Progress bars vs spinning stuff

Don’t you just love it when you discover Information Architecture topics in non-IA-specific locations.  I saw these and thought of you folks:

I LOVE PROGRESS BARS
http://www.goodiebag.tv/episodes/11_progress_bars.htm

AMERICANS LOVE LISTS
http://www.goodiebag.tv/episodes/05.htm

I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of any of the other film clips on that site, but those sure made me smile.  AND … I think watching them constitutes as research.

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Interaction Design Pattern Library

Stuck for how best to display your navigation? Needing to present your data in a usable way? Need help deciding how to enable users to make a choice?

Great online resource for design patterns: Interaction Design Pattern Library.

Also check out The Usability Kit from SitePoint, which includes magnetic “Web Widgets” that you can stick on a magnetic whiteboard and design user-interfaces in half the time. Only US $197.

Search patterns

Peter Morville, co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web is currently working on a new book about the future of search.

He’s created what he calls “a seed collection of patterns and examples” to support his research. He’s uploaded these to Flickr and invites comment:

Over time, I hope to add patterns that illustrate user behavior and the information architecture of search. In the meantime, please take a look – add tags, notes, and comments – and suggest new examples. Cheers!

Spotted on the IA Institute mailing list.

The Architects of the Information Age

Spotted on the Information Architecture Institute February 2008 newsletter: “This month’s Fortune magazine has an advertising feature about information architecture and the Kent State IAKM program: “The Architects of the Information Age”.”

Online, information architecture is everything. If a site doesn’t understand that users searching for “pensioner” really want information that’s been filed under “retiree,” it’s not going to return the best results. And that’s just one of many pitfalls.

“If users aren’t achieving their goals when they visit your site, you can be sure you’re not going to achieve your business goals, either,” says Eric Reiss, president of the Information Architecture Institute, a nonprofit group that supports more than 1,500 professionals and organizations specializing in the design of shared information environments.

You can download the article in PDF format: The Architects of the Information Age (PDF, 159 KB)

SEO and IA

Interesting presentation about the relationship between information architecture and search engine optimization: Search engine optimization and IA: the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

Search engines help us find what we want while lacking the ability to understand the context of our needs. Information architecture is crucial to resolving this dilemma by communicating the site message in an organic as well as structured way that is visible to the primary technology users employ to find information online.

In the email from the presenter, Marianne Sweeney, she writes: “In today’s increasingly contextual Web, the initial direction to mention, that of interlinking between contextually related pages, would be more useful. Also of use, is to select certain pages as designated authorities on a particular subject and then mount a focused linking campaign to obtain links to those pages.”

Which is encouraging, as that’s what we’re attempting to do with the website at St Andrews. The BBC News website does it very well too, with its “See also”, “Related news”, sidebar links.

(As spotted on the IA Institute mailing list by Gareth J M Saunders.)

Print stylesheets

There’s an interesting thread going on just now on the Information Architecture Institute mailing list about print-specific (CSS) style sheets.

The conversation seems to be heading along two paths: Should you offer:

  1. a “print page” link or button?
  2. a print-specific CSS stylesheet?

1. Print page link or button

I remember working with a client a few years ago who insisted on my providing a “print this page” link, with appropriate printer icon. “There is absolutely no way that I can print the page otherwise!” she insisted. She didn’t realise that her browser had a print function: as she was using Windows it could be found on the menu bar at File > Print, or by pressing Ctrl+P.

I felt uneasy about adding what I regarded as an unnecessary addition to the page, duplicating as it did the browser’s functionality. It also relied on the user having JavaScript enabled on their browser, otherwise it wouldn’t work, further adding to the user’s confusion.

I argued that what was required was better education amongst users about how to use a browser.

2. Print-specific stylesheet

“Print this page” link or button or no, the question then lies about what is presented when the page is finally sent to a printer. Do you just leave it to the screen stylesheet to dictate what is shown, or should you provide a specific print-only style?

One contributor to the conversation had to say:

In research findings that I saw last year for a client, people (our target people, that is) still had an aversion to “just pushing print”, recalling pages that would cut-off content on the sides, etc. (Russ)

The great thing with print-specific stylesheets is that you can control exactly what is and what is not shown. You can remove navigation items (which are redundant on a 3D sheet of paper!), provide a print-relevant typeface (serif rather than sans-serif, for example), replace colour logos with mono equivalents, add link URLs to the end of each link so that hidden information isn’t lost on a print-out, etc.

However, you will still get people berating you for the fact that the printed version is totally unlike the screen version of the same page.

An opinion shared by Todd, a design researcher:

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to print a page, expecting to print what’s actually there (e.g. want the page as is) and got a completely different format from a print style sheet … I think you should use the print style sheet, but do your best to duplicate the web page as much as possible (e.g. only remove unnecessary navigation and footer elements, but leave the rest visually intact). (Todd)

Sabrina offered this compromise:

  1. Printer-friendly version: appears in a pop-up or in the same window (I notice that older audiences want to hit the back button in a new window, and it doesn’t always work) that calls the printer function, in case that doesn’t work, this page will also contain a print button. If you decide it’s a pop-up, it will also have a close button.
  2. CSS for print version of the page being viewed: for users who use the Print command in their browser and don’t care about printable versions (not me).

What are your thoughts, preferences and current practices?

Gareth

WriteMaps site map application

Also spotted on Boagworld.com: WriteMaps Site Map Application.

From the intro blurb:

WriteMaps is a free web-based tool that allows you to create, edit, and share sitemaps online. As a WriteMaps user, you and your team will be able to build and access your sitemaps from anywhere, without having to rely on proprietary desktop apps and static files. To get started, take the tour or sign-up for an account!

I usually use mind mapping software, such as Mindjet MindManager, but I’m quite interested in checking this out.

Information architects of the world unite!