EuroIA 10 report: day 2


EuroIA is the primary European Information Architecture conference. In 2011 it took place in Prague, The Czech Republic.

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EuroIA is about community, and about learning and sharing knowledge. So it wasn’t a surprise that attendees showed up energetic and ready for the second day of EuroIA after a long, fun night in the city of good food and wine. Again, the balance between practical talks about core IA topics, and inspirational reflections on opening up our design process, the role of UX, and how we work with data worked well. Excellent lunches, the IA Jam, the treasure hunt and enough breaks created opportunities to get to know fellow attendees. And the talks were great, so read on.

Lean IA: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business – Jeff Gothelf

In the beginning, we needed deliverables to define the practice of information architecture. A lot of value has been placed on the deliverable itself – practitioners have become experts for wireframes, the go-to person when you needed a comp or diagram. Put beautiful deliverables are worthless if the good design they describe is not carried through to the live experience. Additionally, static deliverables are not doing interactive, multi-platform experiences justice.

Lean IA is inspired by Lean Product and Agile development theories. It’s a transformative practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with an emphasis on experiences rather than deliverables.

This is what the Lean IA process looks like

Concept > Prototype > Validate internally > Test externally > Learn from user behaviour > Iterate
(this is just the UX design process)
Get your designs out there quickly, in public, for everybody in your organisation to see and comment on.

What Lean IA is:

Control: The design team drives the design, and opens it up for feedback and input. It’s important that the decision how feedback is incorporated remains in the hands of the designers. The UX designer is the keeper of the vision – the greater goal of the design is your responsibility.

Momentum: Everyone on the team is engaged and motivated, and everyone is moving forward. Don’t design in a silo, share what you’re doing and show your progress.

Quality: Don’t race for the third place, but champion the best experience that you possible can create for your customers and your business.

Alignment: As you move forward with the design, show it to others, to get their buy-in and to ensure everybody is on the same page. It’s not your design or my design, it’s something we created together. Make sure the stakeholder team sees their ideas in your design, helping you advocate your solutions.

Feasibility: Lean IA allows you to ensure the experience can be built well – at the core of this is prototyping the core flow. Demo prototypes to the development team, discuss and iterate. The prototype is documenting the most important functionalities.

Fill in the gaps: There’s always something you didn’t think about. By talking about your design, you stand a chance of getting all pieces of the puzzle together.

So, can it be done?
After defining his concept of Lean IA, Jeff took some time to talk about culture.

If you’re working in a software/web design shop, with a multi-disciplinary teams, you can implement Lean IA very easily. You are in the problem-solving business, so you don’t solve problems with design documentation, but with working software.

If you’re in an interactive agency, it’s a tougher sell. Agencies are in the deliverables business, this is how they make money. Deliverables are handed over to clients or development shops, deliverables are specified in the statements of work. Adopting a Lean IA process is a fundamental change in the agency business model:
Concept > Validate with client > Iterate > Validate with client > Prototype > Learn from user behaviours.
Show rough ideas and concepts to your clients, at least every two days. Get your client’s buy-in. Show confidence you have in your work and your approach.

Is this good for every project?
Use this approach where it makes sense. Lean IA works well for functional, task-oriented projects, eg experiences with a core purchase flow. Highly experiential marketing projects, such as very interactive websites with brand interaction and exploration as a goal, will struggle.

How to get started with Lean IA?
Jeff shares his experience from implementing this way of working at The Ladders. To kick things off, everybody gets together in a collaborative design session – the core execution team of the project sketches ideas together. Designers, developers and product managers engage in a design-and-critique workshop. This facilitates early team alignment, collaboration, and a sense of ownership.

Lean IA isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution, taking us back to the experience design business. Collaboration is the smarter way to do good work. If you liked Jeff‘s talk, get it here and have a look at his blog.

Agile and UX: Stories from the Trenches – Matt Roadnight & Jane Austin

(This talk took place on day 1, but in the context of Jeff’s session, this experience report on agile UX fits better in here.)

Jane is head of UX at IG Index, where she and her team tackle the challenge of doing agile UX. Matt is an agile consultant, who was called in to help Jane’s team to get things working. In their talk, they shared both their experience of working at and with IG Index, but also their personal perspectives on agile UX.

For Jane, agile is more an attitude than a canonical set of processes you have to follow. For Matt, agile is all about communication and collaboration, with Scrum as a framework to facilitate this collaboration. Every agile team has to agree not only on a ‘definition of done’, but also on a ‘definition of ready’ that works for their product and context. For Jane, this is more important than sticking dogmatically to the notion of ‘working one sprint ahead’. Don’t rush into agile development, it’s possible to start too soon. If you need more time to set a vision for a complex project, take time for it. Jane’s team works in the financial space, so up front research to communicate what the product is about was valuable. Experience wheels visualised the client lifecycle, personas created empathy.

