Archive for the 'IA/User Experience' Category

My work featured in Wireframe magazine

Monday, January 19, 2009


Wireframe online magazine is pointing to my past work as an example of an “interesting” way to document error handling in a web application. Click over and check out their site. Lots of other notable examples.

I should clarify that Mark Hines of Chicago established this style featured here, and I had the privilege of working with him back in 2003. I still use many of the techniques I learned while working with him!

Script supervisor is like a UX designer

Friday, February 22, 2008

OK, maybe not exactly. But that is what I thought when I heard a little story on NPR’s Morning Edition about “script supervisors” on movie sets. Their job is to ensure that continuity mistakes do not happen in between takes. We’ve all seen it — a dinner scene where a steak magically regains its size even as the character munches away.

A script supervisors on the set prevent mistakes like this by sweating the details, and their end goal is to provide a seamless experience for the viewer. If you notice a mistake while watching a movie, it’s that much more difficult to immerse yourself back into the story. They are most successful when nobody notices the result of their hard work.

This reminds me of my own job, where a bulk of my effort is spent on making sure that no user gets tripped up on their way to accomplishing a task on a website. Like script supervisors, I’m successful when nobody remembers the site for being frustrating to use.

And just like when they make mistakes, it’s a lot easier to point them out than to know how to prevent the mistakes in the first place!

Evangelicals have smaller… you know what

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There seems to be plenty of critiques of this year’s presidential candidate websites. Here’s something I noticed for myself.

While I was looking for Hillary’s and Obama’s speeches from last week, I observed that Clinton’s site was smaller than Obama’s in width! At where I work, we have been targeting 1024×768 for quite some time. Obama’s site seems to fit that resolution, and Clinton’s, while bigger than the next smaller threshold of 800×600, was considerably smaller — about 100 pixels narrower than Obama’s.

Obama screenshot

Clinton screenshot

The difference of 100 pixels makes Clinton’s site look just a bit more crammed and busy than her rival’s., by comparison, benefits from the extra white space by communicating (at least to me) a sense of confidence.

So it got me curious — I went to the two other remaining candidates’ websites. Black? You really went with black for your background color? Anyway, the screen resolution is even bigger than Barack’s. Guess we know who the real man is!

McCain screenshot

Huckabee screenshot

And here’s the punchline… Mike Huckabee’s site targets 800×600! Over a year ago, it was reported that only 17% of all monitors support up to 800×600. It says something about how mainstream this guy is aspiring to get, huh?

Yummy for Obama, crummy for Huckabee! And if Obama and McCain win nominations for their respective party, you know their websites’ size really mattered.

Thoughts about IA’s role vs. title and the future of the UX group

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This isn’t what I threatened to blog about yesterday, but it’s on my mind now, so here goes.

How to structure a user experience team is something I’ve been thinking about as of late. Related to that, obviously, is a role of each member on the team. Currently, all members of the UX team at POP are called information architects, and we (including myself) all perform information architecture tasks day-to-day.

But that’s not all. I feel like we do so much more, and the label of IA doesn’t always adequately describe everything we do. We’re starting to see IA as a service or a task instead of a role. Other tasks might include user interface design, usability testing, user research, and here’s the part that begs for some clear delineation — strategizing with clients about their online marketing goals.

For a while now, many folks have been talking about the impact a designer can make on not only the design decisions, but on business decisions that clients make. In the product world, IDEO and Frog come to mind as the pioneers in this area. In the online world, Luke Wroblewski has been talking and presenting about this for quite some time.

The debate about IA’s title/definition is not exactly new, either. As long as I’ve been an IA (since 2000) all listservs and discussion platforms I’ve been part of see this topic flare up at maybe about once every three months. I never paid much attention, because I always liked the term IA and I understood it just fine for what I did for my career. Lucky for me, I suppose then, that the title of “IA” seems to have gained sufficient traction and acceptance inside the industry, and most people these days have a pretty consistent understanding of what an IA does.

And personally, this strategy thing never really came into my career path until the last year or two. I don’t doubt that it’s always been a part of some other IA professionals’ skillset or responsibility. But not me, and not most other IAs I have worked with. And if helping clients with figuring out their digital strategy was always part of being an IA, it was always done implicitly as far as I could tell — like it’s a byproduct of our real focus which is creating excellent user experience — rather than an explicit offering. But like I said, that’s been changing lately, at least at POP.

So I’ve learned that it’s important to recognize being a UX-minded strategist as one of the essential skills for a member on a UX team, along with being a good IA and researcher. Perhaps I should refer to this role as — hmm — UX strategist, or maybe take a step back and call it UX designer.

