Tag: ia_building_blocks

IA Summit Slides: Effective IA For Enterprise Portals

April 17th, 2008 — 3:34pm

I’ve posted slides for my recent Effec­tive IA For Enter­prise Por­tals pre­sen­ta­tion at the IA Sum­mit in Miami. Por­tals are not a tra­di­tional space for user expe­ri­ence prac­ti­tion­ers, so many thanks to the packed house that turned out, and stayed as we both started late to accom­mo­date the crowd, and then ran long.
These slides include a sub­stan­tial amount of case study and exam­ple mate­r­ial that I didn’t cover directly in the talk. For the repeat ses­sion on Sun­day, I showed addi­tional exam­ples beyond those included here in the start­ing slides.
Stay tuned for a more detailed writeup of both pub­lished and unpub­lished exam­ple mate­r­ial — one that shows the build­ing blocks in action at all lev­els of a multi-year por­tal effort from ini­tial strat­egy through design and into gov­er­nance / evo­lu­tion — in part six of the Build­ing Blocks series run­ning in Boxes and Arrows, due out once the post-summit flurry set­tles down.

Comment » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Enterprise, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Connectors for Dashboards and Portals Live on BoxesandArrows.com

November 1st, 2007 — 4:22pm

Boxes and Arrows just pub­lished Part 4 of the Build­ing Blocks series, Con­nec­tors for Dash­boards and Por­tals.
We’re into the home stretch of the series — just two more to go!
Stay tuned for a down­load­able toolkit to sup­port easy use of the build­ing blocks dur­ing design efforts.

Comment » | Building Blocks, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Portal Building Blocks Intro on Boxes and Arrows

July 24th, 2007 — 10:36am

Boxes and Arrows just pub­lished part two of the Por­tal Build­ing Blocks series — Intro­duc­tion to the Build­ing Blocks. This sec­ond install­ment cov­ers the design con­cepts behind the por­tal build­ing blocks sys­tem, and guide­lines on how to flex­i­bly com­bine the blocks into a well-structured user expe­ri­ence.
If you are work­ing on a por­tal, dash­board, wid­get, social media plat­form, web-based desk­top, or any tile-based design, this series should help clar­ify the growth and usabil­ity chal­lenges you will encounter, as well as pro­vide a pos­si­ble solu­tion, in the form of a sim­ple design frame­work that is plat­form and ven­dor neu­tral.
Stay tuned for the third install­ment in the series, due out shortly!

Comment » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Enterprise, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Boxes and Arrows: It Seemed Like The Thing To Do At The Time

June 27th, 2007 — 10:05am

The Lessons From Fail­ure Series (curated by Chris­t­ian Crum­lish) kicked off today at Boxes and Arrows, lead­ing with my med­i­ta­tion on being an entre­pre­neur and what it means to face fail­ure as a mem­ber of a rigidly defined soci­ety, titled It Seemed Like The Thing To Do At The Time. Stay tuned for three fur­ther install­ments from tal­ented fel­low pan­elists.
Also, look for part two of my series on design­ing healthy user expe­ri­ences for por­tals using the IA Build­ing Blocks in early July. Part one — The Chal­lenge of Dash­boards and Por­tals — describ­ing the struc­tural and usabil­ity weak­nesses of flat archi­tec­tures, was pub­lished in Decem­ber.
Many thanks to the hard work­ing vol­un­teers at B+A for cre­at­ing a forum for these ideas and the com­mu­nity around them!

Comment » | Building Blocks, Ideas, User Experience (UX)

Suggested Tag for Building Blocks Stuff

December 31st, 2006 — 2:19pm

I’ve cre­ated a sug­gested (and highly orig­i­nal) tag for book­mark­ing items related to the build­ing blocks:


I’ve tagged a few items on del.icio.us — my default book­mark­ing ser­vice — and will mon­i­tor tag streams from some of the other book­mark­ing ser­vices.

