Information Architecture User Experience

IA toolkit

Great quote from Dave Gray (hat tip: Austin Kleon)

“Index cards and sticky notes operate like the playing cards, counters and other game components: they make it easy to sort, shuffle, arrange and rearrange information. Flip charts and whiteboards function like playing fields or game boards – they bring logic and order to a space, allowing it to serve as a base for exploring combinatorial possibilities.”

Career Planning Information Architecture

Finding an IA job, idea #3: practice listening

This is part 3 in a short series I’m doing on finding an IA job. Read the previous parts: part 1, part 2

The always eloquent Mark Hurst had a great piece recently on the importance and value of listening entitled Listening is Hard. Two things in particular stuck out for me as an important to finding a job in IA:

You can’t create something better for someone unless you understand what it is they need.

As UX practitioners we’re often responsible for creating things that are better, more usable, better organized, easier to engage with, that sell more stuff or help reduce costs. Listening is a critical skill to learn.

Take a methods like interviewing and facilitation — these require open ears, active listening, attentive to the inputs being provided. Without effective listening, you’ll likely miss a chance to truly understand the needs being communicated through the words of others.

Consider also usability testing as examples where listening is an important part of the process of facilitating a test. Hearing responses from test participants and understanding what is/isn’t working for them requires attentive listening.

Finding out what they need – often by listening to them – is hard.

Talk to anyone who has sat through days of back-to-back stakeholder and user interviews or conducted numerous card sorts or usability tests — they’ll tell you it is hard. You have to practice.

So how do you be an effective listener?

Information Architecture User Experience

The five secrets of innovation

An interesting article about a recently completed six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs that uncovered the five skills that drive innovation. The five skills are:

Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask “why?”, “why not?” and “what if?”

Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.

Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.

Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.

The interesting thing about these skills is that they are also common in the design and UX field.

When working with clients I have to connect unrelated concepts and ideas, question common thinking, observe (especially potential customers and users of systems), experiment (always trying new approaches and ideas) and network with others in the UX space.

What do you think — a reasonable set of skills?

Information Architecture

World IA Day (Vancouver)

Registration is now open for World IA Day 2012 here in Vancouver. Looks like a great lineup of speakers including my former colleague Jess McMullin (Centre for Citizen Experience), Karyn Zudinga (Analytic Design Group), Samantha Starmer (REI), Gordon Ross (OpenRoad) and Karen Pecknold.

Information Architecture User Experience

UX tools

“If you’ve ever interviewed people…you know that beautiful documents and prototypes are meaningless if in the end, they don’t demonstrate good problem solving, and good design decision making. ” @konigi

Information Architecture User Experience

Agile Vancouver: April 28, 2011

I’ve been on a bit of a push lately to demystify UX. I believe this comes from a frustration with the fact that increasingly I see UX/IxD/UE people (or whatever we call ourselves) becoming protective practitioners of our domain. Whether it’s the use of big words, a lack of involvement across teams or even territorial games — it all keeps others from being more involved in the user experience process — and in the end does little to advance our cause.

On April 28 I’ll be speaking on user experience at Agile Vancouver about how user experience should be part of everyones role in the software development lifecycle. It’s going to be my take a demystifying UX; a chance for others to learn some of the basics of user experience and interaction design; and help them walk away understanding how a few basic principles can help improve not only their products but also help create alignment during requirements development.

Hope you can make it out.

Information Architecture User Experience

Doing a content audit or inventory

This is a re-post of my article Doing a content audit or inventory that was posted on the nForm blog January 26, 2010.

This past couple weeks I’ve been doing a large content audit and inventory. With the increased attention on content strategy the audit/inventory seems to be making a comeback.

In this post I’m going to share my recent approach and talk about the tools and process I used to get a comprehensive audit/inventory done.

Audit or inventory?

Before I start though I want to clear up some terminology – in particular the difference between a content audit and a content inventory. Some use the terms interchangeably, but I think there is a difference (I could be wrong), so here’s my take on it:

An inventory is quantitative. An inventory is to help you paint a picture of how much content the site has and to help in the identification of the specific pages/URLs/content as well as any other meta data I can gather. I prefer to do these using a tool to automate much of the work.

An audit is qualitative. An audit helps me understand what kinds of content there are, shows me how pages are currently organized, connects me with the voice and tone of the content and helps me uncover the subject matter so I can be conversant about the site with my client. I prefer to do these manually, reviewing the content on as many pages as I can (for larger sites this might just a sample of the overall content – every X page or page/document type – or a level or two deep).

