Off the Top: Project Management Entries

November 1, 2014

Being Makers

Oh, there is so much great fodder in Dan Hon’s most recent Tiny Letter, but today’s dosage meted out Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This is a gem. The piece that really got me going is midway through section “2.0 Monitor This”, as follows:

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would've been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it's exciting to think, as a creative team, that you've come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the f*cking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a f*cking crap shoot.

Pants on Fire

This scenario is not only creative agencies, but most any non-serious product organization. I see this a ton where people are just guessing the way forward. It doesn’t matter if they are in UX and don’t understand the medium they are working in with any depth (they don’t prototype and can’t build), they are analysts who have never built nor managed a scaled environment and been responsible for it, or are a consultant that never stuck around to be responsible for what they delivered so never learn how to do anything close to properly.

Largely it comes down to depth and experience dealing with things for a long haul. The best experience is not only doing, but being with it long term and responsible for things after they are delivered. The best experience in this set is being the person, or one of the people, whose pants catch on fire when things don’t go well.

These “pants catch on fire” folks are most often gems, particularly if they are keep building and working to innovate and iterate (with all the research and digging for more depth) so to understand it better and get it right. These people are also the ones who can break things down to the “it depends” elements and walk through the questions needed and know what to do with the answers. Far too many want the answers without knowing how to think it through or go through the questions but not understand what the answers mean.

SXSW Started with Makers

A lot of this reminds me of the progressions of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. I first went in 2001 to not only listen and learn, but to meet and thank some of the people who helped me deeply by the lessons they learned and shared themselves and by others on shared in the service they offered. I learned much of what I knew in the early web years (1994 to 2001) from people sharing what worked, but also what didnt work (and what they did that didn≱t work in a situation) [I also had relied heavily on my formal learning as a communication major undergrad and public policy (econ and social quant) from grad school]. I wanted to say hello to Jeffrey Zeldman for A List Apart, Jeffrey Veen for Webmonkey and HotWire, and Nathan Shedroff for sharing all they did at Vivid Studio (one of the first web design shops that predated UX, but took all the methods I learned in designing communications and applied it to the web and digital matter and connected the long used methods to new terms for the same things).

That 2001 SXSW was a lot of people who were building, making, and working deeply to understand what worked, what didn≱t work, to improve what they were making so it could be used by others who needed it to work. It was a sea of design and developer hybrid explorers.

By 2005 SXSW had shifted from purely makers to include those talking about things made and how to use what has been made, while not really understanding what goes into making it. These were the “Clickers”.

In 2006 and 2007, we had shifted from the Makers, to the Clickers, to many talking about the Clickers, but not really understanding the Clickers as they weren’t really using things, but talking at an abstraction layer about what the Clickers said. There was some nascent value in these “Talking about Clickers” folks, but a lot of it was off target as they didn’t understand the underlying elements that were being used, not the mindset and the needs of the Clickers all that deeply - the exceptions to these are deep researchers who actually could and did make and spent time in with the Makers and Clickers.

By 2008 the abstraction at SXSW got really crazy. It had a huge number of talks by people “Talking about those Talking about Clickers” otherwise known as social media gurus. It was an utter mess. There was a severe lack of depth and nobody had a clue about much of what they were talking about. Their understandings were based on mis-understandings. There was a small contingent of Makers still speaking and some Clickers who had good depth of understanding by this point, but most of what was on the program was horrid blather. Much of the draw that had makers drop into Austin to see friends and colleagues and share and work through understandings to hone the way forward stopped going. At 2008 I had enough of it and stopped going as the value derived is next to nothing.

SXSW in about eight years went from being Makers, to Clickers, to Talking about Clickers, and to Talking about those Talking about Clickers. It became a gathering of nothingness. It became a conference of what Dan is talking about, people trying to do something without having any interest in understanding what they are doing. They want answers without understanding the question.

For the Love of Makers

I love the Makers and making. The mindset and drive to understand how to build things better for the Clickers and to make things more usable and needed. Working with other Makers and people with Makers’ mindset in the development, design, and product side is fantastic. There is a whole lot of “we don’t understand this well enough” mindset. As nothing is perfect and everything has gaps (products and humans) we need Makers to understand and build a way forward.

June 16, 2012

A Pitcher's Perfect Game is a Team Effort

Tuesday night Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giant’s pitched a perfect game (no hits, no walks, nor errors, and no runs). This was the first perfect game by a Giant in the 130 years the club has been around. Cain’s 14 strike out tied the best perfect game of Sandy Kolfax, so 2 of the 22 best perfect games ever.