Comment » | Building Blocks, Enterprise, Information Architecture

Enterprise Information Article on Portal Usability Problems

December 9th, 2006 — 2:08pm

Janus Boye (of CMSWatch) just pub­lished an arti­cle called The trou­ble with por­tal dash­boards… in Enter­prise Infor­ma­tion, in which he dis­cusses the usabil­ity prob­lems of enter­prise por­tals.
Janus iden­ti­fies the essen­tial prob­lem of cur­rent por­tal design approaches built on flat tiles:
Today most organ­i­sa­tions blindly adopt the default ‘build­ing block’ approach to lay­out found in enter­prise por­tals — a relic from the early days of pub­lic inter­net por­tals. But users com­plain that while such an inter­face may look slick in early sales demon­stra­tions, in pro­duc­tion it typ­i­cally only facil­i­tates work for tech­ni­cally adept super-users. The occa­sional user eas­ily gets con­fused and frus­trated work­ing with a clut­tered screen of lit­tle boxes show­ing many dif­fer­ent portlets. Get­ting ade­quate value from the por­tal typ­i­cally requires sub­stan­tial train­ing.
This is a good snap­shot of the long term weak­nesses of a flat por­tal user expe­ri­ence, what Janus calls “the default ‘build­ing block’ approach” [empha­sis mine]. It strongly par­al­lels my recent post out­lin­ing some of the inher­ent usabil­ity weak­nesses of por­tals, and is a great lead in for the build­ing blocks. (Note: Janus uses the term build­ing blocks dif­fer­ently.)
In another high­light worth men­tion­ing Janus iden­ti­fies six dis­tinct types of por­tals, refer­ring to them as use cases. I think of these as types of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments. The dif­fer­ence is a seman­tic one that’s shaped by your con­text for the term por­tal. Janus is speak­ing from the busi­ness per­spec­tive, thus his focus on the busi­ness prob­lem solved by each type of por­tal.
They are:

  • Dynamic web pub­lish­ing; the sim­plest use case and a com­mon entry point for por­tal developers
  • Self-service por­tal; enabling staff or cus­tomers to help them­selves and obtain ser­vice on their terms
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tion por­tal; enabling dis­persed teams to work together on projects
  • Enter­prise intranet; help­ing staff work more effi­ciently, often via mul­ti­ple spe­cialised por­tal applications
  • E-business por­tal; enabling enter­prises to extend com­mer­cial infor­ma­tion and ser­vices to exter­nal trad­ing part­ners, sup­pli­ers and customers
  • Enter­prise inte­gra­tion; link­ing sys­tems to achieve greater effi­ciency and agility.

What’s impor­tant to under­stand from this list is that the default flat tiles approach under­ly­ing these dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments is the same, and so are the result­ing usabil­ity prob­lems, with their atten­dant busi­ness costs. The build­ing blocks will sup­port all six por­tal types handily.

Comment » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Usability Weaknesses Inherent In Portals

December 8th, 2006 — 4:33pm

In a recent com­ment, Joe Sokohl asked about usabil­ity in por­tals, specif­i­cally if design­ing with the build­ing blocks improves usabil­ity.
Here’s his ques­tion:
One topic I hope you cover is any usabil­ity test­ing results you might’ve come up with. How usable is this approach, for exam­ple? How suc­cess­fully are execs using these tiles? I think it’s a neat way to short­cut the dev process, too.
Por­tal user expe­ri­ences suf­fer from a num­ber of inbuilt usabil­ity weak­nesses that the build­ing blocks are designed to elim­i­nate. For instance, flat tile schemes assume all tiles are struc­turally the same, and that they have no rela­tion­ship to any other tiles. This makes all tiles of equal impor­tance to the portal’s infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. [Wel­come to Flat­land…] Yet any designer or infor­ma­tion archi­tect address­ing diverse user needs and goals knows that the pri­or­i­ties of users make some con­tent more impor­tant than oth­ers, and that the struc­ture of the user expe­ri­ence should reflect these pri­or­i­ties and any nec­es­sary rela­tion­ships.
Flat­ness also ham­pers inter­ac­tion design and infor­ma­tion design, obstruct­ing the estab­lish­ment of good visual flows and path­ways lead­ing the eye to the right areas of a por­tal page. The eye and brain (visual sys­tem) inter­prets the fea­tures and “ter­rain” of the cur­rent field of view, a process that occurs when users look at a por­tal page. The absence of con­cep­tual dif­fer­ences between tiles in flat por­tal expe­ri­ences makes it dif­fi­cult to cre­ate sup­port­ing visual cues that direct the eye to the appro­pri­ate fea­tures of the field of view. Effec­tively, it’s a fea­ture­less land­scape lack­ing depth that the eye and brain can­not eas­ily inter­pret, an effect sim­i­lar to dri­ving through white­out con­di­tions (an extreme exam­ple).
Fur­ther, tight sched­ul­ing and bud­get real­i­ties often mean design teams inherit the default user expe­ri­ence aspects of tiles from the por­tal plat­form, with lim­ited or no lee­way for change. In these sit­u­a­tions cases, the default designs and nav­i­ga­tion become a tech­nol­ogy con­straint, instead of a point of depar­ture, as intended!
The most com­mon solu­tion to these inbuilt weak­nesses is to rely on the con­tents of tiles to solve all three prob­lems at the same time: indi­cate struc­ture and rela­tion­ships, lead users to the right area of the page, and over­come the user expe­ri­ence design con­straints of the tech­nol­ogy plat­form or pre­sen­ta­tion frame­work.
This is the wrong approach, for many rea­sons. It counts on con­tent to do the job of struc­ture. It con­tra­dicts the pur­pose of inde­pen­dent tiles. It decreases usabil­ity over­all, because in many por­tals, syn­di­cated tiles appear in many dif­fer­ent places and con­texts where the rela­tion­ships assumed and expressed in their con­tent are nei­ther present nor valid.
By con­trast, the goal of the build­ing blocks is to pro­vide a sim­ple vocab­u­lary for cre­at­ing use­ful struc­tures and rela­tion­ships obvi­at­ing the need to over­load tiles. Using the build­ing blocks elim­i­nates these sorts of emer­gent usabil­ity prob­lems rooted in the weak­nesses of flat por­tal user expe­ri­ences.
Time and space allow­ing, I’ll talk more about some of the usabil­ity find­ings in the case study / exam­ple mate­r­ial that’s planned for the series. A brief note about exec­u­tive dash­boards, as opposed to por­tals: Dash­boards often serve very small user groups, which means that usabil­ity con­cerns and find­ings end up being closely tied to the usage pat­terns and pref­er­ences of that small group (some­times a sin­gle user). In sev­eral instances, after some very puz­zling usabil­ity feed­back, we dis­cov­ered the pre­ferred way of using the dash­board was to have an assis­tant print out a page assem­bled from a com­plex set of tiles struc­tured with the build­ing blocks.