But here’s the dilemma. I also think that while anyone can learn the skill of providing strategy work for clients, not everyone would want to take their career in that direction. Some UX designers/IAs want to focus on solving complex UI problems rather than being involved in stakeholder-level meetings and presentations. I personally see that as a fork in the road for UX designers and IAs, and the two options are not hierarchical, but rather two equally valuable roles within a company with multiple offerings. I say it’s a dilemma because I think it’s a simple matter of personal interest. And because the two paths stem from the same set of basic UX design skills, one path should not be automatically associated with a higher pay grade. But most places consider strategy-related work to be of higher value than the “tactical” task of solving UI/IA problem, no matter how complex. (I think how you determine the value of each role should match the type of work your company is interested in taking on.)

I would stress that all UX designers should be familiar with and practice a certain level of strategy-minded approach. But as a UX designer’s career progresses, I think there can be different paths for someone who wants to focus on providing strategic value for clients from UX point of view, and someone who wants to focus on solving that great UI puzzle so users can get the job done easily and efficiently.

I don’t have the answers yet, and I’d imagine this will be a moving target because other issues play into how you create a structure for a team. Unless you’re starting from scratch with no ceiling, you’re always dealing with an optimal head count for your workload and the levels/skills/preferences of your existing team members.

But by recognizing that there is a fork in the road, and that it’s OK to have specialties under the umbrella of UX team, I feel like I’m starting to have a clearer idea of how to prepare ourselves in the coming months or years ahead. POP is definitely growing, and it’s exciting to be able to take part in shaping the company’s future.

Coming soon: another blog post

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yes, you read about it here first, folks. Yummy or Crummy will be adding another blog post here sometime in the very near future. Do hold your breath, and don’t sit back and relax, because before you know it my new blog post will kick you in the teeth and throw you down like your daddy never could, no matter how much he drank.

Plaxo is dumb

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I created a Plaxo account a while ago to try it out for work. Someone recently sent me a request to connect, so I said what the heck, and dug it up to sign on.

But then I saw this really annoying module on my “pulse stream” page. It looked like it should be showing my Flickr photos, but it was showing generic photos instead. Seemed like some connection/authentication issue. So I clicked on “connect.”

dumb plaxo 1

That’s when I was asked, “How do you know You?”

Huh? Thought it was dumb, but I figured I can fix it by clicking “connect” after selecting all the different ways I could possibly know me.

dumb plaxo 2

Nope — I cannot connect with myself. So the annoying module persists. There’s NO WAY I’ll keep using this thing. Super crummy!

Giving Wesabe another try

Monday, October 29, 2007


I tried out Wesabe shortly after they launched almost a year ago, I think. I was initially excited, because I thought the using tags was the perfect solution to address the problem of categorizing personal finance details to see the bigger picture.

When I tried the service the first time, I dipped my toes in by only uploading one month of statement. I realize now that was a bad choice on my part, because it really failed to show me the most powerful part of using Wesabe.

This time, I let Wesabe import everything that it could from my bank, going back as far as last year. And I spent about an hour tagging each line item, going back for maybe about a month and a half. As I was tagging, I noticed that more and more items were automatically being tagged, because Wesabe was recognizing similar transactions. This is not a new feature because I knew about it back when I tried it first, but trying it on one month worth of information just didn’t show me the power of this application. The real benefit comes when you can see the info aggregated over a year or so, using one of your tags — and being able to do so without having to tag everything for a year.

So as the image shows above, even though I only tagged few lines with “gas,” because we almost always get our gas at the same gas station, Wesabe was able to quickly compile our gas spending for the last year.

And my hope now is that each time I update my account info, I just need to tag a few additional new items, and then the rest is good to go.

I’m really hoping that this will help Lucretia and me see where our money is going, and where we can trim the fat, so to speak. That’s all I really need to be able to do — I don’t need to balance the checkbook exactly every month; I just want to be able to know where I can optimize. And in order to do that, I simply need to be able to organize each item in my statement. Tags are really the perfect way to do this. I wish my own online bank had similar features, so I don’t have to import the info into a third-party application.

Anyway Wesabe has a social networking aspect of it that lets people share tips related to certain tags and whatnot. I really didn’t care for this the first time around, and I still don’t. But it’s free to use, and so far it’s given me enough good things (like the graph above, that really made me feel good about buying a Hybrid) to make me keep trying it for another few months or so.

Steve Krug speaks at a SIGCHI meeting

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I checked out this event for three reasons:

  1. I never read Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, but I read/heard it being referenced so much, that I felt that I shouldn’t miss a chance to see someone like that for free.
  2. I wanted to take the opportunity to attempt to network and do a little bit of recruiting since we’re currently hiring for an IA.
  3. I’ve never been inside Adobe. I was just curious!

