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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design is a good idea (on ugliness, with some thoughts on the DesignGuys Craiglist ‘realignment’)

There’s been a whole lot of talk lately about ‘ugly design’ and the perception that ‘it works’. The often quoted examples are My Space, eBay, Craigs List, and Del.icio.us. As someone who spends too much time thinking about design and trying to apply user centred design principles to the projects I work on, I find this somewhat annoying.

First up, let’s define what we mean by design. There are really two different aspects to ‘design’ that people are referring to – there’s the design that I’m most interested in which is the information and interface design. Then there’s the design that is most often talked about, that’s the visual design. Both of these types of designs are important when it comes to thinking about this idea of ‘ugly design’ and why, sometimes, it appears to work.

Information/Interaction Design: no one likes bad information design. Bad information design means you can’t find the information you’re looking for because its badly placed, or doesn’t exist at all, or the ‘flags’ (or scent) you need to help you find the information are hard to find or non existent. When you come to a site like this, you leave. And you don’t come back, unless you absolutely have to. The internet is abundent with information and making information that people are looking for easy for them is an essential part of making your site somewhere they’ll visit and return to, and recommend to their social network. Good information design (which includes information architecture) is entry level to having ‘a site that works’.

Interaction design, when poorly executed, is also a source of frustration for users, and a good reason for them to seek out an alternative to your site. Interaction design is poorly executed when it doesn’t allow users to perform the tasks that they wish to perform on your site with thel least amount of effort. Taking the time to identify these tasks and to ensure that they are implemented efficiently means that your site becomes ‘easy to use’, which is compelling reason to choose your site over other alternatives.

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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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links for 19 March 2006

argh. I can’t believe its 19 March already! Hope you all had a great weekend :)

Just one little link for you today, continuing some earlier thoughts on tag clouds and their potential for non-evilness.