But it Takes a Team

One of the most amazing moments in this perfect game was in the 7th inning when the Giants’ Gregor Blanco made an amazing play on the Astros’ Jordan Schafer’s smash drive to center field. There was a whole lot of amazing and special in his play, but the most amazing bit came in his talking about the play the following day.

From yesterday’s article Cain bak at work as Giants revel in perfecto Gregor Blanco talks about his talk with Cain after the game and Cain’s deep appreciation of that catch that saved the perfect game…

Right fielder Gregor Blanco spoke at length about his remarkable seventh-inning catch of Jordan Schafer’s drive to the center-field warning track.

Blanco refused Cain’s offer to reward him for his impossible grab. “He asked me what I wanted – a watch, a car, a house,” Blanco said, prompting laughter from reporters. “I said, ‘No man, we’re a team. I’m always there for you.’” Having the chance to make such plays is its own reward, Blanco said. “I work hard, and it’s great to have a moment like this in my career,” he said. “I’m enjoying this, enjoying the moment, and I’m just thankful to the Giants for the opportunity.”

Blanco repeated that he didn’t think he could run down Schafer’s drive. It wasn’t false modesty.

This understanding of team is fantastic. (I do love Matt Cain’s gesture of reward, and Matt’s hat tip to Gregor just after the play as it was pure class and grace.) It is a great thing when many moving parts come together like this. When each member is looking out for the team and supporting those who are having a shining moment reach their best.

This, is what it is all about!

June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop…
“We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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February 11, 2008

Yahoo! Makes Good Call on Microsoft Purchase

The Wall Street Journal article about Yahoo! Rejecting Microsoft Bid (many more stories on TechMeme) was one that restored my faith in Yahoo! (not that it was really lost). I am proud of the Yahoo! board, but not for the reasons most are talking about. Since hearing about the Microsoft bid to take over Yahoo! I thought it was a really poor idea, well horrible idea. I really like Yahoo! and a lot of the things they are doing. I also really do like Microsoft (it is just some of their products that frustrate me to no end), in particular I think the MS Live group has come up with some great ideas out of research and that pleases e to know end. I am a giant fan of Ray Ozzie (oh, where have you gone Ray?).

Merger Would be a Giant Culture Clash

Yes, there are the technology concerns with some of the best open and shared technology development and augmentation coming out of Yahoo!, which is counter to the Microsoft focus on using their own tools (most of the web is built on open tools and Yahoo! helps make that a great platform to develop upon). This is not my big concern.

Where I see a giant problem is the management and employee culture. I know and have known a lot of employees and managers (mid-level and upper-level) at both organizations. Microsoft is a tough business culture with keeping the top percentage of employees and contributers on a project and moving others off to find a spot on other projects. In talking with many Microsoft employees (most were in the top performer group) this is often seen as horribly disruptive to the team when the changes occur. This management model also discourages sharing collectively and building collaboratively, which is also stated as a huge problem. These disruptions and metrics that are counter to strong development for the web and quick iterative cycles (not that Yahoo! seems to iterate quickly other than Flickr and a handful of other products) are quite counter to an open shared development process at Yahoo!. The clash of management cultures on this front, unless Microsoft did the unthinkable and adopted the Yahoo! approach, which could fix a lot of what has been holding Microsoft back (well, from current and former employees perspectives).

Related to the performance of employees the management teams go through similar reviews. But, many employees I have talked with (at conferences, networking events, airports and airplanes (there is always one within 10 seats of me it seams), and chat) have been really frustrated with management changes that can occur after 6 to 9 months. Having a new manager often changes focus and direction, which breaks momentum and continuity. Talking with great people Microsoft has lost over the past couple years, this management change was their biggest reason for leaving. The changes in management also often lead to conflicting measurement goals, which would make a great product or team look as if they were not working up to the standards. This is not management, but business process failure. This is not saying Microsoft has poor managers, quite the opposite in fact as many are some of the best I have run across in the business. But, the structure, processes, and measurement that the top management of Microsoft has established seems to be what has inhibited Microsoft from really top performance. What may work for some parts of Microsoft does not seem to work for other areas (actually, of all the Microsoft employees I have talked with from all across the organization the model does not work outside of sales).

