Lay Your Weapons Down and Celebrate


I didn’t want to to wait too long before I got some of my initial thoughts written down about this year’s IA Summit. I could recap all of the sessions I attended, and I still may, but there are others that will likely do it better than me. I swear that in another life, Luke Wroblewski was a court reporter for how quickly he posts his recaps of events. And then, of course, there’s the tireless Jeff Parks, who is the podcast guru and already has two of the keynotes up on Boxes and Arrows. Thank you to you both.

So instead of recapping events right away, I want to share something that I’ve been thinking about for some time. But first, a quick reflection on the 2010 IA Summit…

Why 2010 Was My Favorite IA Summit to Date

Quite simply, the 2010 IA Summit was my favorite because of the breadth of content, the variety of people attending, and the positive vibe of the conference (admittedly, I purposefully steered away from certain venues). I loved the many conversations I had and the privilege I had to meet both old and new acquaintances. There were no hangups about job titles or job roles. There was no need to “define the damn thing” (at least in the sessions I attended). The sessions were diverse and attracted professionals who possessed varying levels of expertise in all kinds of UX skills. Although she closed the Summit, Whitney Hess injected a level of positivity (as she did last year) that was infectious. I know some have offered criticism about the administration and logistics of the event, but I’m pretty easy going. Quite frankly, my focus was on content and conversations, and both were excellent.

Now’s the Time to Put the Bickering to Rest

I’ve gone to the last 4 IA Summits. In 2009 I was disappointed with the tone. It was as if 2009 was the year of bickering among UX professionals. And yes, I do proudly use the term “user experience,” because it’s not only information architects who attend this conference. Likewise, it’s not just interaction designers who attend the Interaction conferences or usability specialists who attend the UPA conferences. Why do you think different people with different job titles go to different conferences? There could be a variety of reasons. Perhaps TITLE A would like to grow his or her skills in or understanding of PRACTICE B. Maybe TITLE B likes relationships s/he has formed with the fine folks who PRACTICE A in the A CONFERENCE.

The problem I saw in 2009 was that people became so hung up on job titles and defining themselves. Why is there such a strong need to claim ownership over tools and techniques and pedigrees? If there is any fault with the conference itself, perhaps the IA Summit should be renamed using more inclusive UX terminology – perhaps the “Information Design” conference. After all, the fruits of our collective labor is to make stuff that collects, processes, and/or transmits information. That information may be 1s and 0s of a digital solution or it may be the information processing that takes place in my own head when I want to interact with a designed physical object. I liken our varied professions to the culinary arts. Here’s how I described it in response to Dave Malouf last year:

“How about this metaphor: Someone in the culinary or food services industry may refer to him/herself as a “chef” but we know this is not an accurate term. It is an easy term to use when “talking to the outside world” but it does not fully articulate his or her skills. Is this person an executive chef, a sous chef, a station chef, a pastry chef, a pantry chef? One could even argue that a pastry chef works on an entirely different “product.”

Now, do each of these roles have similar goals despite possessing different skills? Sure. Are some roles more skilled than another? Yes. Is one role more important than the other? It’s debatable. Can one person who wears one of these hats also wear another? Sure.

Now although you’ll likely pick apart my metaphor, my simple point is to say, “So what?” Yes, there are both similarities and differences. That’s why we use “UX” to describe a whole cadre of “tools” that can be used. I think it becomes confusing when we intermingle the skill (i.e., interaction design) with the identity, or how we identify ourself to others (i.e., I am an interaction designer). It’s the label we place on ourselves that is too limiting, IMHO.”

So Now What?

I think now is the time to shut up and stand up. Acknowledge that all of our skills are vital to solving problems. Instead of treating our differences like a pissing contest, let’s look at it like a wedding. I’ll make the appetizer, you make the entree, and s/he’ll make the wedding cake. It’s a party we should celebrate!

