Working across boundaries

Darek Powazek says in his recent article : Calling All Designers: Learn to Write!

It may be fashionable to say “markets are conversations” or “design is about communicating ideas,” but how can that be true if the designers aren’t working with, or actually writing, the text?

The whole article strikes me as part of the increasing awareness of cross-displine knowledge, and an increased awareness of user/customer experience. There is no doubt he is right that the text that you use as part of your user interface is so closely tied in with the user experience that it should be considered part of the design. When the usability consultants at work do a usability audit on a site the communication with the user, which is often predomently via text, is one of the key things they have to advise on.

The part of the idea that appeals to me the most though is the cross discipline aspect. More and more good ideas are coming from the melding and merging of two subjects, sometimes unrelated, and sometimes closely related. The boundary for where one dsscipline ends and the next begins are becoming blured, and its finally becoming fashionable to do so. As Eno said: ‘I am a dilettante, In other countries it’s called interdisciplinary research’.

My PhD was based in my mind mainly on taking a problem from one subject area, mapping it to a well known problem in a second subject area, and solving that (albiet not as optimially or as quickly as I would like) using a set of tools a build from a third area. While I did some new and novel developments in each, it was the connection between them that I think was the most fundamental to the thesis.

Back to the subject of design, and words, I’m now working on a project that is heavily based on providing a good interface. Its becoming more and more clear that while we have people working on each segment of the project (seperation of concerns still rocks!) the process can be made significantly easier or harder by a slight bluring of the boundaries between the segments. I’m not advocating a totall cross-over in this case, just that there is a section at the boundaries of concerns that can be worked on by either side. This may well lead to both sides working independently on the corss over, but maybe thats for the better One of us is smarter than all of us:

The wisdom of crowds comes not from the consensus decision of the group, but from the aggregation of the ideas/thoughts/decisions of each individual in the group.

At its simplest form, it means that if you take a bunch of people and ask them (as individuals) to answer a question, the average of each of those individual answers will likely be better than if the group works together to come up with a single answer.

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By |June 24th, 2006|General|0 Comments

WebAbacus 5.1 is accessable

We got some good PR coverage today for the upcoming release of WebAbacus 5.1. One of several major improvments in 5.1 over 5.0 is that we have added an accessability interface, conforming to the WAI’s AA standard. This brings the product up to standard in terms of inclusive design, meaning that more people can use the software, regardless of the technology they are using, or any disabilities they might have.

Accessability is really a vital part of any web application. Its about a lot more than allowing disabled users to use the content. Features such as keyboard shortcuts, will make any application faster, but for me its the WAI guidelines on meaningful semantic information in tags that make the most difference. This is (perhaps) not so relevent in a product like WebAbacus, intended for use within a strictly limited usergroup. Meaningful information in tags (for example the title element in the HTML A tag) allows lots of meta-data to be gathered about content. This can then be used by search engines, mash-ups, and any computing tool that in some way acts as a consumer for the webstie.

Meta-data then provides an almost limitless array of options. My PhD relied almost entirely on being able to make meanginful decisions on how to run software, based entirely on meaningful meta-data about the software. While not the main focus of accessability standards, this is a really fundamental and often overlooked side effect.

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By |June 22nd, 2006|General|0 Comments

Search Traffic

One of the things I have discovered as a result of working in web analytics, and playing with analysing my own site is that the search terms that people use to find my site are not what I would have expected. Top of the list (in various forms) are:

• Rails Migration
• Maven2 Internal Repository
• Leather Skirt
• Corset (no dress)

All of these surprised me. Rails Migration was the subject of two small posts I wrote a while ago and just goes to show that it’s a pretty hot topic (at least compared to other stuff on my site. Maven2 Internal Repository was a geekish post about setting up software repositories within your own network. I think this just goes to show how much people are crying out for documentation on this (admittedly very simple once you know it) subject.

The last two are a bit more surprising, till you look at the fashion photos that I have done, which includes shots of both a leather skirt and a corset (I can only assume the “no dress” search term was wishful thinking on the part of the seacher). This has lead me to think that if I mention here a conversation someone came up with in the pub, about having to work as a waitress for a wedding where the bride wore 10” platform shoes, a very tight PVC skirt, not covering everything, and a pair of handcuffs, then that alone will drive enough traffic to this very post for it to show up in the analysis of the site. I will let you know if it does…

By |June 3rd, 2006|General|0 Comments

The return of Value(less)host

Over the last few days I have received a lot of comments on my post about Valuehost. Basically I ran (sort of still do) a largish website, and we use Valuehost for the hosting. They are very crap, and we will be moving from them to a better hosting company just as soon as we stop being all studenty and lazy about it. However it would appear that as well as offering crap service, and non-existent customer support, they have also taken up scamming people. I shall be endeavouring to do everything I can to leave them all behind as soon as possible

By |June 2nd, 2006|General|0 Comments

Birthday Blog

Birthdays are strange things, the more you have the more you try and pretend they don’t matter, and the more people try and tell you they are not so bad. I’m not really sure why it is that people think they are bad things, Its true, you are getting older, but as someone just said to me “who isn’t getting older every day?” -  I think the problem people associate with birthdays has more to do with the fact that a birthday throws into sharp focus all the things they think they should have done, but have not . I certainly understand that feeling, though I think it’s more a way of clarifying the things that I have not yet done, that I most want to do – a kind of personal re-ordering of the to-do list. They only need to be depressed is if on your birthday you realised that your re-ordered to-do list is exactly the same as it was last year. That leaves you with a feeling of having accomplished nothing, and not going anywhere. I’m fortunate enough to have not had that experience this year. I look back at where I was last year and look at the fundamental things that have changed since then:

  • I have finished my PhD and become a Doctor (yay)
  • I have found a job, and it’s even one I enjoy (double yay)
  • I have a great new flat, (triple yay – at least when the roof stops leaking)

Now I feel that the social pressure is on me to go into a few days of depression, and decide what is crap with my life now, but to be honest, I can’t really be bothered. Instead I think I will go and have a nice hot drink, maybe some ice-cream and think about the highlights of my great birthday:

  • I got waylaid by the sales team at work singing happy birthday before dragging me to the pub for a liquid lunch
  • I came up with a solid plan for what to do next in my job (ok, not a birthday thing, but gratifying anyway)
  • I got dragged to the pub again after work (not just sales people this time)
  • My entire dance class sang happy birthday at me, and my ballroom partner even sorted a cake for me (apparently I am only one year old if we go by counting candles)
  • I had a good dinner out with some friends

So as you can see, I can’t see much point in feeling depressed, though I might have a think about what I want to change in time for next year. In the meantime I’m going to go and put into practice my theory of celebrating not just a birthday, but an entire birth-month!

By |June 2nd, 2006|General|0 Comments