Archive for November 2004

User Interface 9 (UI9) Recap

November 17th, 2004 — 5:27pm

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.

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