Let’s not get too caught up in basing our own self identity and our own self importance by what we do for a living. I have strengths and weaknesses as a professional in this “UX” landscape. If I don’t have one tool, I either get it or ask someone who has that skill for help. Perhaps the real discussion should focus on needed skills for the profession and knowing when it’s worthwhile to acquire them vs. asking someone for help. So, I think now is the time to lay our weapons down, stand up, and celebrate. Celebrate our differences. Celebrate how we complement one another. After all, if we can acknowledge that we cannot do it all or always get it right, then it becomes easier to ask for help and easier to offer help. Then let’s consider attending “UX” conferences such as the IA Summit, the UPA Conference, the Interaction Conference, et al. Then consider attending conferences that are outside of the UX world. Conferences that complement. Maybe even conferences that do not appear to have relevance to the practice of IA. Think about why you attend conferences and then choose wisely. Go to make or grow friendships. Go to learn new things. Go to expand your horizons. Go and present. Present using your own life knowledge. Teach the rest of us concepts that are outside of the traditional UX makeup but can add to our learning. Just go, but go with civility and humility.

I’ll leave you with a song of inspiration, a song I was listening to on the way home from work…yes, the day after I returned from the Summit, all tired and thrown off by the time zone change…it’s a song that inspired me to dust off my blog and say something to you today.

[Jars of Clay | “Weapons” | Lyrics]

Source of Ideas

Hinton, A. (Feb 11, 2009). The UX Tribe.
Hinton, A. (Mar 26, 2010). What am I?
Klyn, D. (Mar 19, 2010). There is no such thing as Jesse James Garrett.
Malouf, D. (Feb 11, 2009). Enough UX chumbaya!!!
Morville, P. (Apr 13, 2010). 5 Minute Madness.
Resmini, A. (Mar 27, 2009). Big rock, small rock, and chorizo sausage.
Saffer, D. (Mar 29, 2009). A Fool and a liar.

Phoenix Here I Come

IA Summit Banner 2010

On Thursday April 8th I will be headed to the 11th annual IA Summit, held in Phoenix, AZ. I’m really excited about the program, because the subject matter covers both practical and theoretical concepts related to Experience Design topics.

I also look forward to chatting with others. It’s amazing how many people I am only connected with via Twitter. I look forward forming new f2f friendships and deepening others.

If you’d like to intentionally meet up, give me a holler @robfay.

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Memphis, Here I Come

IA Summit 2009 Logo

This Thursday marks the 10th annual IA Summit, held in Memphis, TN. Actually, it begins earlier, but the main conference begins on Thursday. My apologies to friends I will meet there. Being the avid college basketball fan that I am, I feel organizers made a royal blunder by scheduling the event on the 4 most sacred days in sports – rounds 1 and 2 of March Madness (college basketball tournament). So, I might be somewhat distracted.

With that said, I am really looking forward to my third trip to the Summit and anticipate learning new takeaways and meeting new friends. In a time where people question that value of the discipline, I feel the conference and its practitioners have much to say.

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IA Summit 2008 Recap – A Week Later

IA Summit 2008

This was the second IA Summit that I’ve attended. Last year I took my wife. It was great because, as parents of twin toddlers, it was a welcome vacation and respite from the responsibilities that parenting entails. Although I willingly chose to spend free time with my wife, I wasn’t able to connect with people in my professional network as much as I would have hoped. This year I attended on my own, and I found the “conference” part of weekend much richer as I was able to participate in extended conversations with colleagues. I also found that Twitter became an easy substitute to the obligatory business card for creating connections. “Hello” to all of my new friends.


There are already a number of photos, slides, and podcasts available from the event. Podcasts are supposed to be uploaded to Boxes and Arrows, but I haven’t seen anything yet (I will update this post once I see them available).