Doing a content inventory

I’m the first to admit that the task of doing an audit/inventory can be a significant undertaking, tedious and even “mind-numbing” as Jeffrey Veen once said, so I’m always looking for ways to make it easier. Below are a couple tools that can help speed up your work:

  • iGooMap (OSX) is an application that was designed to help create Google Sitemap files for search engine optimization. What I particularly like about this application is that it can pull down a list of URLs with the date last modified from the server (which can be helpful in showing when content was last edited and expediting the ROT or OUCH assessment). It exports files to an XML Sitemap file or to a text file listing all the URLs. You can also filter extensions and parameters from URLs, disallow certain files or folders and view bad links.
  • Integrity is an application that was created for webmasters doing link checking and has been extended recently to allow you to create XML sitemap files as well. It also can export the results of your scan as a .CSV file or as an XML sitemap file, allows filtering and the ability to ignore certain parameters. Like iGooMap it also shows you bad links.

Note: if you are a PC user there may be comparable Google sitemap creation tools, but I don’t have any suggestions for you. For link checking, I’d suggest trying XENU Link Sleuth

The advantage of using a tool to automate some of the work is that: is that it gives me a comprehensive list of URLs without much effort and can run in the background while I do my audit or other work. While tools are helpful, they tend to scan everything they can find via a hyperlink. So once I have my list of pages I usually try and spend some time cleaning up my inventory. Here are a few methods I use:

  • Load the list of pages into Excel (each page URL on it’s own row) and then sort the column ascending from A-Z so that the URLs appeared based on their site file structure. This speeds up the grouping of content in the spreadsheet and makes it easier to locate similar content based on the URL path.
  • If you have URLs in a mix of cases it can be hard to scan and read. So to make them all the same case using Excel’s LOWER function.
  • To locate duplicates within the spreadsheet use Excel’s COUNTIF function and some conditional formatting, then quickly identify and flag duplicates and delete them from the spreadsheet. If you’re not an Excel wiz, try this tutorial on using the COUNTIF function to find duplicates.
  • Consider moving other content/file types (PDF, Word Docs, Video, Audio, PowerPoint, etc.) to other tabs in your spreadsheet so that you can separate the pages from the files on the site and really focus on the content that’s HTML. I usually have one for Documents, Audio and Video respectively.

Doing a content audit

When I work on an audit I create a spreadsheet with a few columns set up:

  • Content ID (optional). Some people like to number everything, but I don’t. Personally I find this hard to read and even harder to navigate.
  • Levels. Here I record the page name. Rather than rely on colored background or other reminders I use a column for each level within the site (labeling it simply as L1, L2, L3, etc.). This helps me see the relationship of pages to one another more easily that the numbering scheme used above. I usually don’t go more than a few levels deep and keep the column width small to make it easy to read.
  • URL. The page URL
  • Document type. Here I list what template the page uses or the type of page it is
  • Owner/Maintainer. Here I list who’s responsible for the content. This I usually have the client fill in.
  • ROT or OUCH. ROT stands for Redundent, Outdated and Trivial. It’s a bit ambiguous so lately I’ve been using Gene Smith’s suggestion of OUCH (Outdated, Unnecessary, Current, Have to Write). This you can document or have the client fill in.
  • Do not review. At times there is content that simply just doesn’t need to be reviewed. It could be historical, time-based content (like past press releases or newsletters) that just isn’t worth the time reviewing. You can speed up this task by flagging the content in the spreadsheet. I might take a stab at this or have the client do it.
  • Notes. Here I’ll record anything that I want to make note of or mention.

Combining the two approaches

Sometimes it is worth combining the two methods. When I do:

  • I start by doing a manual audit of the site
  • While I’m doing the audit I create a content inventory to get a list of pages and when they were possibly last modified/updated and clean up the inventory file – removing duplicate URLs and cleaning up formatting
  • I open both spreadsheets and copy/paste the pages from the inventory to the manual audit that were not reviewed giving me a complete list of all the content on the site
  • I may have the client identify the page owner/maintainer, OUCH, which pages we may be able to ignore and which content might be relevant to particular audiences

A couple final tips

  • Make sure your scanning tool indexes all the various file extensions. Most are made for search engine optimization and as such exclude a number of extensions.
  • Double check for redirects. These could point to redundant pages in your inventory.
  • If you have content behind a login area, see if your tool will allow you to enter login credentials to capture this content. If it won’t, you’ll likely have to do it manually.

Hopefully these tips and tools help to make your content audit/inventory work a bit smoother.

Information Architecture

Explain IA

To “explain IA”, this afternoon I had my 5-year-old son draw me a picture of what he thought IA was and what it is I do for a living. Thought everyone would enjoy his take on explaining IA.

Here’s the complete drawing:

Click on the photo for a larger version

Here’s what you’ll see on the drawing and his explanations of the drawing in quotes.

“My Dad’s job is an information architect”. Apparently I look like a transformer with 70s hair.

People – “you work with a lot of people Dad”. Naturally people are romans, knights and guys with swords.

Audiences – “here we have a drawing of the orchestra on stage with an audience “the guys at the right are bagpipe players, people will love them”

Labels – a drawing of a can of “mom soup”

Navigation – here we have a compass “like Jack Sparrow’s” and “pirate ships having a battle”

Organizing – “I made a site map of super heroes, organized by boy superheroes and girl superheroes with pictures in case people can’t read my writing”

Finding – “you have to find Waldo in this super big cave”

Search – “this is a hand holding a magnifying glass, looking at a spider”

Maps – “cause you sometimes need a map to find things”


Making things easy – “I decided not to draw anything for this because it was easier”


and lastly – “It’s fun, see they are smiling”

I think he has a pretty good grasp of what IA is. Who knows, maybe he’ll be an IA/UX/IxDA/Designer when he grows up.