3 comments » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Forthcoming Boxes and Arrows Series on Portal Building Blocks

December 7th, 2006 — 2:41pm

Hur­ray for vol­un­teer pub­lish­ing: Next week, Boxes and Arrows, is pub­lish­ing the first install­ment of a series of arti­cles on infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture for por­tals and tile-based user expe­ri­ences. It intro­duces a sys­tem of reusable build­ing blocks that pro­vides con­sis­tent struc­ture for and low­ers the costs of design­ing and main­tain­ing por­tals.
The build­ing blocks are a por­tal design toolkit I devel­oped while work­ing on sev­eral exec­u­tive dash­board projects in close suc­ces­sion. I’ve used the build­ing block sys­tem in por­tals, Web appli­ca­tions, busi­ness intel­li­gence tools, dash­boards, and con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems: essen­tially any design rely­ing on or incor­po­rat­ing tiles or portlets. The build­ing blocks play nicely with RIA, AJAX, and other evolv­ing user expe­ri­ence and devel­op­ment approaches, because they address infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture con­cerns with­out requir­ing any spe­cific tech­nol­ogy or plat­form.
Fol­low up arti­cles will explain the build­ing blocks in detail, and how to use them quickly and effi­ciently.
The series will cover:

  • Basic prin­ci­ples and assumptions
  • Guide­lines for assem­bling blocks into larger units
  • Mod­u­lar build­ing blocks of all sizes (Containers)
  • Mod­u­lar nav­i­ga­tion com­po­nents (Connectors)
  • Stan­dard­ized Con­ve­nience Func­tion­al­ity for blocks
  • Com­mon Util­ity Functionality
  • Sug­gested meta­data attrib­utes for blocks

Assum­ing the response to the first pieces is pos­i­tive (be sure to read and com­ment!), we’ll pro­vide a case study, and cre­ate a set of sup­port­ing mate­ri­als to make it easy to use the build­ing blocks for your own projects. The goal is to offer a com­plete pack­age for some­one who needs help cre­at­ing an effec­tive and scal­able user expe­ri­ence for a por­tal or tile-based envi­ron­ment.
Aside from being a resource for the design of por­tal user expe­ri­ences, the build­ing blocks are the first attempt (dis­claimer: that I know of…) at cre­at­ing a reusable IA design frame­work for a com­mon type of busi­ness prob­lem / user expe­ri­ence / infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment. It’s not as broad in scope as Jesse Jame Garrett’s Visual Vocab­u­lary, because it works at a more gran­u­lar level of detail, but it should sup­port design efforts in a wide vari­ety of set­tings.
Those who enjoyed the 2005 IA Sum­mit in Mon­tréal might remem­ber I pre­sented a poster on the build­ing block idea. The poster is essen­tially a pre­view of what the series will cover fully.
And it’s a per­fect excuse to try out Rashmi’s new Slideshare ser­vice.

