Archive for the ‘information architecture’ Category

What’s in a name?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

The Other Like

That which Facebook calls “like” by any other name would be called “disgust”, or “approval”. Ay, there’s the rub. (Apologies to dear Bill.)

Ever since Facebook started pushing activity of people/organizations you are “fans” of into your news feed, it has become clear that their nomenclature for certain events/actions needs some work. Just as “friending” is a meh blanket term for a bi-directional affinity relationship, “becoming a fan of” is an expression of uni-directional affinity, what we need is some kind uni-directional gesture of recognition or attention. Maybe it’s as simple as “I am paying attention to this” or “I have paid some attention to this”.  The question is whether we need a multi-faceted metric here, because you can pay attention because you think it’s cool, witty, funny, or smart, or something can catch your eye because it’s horrific, crazy, sad, or sick.

At the end of the day, I am pretty sure Facebook’s intention behind introducing this feature (rather hastily) is because it wants some kind of simple way to measure influence (ie, how many people [insert term here] your stuff/thoughts/updates) or attention.

Paging Mr. Goldstein…

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Monday, March 9th, 2009

I happened to pick up a complete issue of the New York Times paper edition yesterday and I had a strange, disconcerting experience. I suppose you could call it déjà vu, but I think it’s slightly different, slightly more explicable than that…

I had given up my daily subscription to the Times two years ago, subsisting now as a “Weekender” and the truth is, I am paying $3.45 a week for the New York Times Magazine, since that’s the only section I really read. The rest, as they say, is “fish wrap.”

All other days, and even weekends, therefore, my daily experience with the Times is through its superb digital online product. So there I was, waiting in the hallway of my office, waiting for Ryan to come in since I had left my keys inside in my rush to leave the day before, and, bored, I picked up the newspaper someone had left for recycling, fully intact. After scanning the front page for a second, I realized that I had seen each of these headlines the day before online.

I hadn’t read each article, of course, but as I flipped further, I thought to myself, “So that’s where they put that article, and oh, I didn’t realize that one got the entire front page of the business section!” It was like someone had come in and re-arranged all of the furniture in my apartment, with different priorities and a different sense of order.

And one of the beauties of this post-digital encounter was that I stumbled on a fascinating article which hadn’t been on the “most e-mailed” list and it was a blip in the parade of articles on the homepage that day. But there it was, front and center on the business section:


Google in the paper

Google, the online giant, had been sued in federal court by a large group of authors and publishers who claimed that its plan to scan all the books in the world violated their copyrights.

As part of the class-action settlement, Google will pay $125 million to create a system under which customers will be charged for reading a copyrighted book, with the copyright holder and Google both taking percentages; copyright holders will also receive a flat fee for the initial scanning, and can opt out of the whole system if they wish.

But first they must be found.

The article was about Google’s campaign to satisfy the terms of this class-action settlement, payback, if you will, for attempting to scan and offer digitally every book in the universe, to compensate the authors and copyright holders for this use of their “property”. The irony was that, in order to achieve this, Google was taking out half page ads in newspapers all over the world, an undertaking only Google could pull off.

Fancy, that: Google having to use paper to distribute information.

It just goes to show: print is going to recalibrate itself from what it used to do (everything from phone books to news to long texts to novels) to focus on what it does really well in a digital, networked world (not hyper-fresh news, not phone books, on-demand magazines and books, and information distribution off the grid).

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Stuffing our faces (with information)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Aya and I were watching the trailer for We Live in Public on Sunday and there was a line that said something to the effect of “blah blah mumble being online all the time mumble mumble like an addiction, it’s like Attention Deficit Disorder blah blah” at which point Aya shot me an accusing glance, in a kind of non-verbal intervention.

Okay, I admit it (that’s the first step towards recovery, right?). I have a problem. I am online most of my waking hours (see my self-analysis). Rarely do my computers ever get switched off (I just sleep them). I can argue that it’s my livelihood. I can say I’m trying to be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and that I have to amass 10,000 hours of, um, practice so I can be an “expert” on teh internets.

But the truth is, I like the feeling of knowing what’s up with my network, and the rest of the world. I am more aware than I used to be. I care about politics because I am more engaged. I can blame part of it on genetics. Growing up, my brother and I would rarely be without a book. I used to carry a huge backpack filled with books wherever I went — in fact, I would feel naked without the weight around my shoulders. My brother ate sci-fi pulp novels for breakfast. (He is actually a freakishly speedy reader, eating entire pages in a glance.) My dad would spend hours sitting on the toilet reading scientific journals (xeroxed from the library).


The point I tried to make is that the only thing that’s changed is that we’ve shifted the same activity from “atoms to bits” (as Nicholas Negroponte likes to put it). No more 50lb backpacks; just a 4lb laptop. Instead of reams of paper, which are now gathering dust in a box taking up space in the basement, I now have Evernote,, and Google Reader that live in the airy Cloud.

The thing we can’t seem to get over is this: when it’s on paper, it’s okay. But when it hits the screen, somehow it becomes problematic, stigmatized, it’s an “addiction.”

