbor, MI. Part of a worldwide day to celebrate and learn about the discipline of information architecture, the Michigan event is kicking off shortly on the University of Michigan campus.

I’m on the board of the Information Architecture Institute, a worldwide organization that promotes the discipline and practice of IA. Learn more — and join — at the IA Institute website.

For more from World IA Day all over the world, follow #wiad on Twitter.

My posts from World IA Day-Ann Arbor

The History of Information Architecture — And What’s Changing

The Future[s] of IA

Architecting Search-Engine Friendly Websites

Letting Go of Perfection: Developing IA Agility

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