The Yahoo! management has had more than their share of restructuring, but the disruptions this has made to product development and progress have been minimal. The goals, direction, and means to get the job done do not change for the most part (from what I have heard). Employees are flustered, but not demoralized. Yahoo! seems to have much greater continuity and central focus. Their products are well known, well used, and they iterate (over time). Many discussions with Yahoo! employees and managers outside the walls of Yahoo! are more frustrated by the silos and inability to work across the silos, but some the restructuring in the past couple of years has helped move to alleviate these problems. The cross platform team that works to help research, understand, and develop best of class solutions is a great step in this direction (from the perspective of many within Yahoo!). Yahoo! has known what has been holding back its efforts (Panama ate focus and resources) and has taken steps to alleviate the problems and move in a new positive direction. There are many things in Yahoo! that were more transparent two years ago than they are now (part of that may be those talking about things openly have been insanely busy). One of the things that seems to be problematic (from an outsider's perspective) is blinder focus and lack of concurrent development within groups.

Sum of Parts are Not Positive

When looking at the two cultures of the companies they are incredibly polar. One of the first steps in looking at a purchase or merger must be to look at compatibility of the cultures. Sure the products and services look like they may be a good fit by some at Microsoft, but those products and services are built by people with in a culture that propagates an environment to build wonderful things. Breaking that culture (Microsoft repeatedly iterated the vast savings the combination of MS and Y! would make) through integration of polar cultures has the high probability of destroying the value of what you believe will help. In this case a one plus one could equal less than one.

Partnering Not Combining

Yahoo! and Microsoft could have increased value partnering and working together though a Microsoft investment. What and how I do not know, but Microsoft needs positive outcomes and Yahoo! could use some financial boosts. Microsoft could also use a culture change, but that does not seem to be with in their vision as of yet and it is a huge organization to move in a new direction.

Yahoo! could improve its lot with partnerships, be it Microsoft, Ebay, Murdoch, Time Warner (AOL), and Google. I really do not want to see the Yahoo! search engine go away as the competition is good and provides alternatives should something go wrong with a one player or few player marketplace (oligopoly).

October 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

[Update: [This response came from Nathan Arnold an engineer on the Bookmarks/Social Search team

It would seem that either we've under-communicated the roadmap ideas, and you've gotten the wrong impression of what's going on.

No MyWeb user is being forced to use Bookmarks or just yet. continues to stand on its own, and MyWeb and Bookmarks continue to share your data. If you save something in Bookmarks, it will be private in MyWeb. If you save something in MyWeb, it will show up in Bookmarks and you can edit it their (bookmarks being private, only you can access it).

The eventual roadmap is to migrate users off MyWeb only when the good social elements of MyWeb have been integrated into the bookmarks product. Until that time, users can continue to use MyWeb as they see fit. When we do shut the switch off to MyWeb, the same features will be available on Bookmarks.

At that time, they will ALSO have the option of migrating content to

Hope that clears it up...]

I have received a lot of response to one item from yesterday's post, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha), which looked at the new bookmarking replacement from Yahoo!. The response has been rather harsh and critical of one move, that is pulling the MyWeb 2 content into the Bookmarks Beta. Most IMs and e-mail are from people who are really livid that their social bookmarking content is pulled into a closed system. Had Yahoo been smart and clearly stated they were doing this on the Bookmark Beta page it would not have helped it seems as they took people's information from one context and are breaking that context. Not grasping this essential component has be questioning if Yahoo really has thought this through. Yesterday I focussed on the design and development problems, today I am focussing on the product issues.

Bookmarking Beta

Yahoo! drastically needed to update their Bookmarking tool. It is a tool that is widely used and was really clumsy in today's web works. The ease of use of the new tool and adopting MyWeb 2's saved pages and adding tagging to folders was essential. Bookmarks is a closed system as it always has been, but some elements of sociality are integrated that are seemingly familiar and comfortable for regular people.

Bookmarking Beta has a good overview video highlighting some of the new functionality and possibly helpful help pages (ironically the link for help is broken in Safari and the in Firefox you can get to the help page, but the content is not viewable). The marking and explanation around the new Bookmarking tool is good and is needed.