One way of looking at it is that we have gotten lulled into the idea that if something made it into print, it had to be knowledge. But we now know this is not the case. We’re all in a jumble right now. The computer is the locus of too many activities: work, play, banking, browsing, rubber-necking at the train-wreck of humanity, study, creativity, etc. They are all crammed together and flattened out such that the bad taints the good (never the opposite).

from blog to newsprint
Two designers in London have printed Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, which is a publication of “stuff from the internet…printed in a newspaper format”

Another way of seeing it is from a very physical reality. For all its atomic encumbrances, the book is portable, and computers, surprisingly less so, though that all is changing. I am seeing more ordinary people whip open their laptops on the subway, more people reading on their phones, and a new wave of netbooks is hitting the streets. The screen forces us to come to it. It emanates information, and it is information of an altogether new and different quality because it is born on a screen and is meant to live on a screen, never to be frozen in print, and we are entranced by its flickering aura.

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Grid Generator from netProtozo

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Karl (netProtozo) and I have been working together for almost 8 years off and on, and now we share an office, where we consult and work on projects together.

Karl whipped this little grid generator up today. It rocks for several reasons. The first is it’s the result of our having worked on large-scale sites and our approach is reflected in it, like the idea that there should be an underlying fractional unit for the columns, gutters, and super-columns. The other feature is invisible, but it hooks neatly into the HTML framework we’ve been developing (and the project that is codenamed Morpheus). This approach has been used on GOOD and Conductor’s beta application.

Have fun!

The netProtozo Grid Generator

The netProtozo Grid Generator

The netProtozo Grid Generator

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Bonfire of the Wireframes

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

What is a wireframe?

Depends on who you ask. I like to define a wireframe as equivalent to a keyframe in a storyboard. (The problem is that most websites are not linear, but that’s a topic for another post.) I’ve done thousands of wireframes in my career as an Information Architect/Interaction Designer (have we settled on an appropriate title yet? I guess not). I don’t live for wireframing, even though making them is one of my most marketable skills. I have developed a very pragmatic view of it, having seen how my wireframe “bibles” are clung to by business customers, salespeople and QA, and then unceremoniously forgotten after the first beta launch. The tricky thing about wireframes is that they can mean different things to different people, depending on what stage of the project you’re in.

So now I have developed a Zen-like detachment with wireframes: they are ephemeral. In fact, I make it a habit of suggesting to clients that we schedule into the project plan a wireframe bonfire, usually sometime after launch. Every time, I get a double take and a laugh of disbelief. Why a bonfire? To emphasize the reality of the end goal, the working application itself. Users don’t use wireframes. Also, I want to make the point that wireframes are dead and the application is alive, that decisions that may have looked great on paper may, in reality, not work when put in front of real users.

The Evolution of Wireframes

Wireframes need to evolve over the course of a project. For larger projects (3 to 9 months) I’ve found it useful to clarify both for myself and the business customer what to expect from wireframes at different stages.


In the nascent stages of a project, when ideas are being thrown about by all stakeholders and everything is in flux, lo-res wireframes may appear on anything from whiteboards, scrawled on the backs of napkins or scrap paper. Think of them as thumbnail sketches.

Lo-Res wireframes should be

  • Sketchy
  • Loose
  • Quick
  • General
  • Monochromatic
low res sketch

An example of a Lo-Res wireframe

Usually, I will gather these scraps of paper and translate them into digital roughs.

A digital Lo-Res wireframe

A digital Lo-Res wireframe

Note the “default” style for everything:

  • Labels should be descriptive of the content. Avoid using real copy (except for logo)
  • Content areas are grey blocks with the label in the top left corner
  • Multimedia or graphics are indicated by a different grey box, with label centered in middle
  • Buttons are indicated by rounded corner and centered label text

Not using copy is important at this stage because you don’t necessarily want the client focusing on details yet. It can be distracting from the larger goal, which is that you want to get agreement and sign-off on basic proportional representation of types of content and their general hierarchy. At this stage, you should be able to use this to answer the question: What are the primary, secondary, and tertiary content blocks on the page?

Medium Res

Once you have established what content needs to appear on the page and have a good sense of their general hierarchy, you can start to add more detail, in the form of more realistic headings, navigational copy, and basic indications of functionality.

A Medium-Res Wireframe

A Medium-Res Wireframe

As you can see, there’s a little more resolution here, like you’re adjusting the focal length so that you can make out more clearly the major elements of the screen. But you’ll notice that not everything is in focus yet, namely the body copy, which I like to represent as grey bars to give an idea of type density without getting bogged down into specifics yet.

I’ve found that once you start introducing dummy copy and dummy data, the viewer’s expectations and reactions start to change, regardless of your frantic entreaties to disregard such characteristics. There is a point at which our attention begins to hone in and we start to notice certain elements, unconsciously or not, and it takes all of your discipline and awareness as creator of these documents to modulate the viewer’s expectations through the blurring and smudging of various elements (at one point I considered applying a “Pencil Sketch” filter in Photoshop to my wireframes). But at some point, you will have to address these things, such as color, highlighting, typography, dimensionality, and data, which will bring your wireframes to to a higher level of resolution and expectation.

Tomorrow: I’ll dig up some Hi-Res wireframes and talk about clickable prototypes, the ultimate in high-resolution wireframes. Stay tuned!

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