what do IA’s talk about when they get together and drink?

Its not something I’ve asked myself on a regular basis, but found out first hand when I dropped into an informal IA Peers gathering in North Sydney last night.

My experience last night was that lots of people were talking about being semantic. Using tags.

For some reason, that surprised me. Perhaps its all the tag-cloud bagging I’ve been hearing lately. Perhaps because it feels as though tags have been around for so long now. (And they’ve been around for longer than that even, because tags are really just exposed metadata).
People were wondering how do we tags scale efficiently, and how might they work in enterprise applications? I was heartened to find that there were other IAs admitting to being dreadful tag-housekeepers on their own Del.icio.us and Flickr accounts (symptomatic of the large scale problem of tagging and maintaining meaning & efficiency).

Just when we’d decided that we don’t really care about complex and formal taxonomy, suddenly the word ‘thesaurus’ just kept popping up.

The old and the new…

That’s why this is called Web 2.0, isn’t it. What we’re doing now is just another iteration based on all our knowledge and experience from years back.

I was particularly happy to hear more people saying that their roles are now more valued within projects than ever before. And also happy to hear that there is plenty of work about right now.

Not that I’m looking… but its nice to know :)

International Card Sorting – an overview and some initial questions

Sample Card Sort
Image Attribution: card sorting exercise borrowed from the Card Sorting, A Definitive Guide by Todd Warfel & Donna Maurer

Today we take a little adventure in the land of card sorting.

Anyone who’s been doing IA for long (or even studying it) would have come across the card sort. Its one of the simplest and most frequently applied exercises in organising content into structure. It can be really helpful and help to ensure that you’re taking a user centric approach to the information design of the site.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a project which has number of specific international audiences. I have card sorting on my agenda in the pretty near future. What I’d like to do here is take a look at:

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Googlecloud review (has anyone done usability testing on tag clouds yet?)

So, today I checked out Googlecloud which I saw via Ajaxian and which was released by the crew at Trade This. (phew! that’s my linking karma for the day!)

My first impression was not great. This was what I saw:

It got me thinking back to the Go Flock Yourself post in my daily links from yesterday regarding the evils (or really, the lack of usability) of tag clouds. I’m not concerned with purity of the representation in terms of font size, but in this case, the links that I’m actually interested in are going to be so small as to be virtually invisible… and I don’t even know if they’re there. This zeitgeist, who favour Britney Spears just over Linux Desktop, isn’t really much use to me.

But then…
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Discover Tasmania – content and interaction design case study

today I’m going to pick on the new-ish Discover Tasmania website

Discover Tasmania Home

I came across this site in my quest to look at every single tourism site in the world (don’t ask… it wasn’t my idea). Its pretty new. I know this because when I started my quest the Tassie tourism site looked very different to how it does now.

The first thing I thought when I saw this site was – wow! Finally someone has made a sexy tourism website. Hoorah.

Then I started using it.

Oh, the disappointment when I discovered that they’d actually only designed, properly designed, a couple of the pages.
Actually… the problems started before then. First up, if you’re looking at the site using Firefox, chances are that you won’t even see the pretty Flash ‘intro site’ (its more than a splash page)*. I can only see if it I’m using Explorer (which I rarely do these days… mostly when sites won’t work properly in Firefox). Just say you do get to see the Flash-y bit, then you’ll quickly find some navigation elements that fly up from the bottom of the page. Tricky little buggers, aren’t they. Very hard to control. I wonder if anyone ever did any user testing on them? Couldn’t think so.

Find your way to the main site, and you’ll see a few surface pages that are quite pretty. Get down to the actual content and it all goes to hell. As usual, its the 3rd tier pages that Just don’t seem to have been designed. Why go to all the trouble of Flash homepages and then let it all go when it comes time to deliver on the promise?

3rd tier page

See this page? Who designed that content? Oh, I know. The developer probably. Or, wait, someone chucking content into a CMS template. No one would deliberately design that content like that, would they?

How does this happen? In my experience, its one of three things (in reverse likelihood order):

a) whoever designed the site got bored with the detail stuff having started with designing the homepage and juzzy Flash stuff. (which reminds me of what I was thinking about the other day re: when to design the homepage)

b) whoever designed the site didn’t/couldn’t get hold of the content within a reasonable amount of time from when the site had to launch so as to allow them to design the content. (in which case we can blame project managers and/or clients, but also non-feisty designers)

c) whoever designed the site was given a ridiculously short amount of time to design the site and the only pages the client really cared about were the homepage and, if you’re lucky, the next level pages.

I know as well as anyone, that in most projects the circumstances are far from ideal, but the problems on this site are ones that I think are really symptomatic of a lack of user testing, a lack of interest in user experience, and a lack of interest in content. In this case, some really basic rules are broken – including my pet hate – sending me off to another site without giving me any indication that you’re going to do so. Argh, I hate that.

Its all a bit disappointing, because we should all really know better.

And yet, its still probably the second best tourism site I’ve come across.

Have you seen any better?

* Updated – actually, I’ve tested the site using Firefox on another PC and it seems to work fine… strange. I have Flash installed for Firefox on my laptop but, nada. No go with the Flash. But it seems that its not just a Firefox thing, so I take that back.