NOTE: I only helped with printing out pictures of super heroes and the writing of this summary. I was totally amazed at what he knows about what I do and what things are part of it all. I have a fantastic son!

Information Architecture User Experience

Reflections on CanUX

Another CanUX conference has wrapped up. This annual gathering of UX professionals (mostly Canadian) is a great opportunity to connect with one another, share knowledge, ideas and approaches. I love attending and can’t imagine a year without it. This was the last year for the conference in Banff, coming years will see it move around (as I understand), a chance for others to get in on the action.

Design Slam

Matthew Nish-Lapidus and I put together this year’s design slam topic about food banks. The topic turned out to be a good challenge and though some similarities existed between solutions (e.g. colour coding, sorting methods), it was a great way to get people warmed up and thinking on Day 1.

Lane Becker – Get Satisfaction

Lane, a co-founder of Adaptive Path, shared with us his view of the ever-evolving landscape of customer satisfaction and how organizations are changing and learning to adapt in this age of transparency. The success of his company, Get Satisfaction, is impressive (over 28,000 companies on the roll) and some fantastic brands using the tools to connect with customers.

Jess McMullin – Business Origami

Business Origami
Business Origami

Jess shared his BETA of business origami — a methology originally created at Hitatchi. With thousands of cut-out paper characters we helped map scenarios for a number of problems. As basic as this tool was, the complexities of some scenarios could be effectively communicated. Everyone had a blast trying it out and sharing feedback on the BETA run.

Nathan Curtis – Modular Web Design

Nathan, from EightShapes, shared with us his approaches and thinking on modular web design. We were introduced to patterns, components and how these elements can be combined to speed up UX deliverable development. I’ve been using a similar approach for the past couple years (minus the InDesign supported workflow) and found it very interesting. I think the best part was the hands-on group work at tables that helped people understand components and how they can be re-assembled to create other pages.

Chad Fournier – Shaw Communications

Chad shared with us the Agile UX approach at Shaw in re-tooling their customer call centre application. An interesting inside look at creating a UX culture, advancing the purpose of UX, finding success and building on that success over time. Chad and his team have a lot to be proud of here and have clearly delivered a lot of value to the organization.

Matthew Milan and Alex Eberts – Akoha

A walk through the path to the game Akoha — a game that has the goal to make the world a better place. This start-up is exploring ways to leverage social capital and will be curious to watch over time as they continue to re-invent themselves and try to find their market niche.

Kristina Halvorson – Content Strategy for the Web

An entertaining and information-rich presentation from the author of Content Strategy for the Web. She was so excited when talking that she almost forgot to breathe, but had a lot to say and share. The big take-away is that you need to include content as part of our process — not as an afterthought. The exercises were a good intro into the pains of writers, the need for copy and the benefits of having copy earlier, rather than later in the process. Although you have to wonder how many people went back to the office and continued the same-old-same-old with content.

Rahel Bailie – Content Strategy Case Study

Following Kristina takes guts and Rahel delivered a ton of confirmations and insights into her content strategy and approach. I really enjoyed seeing some real-life application and the depth of effort and role of writers in interactive projects. Lots of room for growth in this area of UX, especially for those with a command of words, language and organization.

Peter Merholz – Upgrading our Mandate

Peter, as always, gets the last word. His talk took us through a range of inspiration, big and practical ideas. What really stood out for me from his talk is that designers are really becoming facilitators. We solve problems, that aren’t always visual.

p.s. if you are looking for a great run-down of the conference from Twitter, check out the work that Bryce Johnson did pulling them all together or Murray Thompson’s sketch notes

Information Architecture Jobs and Careers User Experience

Farewell CM, hello nForm

On October 28 I wrapped up my work as Director of Information Architecture at Critical Mass. I really enjoyed the role, especially getting back to managing people and work (something I’m told I’m good at). Over my five months at CM I tripled the size of our team; addressed a number of issues within the practice; improved the quality of the work we produce; and mentored, coached and played a supporting role for all on the team. I had a chance to work with many talented folks across IA, Creative/Design, Planning and Project Management on a wide variety of projects including AT&T, Adidas, Nissan/Infinity. CM was a great extraordinary experience. But, in the end my work/life balance was suffering and I decided that I needed more time with family (an aging/ailing in-law, my son starting school and my spouse’s busy career among the things needing more attention).

I was expecting to just take some time off for a bit or to do just a bit of contract work, but a few opportunities came up. In the end I decided to join Edmonton-based nForm User Experience as a Senior User Experience Consultant. nForm does great work and I’m looking forward to working with them on a number of exciting projects.