Program: Main Conference Presentations
Social Network: Crowdvine
Photos: [Flickr Group: IA Summit 2008 | By Flickr Tag: IASummit2008, IASummit08, IASummit]
Slides: [SlideShare Event: IA Summit 2008 | By SlideShare Tag: IASummit2008, IASummit08, IASummit]

Quick Takeaways

There are already a number of recaps popping up everywhere, so I will try to post a little bit about what I learned at the sessions I attended. I’ll try to provide as many links as I can. Note that the sessions below are not the complete list – only those sessions I was able to attend. Please refer to the resources above to view the entire listing of sessions.

Keynote: Journey to the Center of Design (Jared Spool, Bio) [Slides] – Replace user-centered design with informed design that leverages refined tricks and techniques.

The Three Questions:

  1. Vision – “Can everyone on the team describe the experience of using your design 5 years from now?”
  2. Feedback – “In the last 6 weeks, have you spent more than 2 hours watching someone use yours or a competitor’s design?”
  3. Culture – “In the last 6 weeks, have you rewarded a team member for creating a major design failure?”

Exploratory search and folksonomy: Exploration paths in social tagging systems (Tingting Jiang, bio) [Slides] – Information seeking in social tagging systems is largely exploratory.

Integrating web analytics into information architecture and user-centered design (Hallie Wilfert, bio) [Slides] – You don’t need to be a statistician, but you need to effectively communicate the “what” people do by successfully predicting “why” people exhibit certain behavior patterns on your site.

Inspiration from the edge: New patterns for interface design (Stephen Anderson, bio) [Slides] – Just say NO to default thinking – look beyond immediate industry rivals for innovative design ideas.

Blind ambition: How the accessibility movement overlooks sensory experience (Claude Steinberg, bio) – Creating accessible sites becomes about making the thing work rather than how the site makes the user feel. Ask users what they get out of the site – you can create an auditory equivalent to describe the experience. Referenced sites from Claude’s presentation include: Hyundai, JK Rowling.

How to be a user experience team of one (Leah Buley, bio) [Slides] – Generate a lot of ideas, assemble an ad hoc multi-disciplinary team, pick the best ideas. Mix and match word associations. Keep an inspiration library. Business needs + user needs = design principles.

Designing your reputation system in 15 10 easy steps (Bryce Glass, bio) [Slides] – Bryce answers the following 10 questions: 1. What are your business goals? 2. What community spirit do you want to encourage? 3. What motivates your community members? 4. Which entities will accrue reputation? Rate the thing, not the person. 5. Which inputs should you pay attention to? Action > Affects What? > Indicates What? 6. How transparent should the rules be? 7. Should reputations decay from non-use? Yes! 8. Are there cultural aspects you should consider? 9. For what contexts will users accrue reputation? 10. What presentation pattern is appropriate?

Search Patterns (Peter Morville, bio) [Slides (with audio) ] – Behavior Patterns: narrow, search & browse & ask, pearl grow | Design Patterns: faceted navigation, federated search, best bets, category match, auto-suggest, contextual search | Well executed search patterns can: increase conversion rates, increase site traffic, decrease customer service needs.

Content page design best practices (Luke Wroblewski, bio) [Slides (4 MB PDF)] – We optimize for static structures but need to consider dynamic movement within a site. How much traffic comes from within the site and how much from the web ecosystem: communication, display surfaces, content creators, content aggregators, search. Takeaways: 1. Content – A page should be about the content, not site overhead. Keep page links and titles in sync. Use visual hierarchy principles. Engage people in related content. Be brief – show content highlights (i.e., CNN includes “story highlights” for those with short attention spans). 2. Related – Access to what matters now vs. access to everything. 3. Context – well-executed visual design adds credibility and elicits trust.

Extending the gaming experience to conventional UIs (John Ferrara, bio) [Slides (6 MB PDF)] – Game characteristics include: static objectives, environmental constraints, formal constraints, interface-based arbitration. Games are compelling because: operant conditioning (rewards and punishments), currencies, joy of interactivity, audio/visual sophistication. Games can solve real problems (e.g., Google Image Labeler, Yahoo! Answers). Game patterns: 1. Physical presence of the user. 2. Temporal motion. 3. Adaptive experiences. 4. Uncertainty. 5. Micro/macro readings (show details and context). 6. Health bars. 7. Tutorial levels. 8. Collaboration.