Breaking Social Bookmarking

Yahoo! moving the the small base of people using MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta was flat out foolish. I thought so yesterday, but there were so many other things that needed addressing I lumped it in with the rest. The livid responses I received about this one made me realize it really needs more focus. Yahoo! never explained or marketed MyWeb 2 well, if at all. It is a rather good tool that did some things really well. One of the things that was quite good was its ability to share and recommend items from your friends and contacts. This was a component that oddly was well ahead of and was in the product before Yahoo! acquired The potential for great social interactions, recommendations, and interactions was central for most of the people that used MyWeb 2 regularly. For others it was a more friendly interface to a social bookmarking tool than (I will get to this in more depth in a moment).

Moving MyWeb 2 content, which is content with intent to be social into a tool that is not social is really backwards thinking. The strong reactions by people who use the tool prove this out. Connecting those dots to begin with deeply has be questioning if Yahoo! gets what they are doing. It is an old web mistake, a really poor old web mistake.

Shrinking 3 to 2

The stated roadmap for MyWeb 2, Bookmarks, and del.icious has Yahoo! moving three main products into two. Two are similar and one is different. Bookmarks is different as it is not traditionally a social tool (not saying it could not or should not be, if done well). MyWeb 2 and are similar tools in that they are both social bookmarking tools. While they are similar the audiences for both are vastly different and the I am really not sure they will or even should mix.

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

Yahoo! in recent years has bought some incredibly innovative companies. There was a whole lot of questions about integrating products that were innovative into the standard Yahoo! offerings. The first of these companies was Flickr, which was a product that was (and is back to being) incredibly innovative. Flickr was vastly different than Yahoo! Photos and many questioned how Yahoo! would integrate them. What Yahoo! did with Flickr is take some of their innovations and integrate them into their mainstream Photo product. What Yahoo! did that was brilliant was leave Flickr as a its own product and let them innovate and test the waters. The Flickr team has grown and they are back to doing insanely brilliant things. Integrating a Flickr into Photos would not have been good for either product. Photos is aimed at regular people who love the product and it serves them well. Flickr is a different beast as it is very social and it is very emergent and it has a fan base that gets that. Flickr has passionate users that love the new features, functionality, and sociality. It has an interface that meets those passionate fans.

Yahoo! has an incredibly large user base (around 70 million people). Its focus is on regular people and serving their needs really well. It is currently going through upgrades to its interfaces for many products, see the Yahoo! homepage for a sample of the great interfaces that are aimed and working really well for regular people and are seemingly being brought to other products, like Bookmarks. These regular people are not the alpha geeks and followers of the innovative products, they want products that work as they expect and they are comfortable with allowing them to do what they want and need. Yahoo! gets this really well and are marrying the innovation and improved design that will work across browsers for these regular people. Yahoo takes time and care ensuring that the products are as smooth, bug-free, and usable as any product or company out there (possibly better than most). They build real products that real people can use.

Innovation and

The big problem I see, which is far worse than the big mistake of moving MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta, is taking an innovative product like and pushing it mainstream. Currently, has about 1 million users. These users are not the normal Yahoo! regular people users, they are ones that will use and enjoy innovative products. The interface is one that many of the regular people understand or like (I have done a decent amount of user testing around this) as it seems very "geeky" and I have heard comments along the lines of "I never liked DOS". This is fine as many of those that use and passionately love enjoy the interface. The interaction design, like the compound tag terms are really foreign to regular people, who more easily understood the comma separated tags with spaces between real words (as that is how most regular people write a string of terms). It has a completely different base of people using it than regular people.

Yahoo! really needs to keep innovating. Joshua Schacter and his team are doing incredible things and they need to keep trying new things and pushing the envelope. Yahoo! really needs a, just like it needs Flickr to remain a distinct product. I have constantly wondered why never took on Yahoo! branding like Flickr or Upcoming, but of late I had thought it was letting innovate and be free, which makes a lot of sense.

Poisoning the Water

What the Yahoo! roadmap seems to be doing is poisoning the water. Bringing into the mainstream will piss off many of those people who are passionate about and its innovation. There were fears of this with Flickr, but Yahoo! proved that leaving Flickr alone was valuable to the company as a whole. Either Yahoo! does not care about the innovation or the passionate users that help provide feedback on social bookmarking to Yahoo! or they don't get what they have. There are two very different sets of people using Yahoo! products and those using Mixing the two will more likely alienate the passionate users or not be a product that will work well with regular people. Like Flickr and Photos they are two separate groups of people. Yahoo! needs both groups of people to maintain is regular people using Yahoo! and to keep the innovation going.

What Roadmap?