Matt helped the team to move from these materials to a product backlog. In collaborative planning workshops, the UX, business and tech team got together to create an overview structured by features and contents. Everybody discussed the upcoming work, and voted on high-risk or high-priority areas.

An important concept of agile is to create flow, to ensure stories are ready for development. When it took the team longer to get the navigation right, other elements moved up in the backlog more quickly than expected. This ended in fragmentation of interactions – to mitigate the risk of an inconsistent, incoherent design, Jane had to change how she did her work. She stepped back to adopt more of a leadership and creative director role, and the team put together patterns.

Additionally, Matt encouraged Jane and her colleagues at IG Index to work as a product team.The product owner isn’t a role, but a set of responsibilities and skills. There’s rarely one person who has all information about user and business needs, and is available to questions from the team. A good product owner team has a member from the product, the tech and the UX/design team. Jane found it challenging to wear both the UX lead and the PO team member hat. Tools such as collaborative product discovery workshops and retrospectives facilitate creating the team spirit.

Matt has published a whitepaper with several case studies of agile ux teams, available for download here.

Start Anywhere – What Faceted Navigation Is (Not) Good For – Peter Boersma

Peter started his talk by defining faceted navigation:

  • Facets are attributes of your content items;
  • Navigation is finding your way in an (information) space;
  • Faceted navigation is about selecting attributes of content items to navigate an information space.

A typical design has facets on the left, with content that matches the selected facets being displayed to the right of the navigation.

So when does it make sense to use faceted navigation?
Your content items have to be tagged appropriately. It’s useful when your facets and values actually distinguish content items, facilitating choice. The comparison website Kayak uses facets to provide more information about search results.

When should you not use faceted navigation?
Faceted navigation can make an unclear design and navigation even worse. If your users prefer search to browsing, faceted navigation doesn’t fit their needs. Amazon has facets in place, but search is the easy option of choice.
Don’t use faceted navigation if your content items have additional features. On the Dell website, a user goes through selecting up to 6 different facets, only to discover more additional options. A wizard could be a better solution at this point.
If you only have a small collection of content, faceted navigation isn’t for you either. Apple has a limited number of products, so they can just list them on their homepage.

If your users are in non-selection phases of the purchase process, faceted navigation is of no use to them.
Finally, faceted navigation isn’t suitable if you want to introduce serendipity and chance discoveries of content.

What are the alternatives to faceted navigation?

  • Search
  • Directory listing
  • Product tables and comparison charts (for an overview of a small selection of products)
  • Product configurators, wizards, advisors to select the right product (eg Audi car selector)
  • Top X lists (to highlight popular content, eg on news websites)
  • Fewer products to begin with

Tips & tricks

  1. make sure that if you select one facet, the ones that aren’t relevant anymore disappear.
  2. at some point, comparison charts may be easier.
  3. for products that appear in many categories, it can make sense to group them uner a ‘general’ category
  4. the order of facets determines how they will be used. if price is most important to your users, put it first.
  5. Faceted navigation is hardly ever the only solution, but needs to combined with other navigation types.
  6. ‘view all designs’ is not a filter
  7. ask yourself: should we use faceted navigation for all content types?

Whispering in the Giant’s Ear: Designing Social Media Interaction for Samsung Electronics -Hendrik Sommerfeldt

Hendrik shared a case study of a project with Samsung. 9 out of 10 kids in the UK can identify Daleks and tell you a story about them – but if you show a photo of Daleks in the rest of Europe, only few people know what they are. If it’s hard to bridge the cultural gap within Europe, imagine how hard it is to design ‘something social’ in Europe for a South Korean brand.
To set the context, Hendrik explored the similarities between Korea and Germany, and explained the DNA of Samsung, a large company owned by one family. The Samsung Anycall Dreamer was a social campaign successful in Asia, targeting a young segment, promoting Samsung as an employer. Thousands of young people registered to get a chance for a placement as an intern at Samsung.

What did it take to adapt this campaign for Germany? The target audience was completely different, the project brief and KPIs had to be redefined. Samsung is perceived differently in Germany, and not known for listening to people, so the solution was a ‘voice of the customer’ programme. Applying the SUCCESS model from ‘Made to stick’, the campaign recruited young technologists to collaborate with them and advocate Samsung through buzz-marketing.

