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getting real.. with clients? (can agile methodologies work in agencyland?

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everyone I know who loves agile-type methodologies has three things in common:

  • they work in a small team. Like, less than 10 people. Usually less than 5.
  • they don’t have to do monthly profit reports to management
  • they don’t have (external) clients.

That kind of environment makes it really easy to love a methodology where you don’t have to accurately define the scope of a project (what the client is going to ‘get’ at the end), and where iteration and collaboration is a way of life.

Consequently, over the last 12 months or so I find myself getting into lots of heated discussions with people over the value of functional specifications. The cool kids say that func. specs. are a waste of time, that they are creativity killers, and that there is no place for them in application design and development today.

I love the sound of that. Hell. I’d love to ditch functional specs if I thought it would give a good outcome. I don’t like writing them. Does anyone like writing them?!

But, can my clients cope without documentation? Without bits of paper that they rarely read but that allows them to feel comfortable throughout the development process – makes them feel that there is a process, there is a scope, and that we have it all under control. Tells them what they’re going to get for their money.

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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 :)

documenting usability for RIA (or, when interface design gets collaborative)

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I’ve been reading a bit lately about the challenges that Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) present to people interested in designing elegant, efficient, usable interfaces. Most recently it was Usability for Rich Internet Applications by Donna Maurer over at Digital Web Magazine.

One of the aspects of RIA interface design that is causing some consternation (or at least discussion) at the moment, is around how we make the interfaces easy to use.

There are lots of great ideas being thrown around, techniques that look as though they could evolve into future conventions.

One thing I find myself thinking of often is how we go about documenting these conventions.

It has been my experience that in reading about RIA and usability, many of the suggestions made fall into what would traditionally be the realm of the visual designer or the application developer. Examples (from the article cited above) include:

… Visual attention is attracted by movement and high color contrast … We can use this to our advantage and draw the eye to the updated part of the page [Visual Design]

… By making sure the change occurs quickly …. we can ensure the eye is drawn to the appropriate place [Application Developer]

… Odeo provides effective feedback by using color (and) movement [Visual Design]

Now, for me, these are all excellent suggestions for making RIAs more usable. They are also things that, traditionally, I would have neglected to include in my project documentation. Say I was working in a large development team and wasn’t involved in the ‘production’ phase of the project (where the designers and developers took up my specifications and built the project), I couldn’t guarantee that these measures would be taken. I could only hope that they’d be picked up and recommended in later usability testing. Not good enough really, is it?

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windows live mail beta: is there something missing?… well, yes.

Windows Mail Live Beta

I don’t really use Hotmail very much anymore, but I do love a Beta test, so of course when they asked me I said that I’d be happy to play with their beta version of Windows Live Mail, the new and improved Hotmail.

Well, yes, it is new and improved.. but then, that’s not saying much is it? Hotmail was an utterly ugly dog of an interface that we only put up with because it was free. And then along came Gmail. Say no more.

Back to the story… some people do still use my hotmail address to send me email, and so it happened that today I went into the new-ish Windows Live Mail to check out and reply to some email. Except, I couldn’t.

I was using Firefox, as I do. And they haven’t enabled ‘Reply’ for Firefox yet.

No, seriously. You can’t reply. Only make new mail and delete it.

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