Panel: Practical prototyping (Todd Zaki Warfel, bio; Chris Conley, bio; Anders Ramsay, bio; Jed Wood, bio) – Less important the specific tool and more important to get something out quickly for the conversation. Start with paper prototyping. Then you might want something higher fidelity to show behavior, interactions. Use prototypes to explore alternatives, not to get it right. Build 3-5 things that are as different as you can. You make decisions based on how you feel or experience it, which is what you are trying to design. Prototype to brainstorm vs. prototype for final. Requirements writing is broken. corrupt and fundamentally flawed. Have prototypes delivered with requirements hand-in-hand.

Web site maturity cycles (Vera Rhoads, bio) [Slides] – Web sites can be evaluated using a defined measurable life cycle (similar to capability maturity methodology): Level 1: web presence and established information delivery, Level 2: information processing, Level 3: knowledge creation, Level 4: business value clearly identified and derived, Level 5: true excellence through an integrated, personalized, and collaborative environment. Company Categorizations: size, business model, web property existence, precedence, strategic prioritization, sufficient funding.

Audiences & artifacts (Nathan Curtis, bio) [Slides] – Our documentation needs to be design and user-centered just like the resulting products that we help create. We need to map the right artifact to the right audience. Deliverable life cycle: 1. preparation, 2. concepts, 3. variations, 4. details. Try to be more structured, focused, predictable, prepared, investigative, mechanized. Collaborate on deliverables, Formalize deliverables, automate deliverables.

Designing with patterns in the real world: Lessons from Yahoo! And Comcast (Christian Crumlish, bio; Austin Govella, bio) [Slides] – Do design patterns stifle innovation? No. 1. Avoid reinventing the wheel. 2. Promote a familiar user experience for customers. 3. Free up designers to do innovative leading-edge work. The Essence of the Pattern – 1. Problem (what does the user want?). 2. Solution (How to meet the user’s needs). 3. Context (When to use it). 4. Examples (pictures, links). Link to related specs and documentation. How to contribute: 1. Check the library, 2. Give feedback, 3. Suggest a pattern, 4. Help write or review a pattern. Rating the Patterns – levels of 1. working solution, 2. best practice, 3. The Yahoo! way. Keep patterns fresh.

Data driven design research personas (Todd Zaki Warfel, bio) [Slides] – Personas make sure that design matches user and business goals. Personas communicate: knowledge, activities, interests, influencers, (what would influence you to use the system or prevent you from using it) goals, and pain points. Todd feels that the “Persona DNA” is the most important aspect of the persona (see slide 27).

Checking the feel of your UI with an interaction audit (Peter Stahl, bio; Josh Damon Williams, bio) [Slides] – Recommendations: 1. Affordances – consistent visual cues that an interaction is being offered (e.g., click link inconsistencies). 2. Tasks – consistent path to accomplish an immediate goal (e.g., filter inconsistencies). 3. Data object – representation of a data record or other piece of data (e.g., inconsistencies in representing eBay members). Interaction Goals – 1. low learning curve 2. consistent cues for actions 3. predictable behavior of affordances 4. instant recognition of interface elements 5. allow (eBay) member content to shine. Create interaction audit teams to check for consistent interactions (e.g., Clickers, Submitters).

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Blackboard’s User-Centered Design

Apple Home Page Search

Apple Home Page Search

This morning I went to the Apple home page to find one of their commercials. I went to search and noticed that the behavior mimicked Apple’s own operating system and the “suggest” features available in browser search boxes. What I liked is that it not only offered suggested terms but displayed media previews along with the term. I realize this isn’t especially groundbreaking, given the amount of AJAX development in recent years. However, it reminded me that as Peter Morville analyzes search patterns, another to add to the list is the behavior of providing suggestions before a user has even executed a search. This might remedy the need to distinguish between a basic and advanced search, or the need to revise a search after seeing results. Notice the screen capture image (click image to see original) where I entered “ads” as my search term.