Hendrik reflected on his main insights from managing this project.
Firstly, communication was a challenge – the local Samsung offices had little power, it was necessary to communicate directly with the decision-makers in the South Korean headquarters.
Secondly, the client was keen to feel in control of the process, so daily reporting was necessary to establish a working relationship Samsung were comfortable with. Basecamp’s to-do lists and milestones were the tools of choice to facilitate this collaboration. Other useful tools to work together rapidly across time zones were Ning, Dropbox or Google docs.
Thirdly, South Koreans don’t consider contracts as set in stone, but as an adaptable agreement that vaguely describes the project. To handle this, Hendrik’s team set specific milestones, but allowed for flexibility and change.
Finally, Samsung was keen to see happy German customers experiencing their products. Instead of setting up costly events, the German project team took their ideas to barcamps and events such as Mobile Monday, reporting people’s feedback back to Samsung.

To identify the right participants for the campaign, careful selection, including face-to-face interviews, was necessary. Set up tools to support collaboration. Make milestones and progress visible through checklists. Ask questions and strip the project down to the core KPIs. Get Asian clients over to Europe and establish a relationship, otherwise it will be hard to establish trust, and engage in follow-up projects.

Keynote: Paul Kahn – Structured data: none / some / all

Paul started his keynote with a historical reflection. Between 1995 and 2010, gazillions of websites changed reading behaviour. Our design problem was an evolution of visual literacy. Readers were trained to find information in print publications, digital publications lacked physical context, and their location and scope were invisible. The main design task was to connect readers to content by adapting the graphic language – type, colour, image – from the page to the screen; to create navigation systems that helped users understand what they could find on a website; and to communicate the structure of the content in flexible repeatable units.

Now, in 2010, we live in a world of massive undifferentiated data. TeleGeography’s 2010 Global Internet Map captures in a visual form the amount of bandwidth between different continents, and the percentage of bandwidth that’s being used.
In 2010, users are

  • convinced that they can find what they want on the internet;
  • producing and managing dematerialised content: photos, videos, music, email, compound documents;
  • creators and consumers with storage/creation and retrieval/consumption needs;
  • looking for something all the time.

In 2010, users want to

  • record, share, publish;
  • be convinced, amused, in control;
  • find, sort, shift, copy;
  • mix, reorder, rearrange.

Users now have the experience of solving problems by manipulating metadata (even if they don’t know what that is).

As information architects, we work with data. So what is data like, in 2010?
Today, every IA/UX problem is a data continuum. Data has:

  1. no structure | vacuum | raw
  2. some structure | marsh | eatable
  3. complete structure | field | cooked

Unstructured data
Data vacuum: no metadata has been added to items. Even data vacuums include content and context. There’s a trade-off between precision (finding only what you’re looking for) and recall (finding everything that might contain what you’re looking for). Information retrieval algorithms struggled to get the balance.

Take the name as an example of data. People have many names (legal names, professional names, etc), places and things have many names in different languages. As data, a name presents a major problem: it’s not unique. Finding the person you’re looking for on Google requires work-arounds, we add additional strings for context.

To retrieve information, we use implicit metadata, eg to find a file on your computer, you can look for document type, file name or the time/date stamp.
Google has made certain editorial decisions, eg showing you images corresponding with your search term.

Five ways to organise information for understanding and ease of use are on location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy (LATCH (+) by Richard Wurman (in Information Anxiety 2)). But it’s also possible to organise on common focus.

Semi-structured data
Data marsh: some metadata without predefined language or requirements
Tagging: ad hoc uncontrolled keywords
Time/location stamps: where and when
each metadata dimension is flat (no hierarchy) and independent
Many kinds of relationships can be inferred

Structured data
data fields: where metadata has been explicitly added to items according to an agreed-upon structure
the content is made to fit a pre-defined structure
the required parts of the structure are complete
each metadata dimension qualifies and reinforces the meaning of content

Paul is known for visualising information beautifully, so he finished his keynote with examples of (interactive) visualisations of structured data.

The Alaska Nativce Collections catalogue is a great example for fitting content into an explicit structure to present a lot of information effectively.
Map of the Market
NY Times Immigration Explorer
NPR Patchwork Nation
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Timeline visualisation
Pivot: tool released by Microsoft Live Labs

Without (an understanding of) structured data, these visualisations wouldn’t be possible.
Would the world be a better place if everything had a unique ID? If every digital object with a unique ID contained strutured data?
How does structured data affect quality of life questions?
This is the food for thought Paul left us with to ponder over.

Johanna Kollmann

Johanna Kollmann is a Senior UX consultant at EMC Consulting in London. Her background is in Information Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and one of her main interests is how UX designers collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams. When she's don’t organising or attending barcamps, hackdays or other geeky events, Johanna can be found at gigs or on her mission to find the best espresso in town.

3 comments on this article

  1. Johan on

    Great synopsis, thanks for the posts and tweets!