I’ll be on hol­i­day (in Jamaica: did some­one say Red Stripe…?) next week, but will try to log on to catch up on com­ments and ques­tions.
Hope every­one enjoys the arti­cles.
The first arti­cle The Chal­lenge of Dash­boards and Por­tals is live as of Decem­ber 14th

3 comments » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Information Architecture

Executive Dashboards Poster From The IA Summit

March 11th, 2005 — 5:16pm

Thanks to all who stopped by to ask ques­tions and express inter­est in some of the con­cepts cen­tral to exec­u­tive dash­boards, por­tals, or to sim­ply say hello dur­ing the poster ses­sion at the IA Sum­mit in Mon­tréal. Many of you took cards, and I look for­ward to hear­ing from you soon. Based on the level of inter­est, I’m talk­ing with the good peo­ple at Boxes and Arrows about how to share some of this expe­ri­ence and these ideas in more depth. Stay tuned.
Mean­while, until the sum­mit site offers a full set of pre­sen­ter mate­ri­als, you can find the.pdf ver­sion (it’s a lar­gish ~6MB) here.
The pubished descrip­tion of the poster is below:
Exec­u­tive Dash­boards: Sim­ple IA Build­ing Blocks Sup­port A Suite of Sophis­ti­cated Por­tals
This poster depicts how a small set of stan­dard­ized Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture struc­tures and ele­ments was used to cre­ate an effec­tive suite of inter­con­nected Exec­u­tive Dash­boards at low cost and with­out sub­stan­tial redesign effort.
This suite of dash­boards meets the diverse infor­ma­tion needs of senior deci­sion mak­ers work­ing within many dif­fer­ent busi­ness units in a global phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. These dash­boards incor­po­rate a wide vari­ety of data types and func­tion­al­ity, but present every­thing within a con­sis­tent and usable User Expe­ri­ence by employ­ing mod­u­lar tiles and nav­i­ga­tion struc­tures.
This set of mod­u­lar tiles and nav­i­ga­tion struc­tures met the diverse infor­ma­tion needs of senior deci­sion mak­ers oper­at­ing within sev­eral dif­fer­ent busi­ness units.
The poster shows how the basic IA com­po­nent or ‘atom’ of a tile or port­let, with a stan­dard struc­ture, ele­ments, and label­ing can con­tain a tremen­dous vari­ety of con­tent types. The con­tent types include qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive visual and tex­tual data dis­plays, as well as com­plex func­tion­al­ity syn­di­cated from other enter­prise appli­ca­tions. It also shows how tiles are eas­ily com­bined with other tiles or portlets to cre­ate larger scale and more sophis­ti­cated struc­tures that are still easy for users to com­pre­hend, allow­ing them to syn­the­size and com­pare for­merly siloed infor­ma­tion views to guide strate­gic deci­sions.
The poster shows how sim­ple infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture com­po­nents com­mon to all the dash­boards allow rapid access to a tremen­dous amount of infor­ma­tion, from many sources. The poster shows how this IA frame­work scaled well and responded to chang­ing busi­ness needs over time, allow­ing the addi­tion of large num­bers of new tiles, views, and types of infor­ma­tion to exist­ing Dash­boards with­out sub­stan­tial redesign or cost.
The poster demon­strates how a set of IA com­po­nents allows design­ers to present crit­i­cal busi­ness infor­ma­tion by oper­at­ing unit, geog­ra­phy, topic, or spe­cific busi­ness met­ric, at vary­ing lev­els of detail, based on the needs of spe­cific audi­ences.
The poster shows how this set of IA com­po­nents allowed numer­ous design teams to inno­vate within a frame­work, thus cre­at­ing an exten­sive library of reusable tiles and views avail­able for syn­di­ca­tion through­out the suite of Exec­u­tive Dash­boards.
The end result of this approach to solv­ing diverse design prob­lems is a series of well inte­grated User Expe­ri­ences offer­ing sub­stan­tial busi­ness value to a wide audi­ence of users.

1 comment » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

See You At the Information Architecture Summit

February 11th, 2005 — 4:43pm

After miss­ing the first four IA sum­mits, I’m very much look­ing for­ward to this year’s IA Sum­mit in lovely Mon­tréal.
For this year’s gath­er­ing, I’m pre­sent­ing a poster on how a sim­ple set of IA build­ing blocks can sup­port pow­er­ful infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures, in the con­text of inter­con­nected exeuc­tive por­tals. Aside from ben­e­fits in terms of user expe­ri­ence con­sis­tency, learn­abil­ity, and increased rates of user sat­is­fac­tion and adop­tion, the true busi­ness value of a sys­tem of sim­ple infor­ma­tion objects that con­veys a tremen­dous vari­ety of con­tent is in meet­ing diverse needs for deci­sion mak­ing inputs across a wide vari­ety of audi­ences and func­tional require­ments.
This is a follow-on to the bet­ter part of a year spent work­ing on the strat­egy, design, and devel­op­ment of a suite of exec­u­tive dash­boards and por­tals for major phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal clients.
In the look-over-your-shoulder-as-you-run-forward mode typ­i­cal of most con­sult­ing roles, it’s quite a bit dif­fer­ent from the seman­tic web / seman­tic archi­tec­ture work I’m engaged with now. But that’s the joy of always being on to new things :)

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