It really makes no sense to poison by pushing it mainstream. So what roadmap? It seems like Yahoo! should have a self supporting tool with with a revenue neutral product (at least revenue neutral) that is ad supported. It needs that quick moving testing and innovation platform (it also needs them for many other products, like calendaring, address book, file storage, etc.) to keep the pipeline filled with good well tested ideas that work with people who are understanding of emergent systems. These good ideas can then flow into testing for the tools for regular people and see if they work there. Yahoo! needs its social bookmarking advocates that love, they can not afford to lose their eyes, interest, or input.

So where does the social bookmarking tool or features for regular people go? Yahoo! needs its new and improved Bookmarking tool and it needs Changing to go mainstream would be a monumental screw-up. Bringing more sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool, would be a better option. Yahoo! already screwed up by putting content from a their social bookmarking took into a non-social bookmarking tool. The failures of MyWeb 2 were largely no marketing and no iteration to fix the many rough bits.

New ideas explaining and time. Innovation takes time to become integrated into use by regular people. Innovation and understanding of new constructs and concepts get adopted through reading the manual (FAQ or Help), watching a demonstration, reading about it in their normal media streams, watching friends and co-workers, and recommendations of friends. Yahoo! is beginning to take these steps with Bookmarking Beta, they never did this well for MyWeb 2. Bringing the new tools of sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool with highlighting the need for it (triggering the lightbulb moment) and various means of educating would make sense. The social networking tools should become part of the mainstream. Tying these interactions and relating them to known social constructs in peoples lives for sharing information with some groups and not all is something many regular people get. It takes explaining it in terms that regular people understand. Yahoo! does this explaining very well in many other places, why is it so difficult to grasp for social networking?

One avenue for introducing social bookmarking into the mainstream is sharing bookmarks with Yahoo! Groups that they already belong to. Many people have their bridge club in Groups or their kid's soccer (football) team. They have groups of people that they are comfortable sharing links and other information with already. Limiting the new Bookmarks tool to e-mail and SMS is fine, but it seems like there is a ready audience waiting for a well explained tool that would solve technology problems they already have, which is sharing links and bookmarks with people they already know and trust. Yahoo! really needs to use what they do well in various contexts and various audiences that use it.

May 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

Nick does a killer job in a post on XHML wireframing and use and reuse of deliverables. This is something I had been doing for years and found it really made the conception to inception process really quick. It also gives the means to keep your documentation up to date. The time savings with XHTML wireframes has been about a quarter to a third of the development time saved.

Those who don't like giving clients clickable wireframes, the pages can be printed/saved out in PDF and annotated.

The other knock is IAs not knowing XHTML or CSS. Somebody working in the practice of web development and web design that does not have an understanding of the handful of elements in XHTML needs to learn it quickly. Go look at CSS Zen Garden to get an idea of what design can be done on top of properly structured XHTML. Lift the hood and look at the mark-up. It is not that difficult.

In short go read Nick's wonderful piece and give XHTML wireframes a shot.

April 27, 2005

Opening Old Zips and Finding Missing Passion

Tonight I finally got my old USB Zip drive to work with my laptop (I have not tried in a couple years) and it worked like a charm. I decided to pull most of the contents of my old Zips into my hard drive, as it is backed-up.

I started opening old documents from a project from four and five years ago and the documentation is so much better and detailed that what I have these days. The difference? Focus and resources. On that project I was researching, defining, iterating, and testing one project full-time. I was working with some fantastic developers that were building their parts and a designer that could pulled everything together visually. We each had our areas of expertise and were allowed to do what we enjoyed and excelled at to the fullest. Our passions could just flow. The project was torn apart by budgets and politics with the real meat of it never going live. A small piece of it went live, but nothing like we had up and running. But, this is the story of so many killer projects and such is life.

What is different between now and then? Today there is no focus and no resources to develop and design. I am in an environment overseeing 2,000 projects a year across 15 funding areas (most of the work done centrally is done on 5 funding areas), it is project traffic management, not design, not research design, not iterating, just balancing high priority projects (mostly it is 9 of us cleaning up others poor work). The team I work with is fantastic, but we have few resources (mostly time is missing) to do incredible work.

The looking back at the volumes of documents I wrote laying out steps, outlines of design elements, content assessments, schematics, data flows, wireframes, and Flash animations demonstrating how the finished tools would function I realize I miss that, deeply. I miss the passion and drive to make something great. I miss being permitted to dream big and solve problems that were untouchable, and best of all, go execute on those dreams. When I see members that made up that old team we reminisce, much like guys do about high school sports champion teams they were on. We had a great team with each of us doing what we loved and changing our part of the world, the digital world.

