cardsorting for validation: truth, dare or torture?

Recently I had cause to use a closed card sorting with the objective of ‘validating’ a proposed Information Architecture model (and some labeling). Argh. I think I will do what I can to avoid that approach in the future.

Card sorting in the initial stages of the project is a noble pursuit, in my opinion, and one that is bound to help you learn more about your users, how their heads work, and the problems that they’ll have with your site. Not to mention their ideas around what your content should be, and how it should be organised and what it should be called.

An IA Validation card sort happens a little way down the track when you think you know what your sitemap is going to look like, and what things are going to be called. You probably even have some draft wireframes that you’re not ready to commit to, but that you developed as you were thinking through the conceptual model for your IA and getting into the nitty gritty of the sitemap.

Once upon a time, I used to think that a card sort at the beginning and a card sort at the end of the IA scoping process was good practice. For my mind, I think that the second user testing exercise needs to be something related to the wireframes… maybe paperbased prototypes (or maybe even interactive prototypes?!), but definitely something that puts your IA into a context… a context beyond a few titles on some cards, that is.

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you’ve gotta know when to hold ‘em…

Kenny Rogers

I *knew* it was just a matter of time before I was able to use Kenny Rogers on my blog.

And it’s all thanks to Joshua Porter who has written a great post comparing design with playing cards.

Each design is a new hand of cards. Not only are the cards we’re holding different every time, but so are the hands of the other players. Our hand is our own knowledge of the design project, and the hands of the others are the constraints that we must deal with.

Josh uses the card game metaphor to demonstrate how every design situation must be considered afresh and all the constraints, requirements and opportunities be evaluated anew each time. That old ‘tricks’ don’t necessarily apply in a new situtation. Or, to borrow his great closing line ‘three fives beat two aces every time.’

I’ll definitely be borrowing this analogy in the future. Go read it now, you’ll love it.

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considering code (your help needed)

Content into code I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about learning some more about code. Doing a bit of skills development.

Don’t laugh, programmers.

As I see it, there are two schools of thought.

School A: Specialisation

I’m going to hand over to Jonathan Korman again to take us throught this school of thought:

The work done, and the skills needed to do [Information Architecture and Interaction Design], differ considerably between the two. Just as few people can fully master the skills of both graphic design and IA, few people will master the skills of both IA and IxD. It serves both organizations and practitioners for people to specialize.

In this school, you need a different person with specific expertise to take on each separate task in a project. Heaven’s knows where they draw the line between IA and IxD … does the IA just hand over a sitemap perhaps? (nice work if you can get it). Jonathan would tell me that I’m mad to even think about learning how to code my own templates. Jonathan would be too busy tell me off for doing IA and IxD.

School B: Multitasking

Whilst I’m sure that School A has lots more proponents than just Jonathan, School B sure has a whole lots of cool kids enrolled. Loudest kids in class are the guys over at 37 Signals. In their book, ‘Getting Real’ they said that 37 Signals would ‘never hire an Information Architect’ because their skillset is too narrow.

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define: design

and, speaking of definitions

is there another word responsible for so much confusion as ‘design’.

every time I use that word I have to spend another three sentences defining exactly what I mean by design… because there are so many different types of designing, and everyone has a different default setting.

I give you:

  • visual design (surface design, branding, etc. designers in charge of gorgeousness)
  • motion design (Visual designers specialising in things that move, animation, video etc.)
  • interface design (designing elements on a page that users interact with… e.g. forms, applications etc)
  • conceptual design (aka. strategic design, ‘the big idea’)
  • user experience design (related to but more than interface design)
  • information design (designing content, sometimes used to describe information architecture… I think, incorrectly)
  • interaction design (v. closely related to interface design, but more focus on the ‘interactive’… unsurprisingly)
  • instructional design (used largely in eLearning land, actually v. similar to conceptual design, but focussed specifically in imparting and measuring learning)

That’s just a quick list. I’m sure you have more.

I propose never to use the term ‘design’ in isolation ever again. From here on, I vow to always use it with a descriptor that ensures me meaning is entirely clear.

Well, as clear as possible.

Who’s with me?

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