In October, I had the chance to attend the UI9 User Interface Conference here in Cambridge. I was registered for the full-day session Deconstructing Web Applications: Learning from the Best Designs, hosted by Hagan Rivers of Two Rivers Consulting. I also listened in on a few minutes of Adaptive Path’s workshop From Construct to Structure: Information Architecture from Mental Models. Recognized, well-informed speakers presented both sessions, and did so capably.
Deconstructing Web Applications opened with a useful theoretical section in which Rivers identified a basic model for defining a web application, continued into a breakdown of the base-level IA of a typical web app as presented to users, and then walked through a number of examples of how widely available web applications adhere to or diverge from this model and structure. The material in each portion of the session was well illustrated with screen shots and examples, and it’s clear that Rivers is a comfortable and experienced presenter who understands her material. I’ve recently made use of her framework for the structure of web applications in a number of my active projects.
The session made five bold statements about what attendees would learn or accomplish. In light of very tall requirements to live up to, Rivers did an admirable job of presenting an overview and introduction to several complex applications in a single day’s time. But I can’t say that I have a sense of the core Information Architecture or structure behind the tools reviewed during the session, or an in-depth understanding of why the design teams responsible for them chose a given form. Deconstruction was a poorly defined academic movement whose virtues and drawbacks still generate vehement debates, but as way of seeking understanding (and a choice for a conference session title), it implies a rigorous level of thoroughness that went unmet.
The emotional response section of the workshop was the least developed of the broad areas. It digresses the most from the focus of the rest of talk in form and content. I suspect it represents an area of current interest for Rivers, who included it in order to supplement the material in her program with a timely topic that carries important implications. Emotional design is certainly a growing area that deserves more investigation, especially in the ways that it’s tenets influence basic design methods and their products. However, in the absence of clearer formulation in the terms of reference from Rivers basic theoretical framework for web applications, this portion of the session felt tacked on to the end.
Of course it’s true that you shouldn’t literally believe what you read in any marketing copy — even if it’s written by User Interface Engineering (or possibly the PR firm hired to create their conference website?). But there are unfortunate consequences in creating infulfilled expectations: when you have to sell attendance at a conference to your management, who then expect you to share comprehensive knowledge with colleagues; when conference attendees make business or design decisions thinking they have the full body of information required when in fact they have only an overview; and when we as consumers of conference content don’t insist on full quality and depth across all of the forums we have for sharing professional knowledge.
Comments Off | Information Architecture