It was in that project that the seeds were planted for everything I love working on now. Looking at old diagrams I see hints of the Model of Attraction. I was using scenarios around people using and reusing information, which became the Personal InfoCloud. These elements were used to let others in on our dreams for that project and it was not until my time on the project was winding down (or there was no desire to move more of the whole product live and therefore no need for my skills) that I could pull out what worked well on project that made it special. Now others are getting to understand the Personal InfoCloud and other frameworks and models I have been sharing.

February 16, 2005

Nietzsche on Design?

From Nietzsche (found in Dwell Magazine March 2005)

When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way -- before one began

This quote was really heartening as it applies to architecture and construction, which are far older than web design or any of the elements that are components of getting to that end. A relatively young profession, such as web design or even digital design or software development hits this exact spot in nearly every project. This could be why we love the iterative process and capturing and building upon lessons learned. We also read incessantly about everybody else's endeavors so we can learn before we design and then build.

Jason Fried posted Getting Real, Step 1: No Functional Spec, which makes a lot of sense in this iterative design perspective. I have done a few projects (not in a few years) that worked in this direction and we got into a prototype rather quickly, which we learned from as we went a long. We built things in a modular method, so that we could throw out small pieces or everything (we never had to throw it all out).

July 16, 2004

Web Standards and IA Process Married

Nate Koechley posts his WebVision 2004 presentation on Web Standards and IA. This flat out rocks as it echos what I have been doing and refining for the last three years or more. The development team at work has been using this nearly exclusively for about couple years now on redesigns and new designs. This process makes things very easy to draft in simple wireframe. Then move to functional wireframes with named content objects in the CSS as well as clickable. The next step is building the visual presentation with colors and images.

This process has eased the lack of content problem (no content no site no matter how pretty one thinks it is) often held up by "more purple and make it bigger" contingents. This practice has cut down development and design time in more than half and greatly decreases maintenance time. One of the best attributes is the decreased documentation time as using the Web Developer Extension toolbar in Firefox exposes the class and id attributes that provide semantic structure (among many other things this great tool provides). When the structure is exposed documentation becomes a breeze. I can not think of how or why we ever did anything differently.

January 8, 2004

Lake Effect Snow in Washington DC

Lake effect snow warning or not, for Washington, DC. Yesterday, I had a handful of severe weather warnings popping into my mobile devices and my desktop. I read the alerts, which were for "lake effect snow" and blizzards in the next four to 12 hours. The area impacted were the counties around Washington, DC, including Washington. From there I checked a couple weather forecasts and live weather stats, 39 percent humidity and no clouds on the eastern seaboard.

A couple hours later a retraction was made by NOAA and the National Weather Service. It seems they were testing software alert messages and the tests were dumped in the live system database. Oops. Somebody got the lesson of a lifetime and a lesson on how to verify what system is being tested.

February 4, 2003

Fusebox FLiP's for user centered design approach

While going through the Fusebox application development site (a coding framework for ColdFusion, J2EE, PHP, and ASP that helps separate coding from presenation by building reusable components and templates) I stumbled upon FLiP. The Fusebox Lifecycle Process (FLiP) section focusses on application development and project management "best practices". FLiP the steps are Personas and Goals, Wireframe, Prototype / Front-End Development, Application Architecting, FuseCoding, Unit Testing, Application Integration, and Deployment.

I was so happy to see personas, wireframing, prototyping, and application architecting as well as the suggested order. This is the path I have found to provide the best path for success. I was introduced to this process in the very early 1990s when working on a project to replace a mainframe application and moving it to the PC. The approach seemed solid and achieved some quick results with few hiccups. That approach has stayed with me and the focus on the user being the extremely important. Application developers often want to jump right into the coding and interface designers want to start crafting the visual design. Doing either with out proper understanding can easily lead to complications that are costly to correct.

The field of information architecture structures its approach to development on these tasks and roles. A great overview for application development is wonderfully laid out in Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience. Many that build applications have become familiar with these steps. Those wanting to learn programming and application development have found this the user-centered design approach is a great preparation. Why? Once the users are defined, the information structure defined, the interaction elements outlined, the interface outlined, and the framework for the application decided upon the coding becomes easy to focus upon. The coding portion of development becomes much easier because the interactions for the users are defined and the coding solutions are largely pre-defined.