Steve KrugWell — mission accomplished, I suppose. #1… To be honest, Krug’s talk that promised to reveal secrets behind creating a “perfect web page” was a bit disappointing, because it turned out to be nothing more than hammering home two of the most basic IA/user-interface design points for an hour. The two pointers — clearly indicate where you are on the site by highlighting a nav item or using a breadcrumb trail, and use a clear and consistent page title on each page — are not revolutionary by any means, and they’re something most UI designers practice without thinking about them. In fact, we do so much more nuanced thinking to solve complex UI problems everyday. To be fair to Krug, it might be true that some designers forget the basics when we get caught up in small details — but I still think he was overstating how many websites really do miss these two mindnumbingly simple steps. And he was truly exaggerating when he implied — although he cleverly never said so — that having those two things will give you a perfect web page.

Then again, I have to remind myself that it was a free event after all, and his job is to educate the ones who may not be as familiar with the basics as others.

I still liked Krug as a speaker. He comes across as a genuine guy, and he reminds us all to always look at things from the user’s point of view. Also, he doesn’t speak with the Nielsen-esque conviction that you must follow all the rules to be successful. He recognizes that there are plenty of gray areas, that we all make mistakes, and that’s why we should frequently test and evaluate our work to catch the problems. For example, he was extremely kind to the site owner when we found that a “home” link on her site that we were viewing live as a group turned out to be a broken link. (At the end of his talk we all looked at URLs — suggested by the audience — to apply his two pointers.) Instead of singling out that site to talk about how important it is to check your site for broken links, Krug simply reminded us that everyone’s sites contain errors like that and more all the time. To him it’s not bad to make mistakes — but it is if you don’t find out by testing with users.

Oh, one more thing. He has not finished his “Site Navigation Identification Chart” — so that was not shared as promised at this time. He did say that his idea is based on plane spotting cards from World War II.

#2 was bit of a disappointment as well. I met a few people, but I didn’t quite get a chance to talk to as many people as I had hoped. If you are looking at this post and are looking for an IA opportunity, please send your resume to careers[at]

#3 — I really didn’t see enough of Adobe to make any impression. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess it’s no surprise that it looked like any other corporate giant.

(By the way I illustrated his mug since I didn’t have any photo that I could legally use for this post…)

You should check out this website

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Should Do This

Should Do This is the latest from Robot Co-Op who brought us 43 Things/Places/People. The “43″ series never stuck with me, but I think I’ll like SDT, because it’s not really about what I want but it’s what I think other people should do. I think most other people also find it easier to criticize others and point out what should be different with the world. Is that a personality flaw? Who cares! I think it’s more fun, too!

I like the nice details like the use of sub-domains so the URL of the list of things Apple should do reads like:, and so on. I like that agreeing/disagreeing is not used like a rating system. There is no incentive to agree/disagree just to bring something up higher/lower in ranking (like digg), so hopefully people are more honest.

Obviously there’s more work to come later (like aggregating similar suggestions and a more robust contact system), so it’ll be exciting to watch what they’ll accomplish in the near future. I’ll be checking back often to suggest more things. You should, too!

Tinker, Tailor, Maker, Sailor: New Perspectives on UX and the Web

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just came back from this event: Tinker, Tailor, Maker, Sailor: New Perspectives on UX and the Web

It was hosted by ZAAZ, our alleged competitor. Their space was really nice — loved the big windows, and open space with booths and couches. And the location! Parking must be tough, but it’s not bad if it encourages taking a bus, etc.

Anyway, about the event. I liked all the speakers — I think I learned something from each one.

Lee LeFever: Lots of good pointers on preparing yourself for creating an online community. Maybe leaned a bit on a basic side, with advice like: Make it scalable; Have a community manager, etc. But a good start of a laundry list of things to consider — better than learning it the hard way!

Emma Rose: Did the impossible — explained the ethnographic research process in a really simple, practical way… in 15 minutes. Also she runs a program with University of Washington where she helps students conduct usability studies with real projects. Yes, I got her business card.

Jason Carmel: A real primer on web optimization. He was a very entertaining speaker, and that may be what I learned from him the most. Not putting down his presentation, but I was lucky enough to go to Google to learn the basics in March so it was everything I knew (which isn’t much).

Paul Ingram: The most ambitious presentation, and that’s why this was my favorite even though it probably wasn’t the most successful or polished. He spoke with passion about the need to create something new. I think everyone’s chord was struck at one point or another, being in a creative field and all. I think he would have liked a group hug at the end.

Thanks, ZAAZ!