August 07, 2002

New web form control combination
Design Not Found points out a Sprint PCS form that works a little code magic to tell the user how many additional characters they can type into a textarea box. Kind of an interesting use of controls, but the idea that comment or message boxes should have character limits is a bad one. It's usually a sign of lazy programming and/or database design. Of course you usually have to some kind of logical limit, but it should be rather large (e.g. 10K) so that most users will never hit it. Most good databases won't allocate that much empty space in each record - they just store what's entered. Anyway, as DNF points out, the Sprint solution is better than an error message that tells you that you typed too much. Here's some code to steal if you want to make your users nervous about how much they're typing.

Tell me what you think of this blog in 160 characters or less. :-)
Hey scarecrow, use your brain
Erin Malone reminds us that tools are just tools, what's important is designing & building the right product/solution.

"Solving the problem will come from a deep understanding of the issues, of the users’ needs, of the task—from research, from analytical thinking and then sketching out solutions. Sketching these solutions can be done in any way—on a whiteboard, on paper with (gasp) a pen or pencil, or on the computer with the tool of choice.

"My concern and angst over these types of discussions, as well as the kind of proclamations that Nielsen and other gurus make, is that focusing on the tool—either finding the right tool or badmouthing the perceived “wrong” tool—moves our energies away from the real problem at hand: design solutions that are inappropriately or poorly executed."

You can extend Erin's argument to usability methods and research as well -- in effect, they are tools and only have value in what we can apply them to -- what they help us build -- whether it's a web site or knowledge.
UPA Web Site Redesign Project
The Usability Professionals Association site is being redesigned. The project team has documented much of the process used in creating the new design. Here are some of the deliverables:

- Site wireframes
- An early design mockup of one concept
- A later refined and more detailed mockup of a sub-page

The site sounded fairly close to launch according to folks I talked to at the national conference.

[link via Jess on IA/]

August 06, 2002

How's your Information Architecture's health? Open up and say aah!
An article in Searcher magazine called Beyond the Information Audit: Checking the Health of an Organization's Information System discusses an approach needs assessment or "current state" research. The examples are from the perspective of a librarian, but the concepts are pretty universal. This is not the same as a content audit/inventory.

"Information audit, needs assessment, knowledge inventory — all are names for a process that examines the secret life of information within an organization...The problem with all the names for the process is that they're too narrow. Audit implies an analysis of what's been reported; a needs assessment looks at only the first half of information's organizational life; and inventory assumes all needs are met. What we'll talk about here is an information checkup. Compare it to an annual physical...Getting the results of an information checkup is a lot like that part of the physical where you get your clothes back on and go sit in the doctor's office."

More resources:
The Information Audit as a First Step Towards Effective Knowledge Management (PDF)"For many years the information audit process has been promoted by information
professionals as a means of identifying the information needs of an organisation
and matching them against existing services and resources. In more recent years it
has been used extensively, mainly by consultants, as the first step in the
development of a knowledge management strategy."

Boxes and Arrows: Defining Information Architecture Deliverables
Pre - Boxes & Arrows...
"[A content inventory] is exactly what you might guess: a complete list of all the content that the site holds and will hold. For sites particularly rich in content, it may be a list of types of content."