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Desirability Heuristics

One of the criticisms of the UX field is that often the concern is to have a product that is usable, but is that all that is needed? Shouldn’t people have a pleasurable experience as well? I haven’t quite found a way to measure this within a usability test (other than through self-report). However, a recent proposed heuristic attempts to answer the question of how a product makes users feel by observing the emotional response of users during testing.

Although I am a firm believer in the power of nonverbal communication, I would have liked the authors to include more indicators of positive responses. This attempt, however, has inspired me to come up with my own heuristic for “desirability.” Right now I’m also beginning to look at the article referenced recently by Victor Lombardi. More to come…

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User Experience Professionals are Here to Stay

I’ve decided to pour through my Gmail account to delete and archive old emails that I’ve been too busy to move from my inbox. Sure, I really don’t have to perform this task when I can just archive everything, but I’m pretty anal about categorizing my emails, even if I am not prompt at performing the task.

Today I stumbled across an email a colleague of mine sent out last July. He referred to a YouTube video that highlighted MS Vista’s speech recognition. All I can say is that while it performs admirably at times, quite a few times I found the video both painful and funny to watch (see below). It really confirms that the usability and user experience professions are here to stay.

Microsoft Vista Speech Recognition Tested – Perl Scripting

[Runtime: 10:33 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit:]

– Hat Tip: Ari Weissman

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LinkedIn Hover Behavior

I’m not a huge LinkedIn user, but I am impressed that they iteratively work to make their product better and better by targeting better social connection and better user experience.

The other day someone invited me to connect (no, not my wife, like the picture depicts), and I was impressed with both the use of dynamic button names and the behavior of providing help text when I hover over one of the buttons. Notice that the button dynamically includes my wife’s name (click picture to view larger image). Also, note the hover text.

LinkedIn Hover Behavior

I like this method of providing contextual help, particularly because it explains what the resulting action will be when the user clicks the button.

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Information Architecture Summit 2008

This year your peers and industry experts will speak about how topics such as social networking, gaming, patterns, tagging, taxonomies, and a wide range of IA tools and techniques can help as users ‘experience information’.

– April 10-14, 2008 (Miami, Florida USA)” – (About the Summit)

I went to last year’s summit and found it very informative. You might consider checking it out – it’s in Miami!

(hat tip: InfoDesign)

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Edward Tufte iPhone Critique

Edward Tufte offers a critique of the iPhone’s interface design (includes video).

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The Neverending Scroll

I’m not a big fan of the page scroll, unless it is absolutely necessary. The reason I oppose it is that it hasn’t tested well with children. According to Nielsen,
“Children rarely scrolled pages and mainly interacted with information that was visible above the fold.”

Armed with that knowledge, I am curious to see how successful the following site is:

It’s attraction is constant discovery and continual scroll. I wonder who the target audience is.

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13 Usability Guidelines for Using Tabs

Today, Jakob Nielsen published an article on how to properly use tabs. He uses Yahoo! Finance as his case study.

Of note is how Nielsen contrasts guidelines from Apple OSX and Windows Vista. Personally, I too prefer title-style capitalization.

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UPA’s User Focus Conference

Just a quick note that the Usability Professionals’ Association (DC Chapter) is organizing a one day conference on Friday, October 12 in DC.

This local area usability conference will allow attendees to:

  1. LEARN about important trends, cutting edge methods, and case studies in usability and user-centered design.
  2. NETWORK with folks who do what you do…
  3. LEAVE motivated to create user experiences that drive results with a toolkit of techniques and best practices.