November 11, 2002

5 things CIOs cna do for project managers offers 5 things a CIO can do for project managers. This seems to be bacic. I would think having a central data resource would also be essential. How much time have we lost trying to find where a certain data element is stored and who is the owner of that item. Often we can not find the needed element and create our own, only to find out there was a resource, which now needs to be used, then we spend hours and money to rebuild the application.

In the years just before the Web boom, many large organizations created positions to be just this resource and many were called information architects. A Google search on "information architect" and enterprise will find current descriptions and pre-1995 descriptions. Some organizations understand the positive impact this can have and many more should.

May 31, 2002

Sounds like know nothing

A word to the wise, if you want to seem like you know what you are talking about it is ASP (ay - ess - pee) not asp (like the reptile). If somebody is paying big bucks you should at least sound like you know what you are talking about. They did pronouce VB properly, but they were actually talking about VBA (we let that one pass). These were "guys in suits" so they must know what they are talking about. Do you think we should ask for a code review? Thought so.

May 10, 2002

Strategic usability

Strategic usability: Partnering business, engineering and ease of use, by Scott Berkun, is the May article for UIWeb. The article focuses on incorporating ease of use into our business strategy. This step will help insure, or at least keep us on the right track. These steps are helpful when developing, building, or maintaining any information application (Web site, data mining application, knowledge management, information gathering interfaces, data visualization tools, etc).

If your information application is not useable from the perspective of the user, it will not be used. The user is right and there are steps to take to ensure the user is not only the focus along the way, but also involved in the steps. This will keep from wasting time and money on development of an information application that is not used or perceived as unusable. How many times have we started asking users about a product they have (often developed just for them, but not developed with them, the actual users) and they say they don't use it? More painful is having them say they went back to they way they always have done it, because it works.

May 5, 2002

Functional and design documentation

Functional vs. design in documentation explained in one article. This article explains why these two thoughts should be in two different documents. The article also explains what should be in each of the documents. Do discuss, or I suppose folks are somewhere...

Building a development team like an NFL draft

Build a development team like a NFL draft is a very good approach. This is a common approach and has work well for me in the past. The approach mentioned is along the lines of the build your initial development team with "athletes" and then add position players and specialists. This is just the people, it takes analysis, planning, and structure to get it out the door and get it right.

May 3, 2002

Speaking up on UI

Getting the UI right is tough and our be silent on UI issues is not helpful. We spend a lot of time working hard ot better understand the issues and solutions. Meg does a great job explaining this. This is a must read for developers, clients, and managers.

Software schedules with Excel

Joel shares his painless software schedules with Excel. Even if you do not use Excel the article has some great points.

April 26, 2002

UCD for different project types

IBM presents UCD for different project types. (I missed this when it first came online. I must be slipping of focussed elsewhere).

February 22, 2002

IBM Speed Team

Fast Company examines IBM's Speed Team, which has been working on developing speedy development environments. They cut back on processes that ensure proper development, but it seems like the the IBM developers have experienced developers, which make streamlining the development process much easier.

February 20, 2002

What Does Usability Mean: Looking Beyond Ă«Ease of UseĂ­ from the fine folks at Cognetics. This solid overview focuses on the Five E's: Efficient, effective, engaging, error tolerant, and easy to learn. The toughest hurdle from my view is error tolerant, which is an often overlooked element in application and Web development. Planning early and knowing the user will help incorporate error tolerance into the development plans. One of the toughest areas to accommodate error tolerance is during feature creep as features grow and interact with various elements the probability for errors that do not have corrective paths accounted for rises greatly.

February 14, 2002

Joel explains the software development paradox when the technical folks and non-technical folks meet. I am very fortunate that I do not go through this at the moment, as I work for a client that understands the development process. I can not say that about every place I have been, but the developing a prototype in a few weeks that has rough functionality in it is light years from an actual product. The most important part of that next step is getting real data and getting a good understanding of the data and information you are working with as well as knowing what is to be done with said information. This being said is why many of us like using wireframes for interface development and not live GUIs (there are other reasons to use wireframes, but I will address that on another day, possibly real soon).

November 1, 2001

The Dev Shed offers a scenario many of us gone through in their Time is Money article. It walks through a tough scenario of delivering an intricate project with few requirements. In all it is a nice over view of developing a web based application using PHP and MySQL.

UIWeb posts a wonderful article on designers playing the politics game, which also provides excellent project strategies and skills for working with the client.

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