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Primary and Secondary Actions in Form Design

Forms guru Luke Wroblewski recently discussed the concept of primary and secondary actions in form design:

After conducting some user testing, it seems as though button placement had more effect than using color to contrast primary and secondary actions. Although there was no clear winner, my vote would be for the left-align button placement with contrasting colors.

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What I Learned at Usability Conferences 2007

Yesterday, the local UPA DC chapter hosted,”What I Learned at the Usability Conferences – 2007.” I was part of a panel that represented the following conferences:

Here are some of the notes I had prepared:

What I Learned at the IA Summit – 2007


Opening Keynote: Joshua Prince-Ramus

Joshua is best known as the architect of the Seattle Central Library. In his keynote, Joshua outlined issues surrounding limitations of space, resources and differing business goals and provided a glimpse into how his firm pushes for the best solution given these constraints. He had presented a similar talk to TED in February 2006:

Closing Plenary: Rashmi Sinha

Rashmi is the creator of SlideShare. She discussed how her team bucked traditional usability methods to rapidly deploy a social web site product in beta mode. Her slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Creating the Adaptive Interface: Stephen Anderson

Stephen offered an inspiring presentation by arguing that the desirability of an application can be related to the adaptability of the interface. “More than removing unused menu options or collaborative filtering, this would include functionality that is revealed over time as well as interface elements that change based on usage.” His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Best Practices for Form Design: Luke Wroblewski

Luke takes the seemingly insignificant “form” and argues that clearly presented information, interaction, and feedback can make all the difference when a user needs to communicate with a company (i.e., commerce, access, engagement). His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

Rich mapping and soft systems: new tools for creating conceptual models: Gene Smith and Matthew Milan

Gene and Matthew explain that Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a holistic problem solving framework that can be used to design and model interactions between organizations, people, environments, products and services. Identifying the CATWOE (Customers, Actors, Transformative Process, Worldview, Owners, Environmental Constraints) helps to add context to any project by articulating the “root definitions” of the problem. Their slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

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UMCP HCIL Symposium


The University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab is hosting a symposium on May 31 and June 1.

Check out the event!

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Using a Screen Reader

If you’ve never used a screen reader or seen one in action, the Yahoo! User Interface folks posted this worthwhile video for you to check out…

Yahoo!’s Victor Tsaran is both an engineer and a blind computer-user whose interactions with his desktop applications and with the web are mediated by screen-reader software. In this video, Victor introduces you to the fundamentals of the screen reader experience and what his strategies are for accessing web content via the screen-reader interface.

[Runtime: 27 minutes | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: ]

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IA Summit Redux – DC Style

Is anyone going to the recap of the IA Summit 2007? Unfortunately, I will be unable to but I’d highly recommend going. Here’s the announcement:

If you missed the IA Summit in Vegas this year, fear not! DCIA will be holding a redux on Saturday, May 12 at 9am. We have commitments from several speakers to recap their talks.


Where: BCC Services Center
When: Saturday, May 12, 9am – 1pm
What: Mini-sessions, panel discussions, five-minute madness, networking, and bagels — lots and lots of bagels.
How much: $5 to cover the cost of food and venue

Speaker Detail Presentation File
Celeste Lyn Paul on card-sorting description PDF (519 KB)
Hallie Wilfert on her grandmother as IA description PPT (10.8 MB)
Stacy Surla on Second Life description PPT (6 MB)
Thom Haller on clear and useful content description PPT (8.5 MB)
Dan Brown on IA documentation description PPT (3.5 MB)
Austin Govella on IA’s impact on business description PPT (1.3 MB)
Lorelei Brown on lessons from failures description SlideShare (online)

We’ll be breaking into small groups to talk about several of the themes that emerged during the Summit, including: documentation for rich internet applications, management issues, and design processes.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: If you attended the Summit and would like to talk about your experience or lead a small group discussion, please drop me [Dan Brown] a line at

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Creating the Adaptive Interface

Stephen Anderson offered an inspiring presentation from the IA Summit.

[Runtime: 136 slides | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: ]

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