the rhetorical question, “Is Lab Usability Dead?” in peterme.com yesterday. I think he makes an important point – computer usage is anything but sterile and disconnected these days (and this has been true for a while). Studying usage habits and patterns must not assume a single-task model in a pristine environment if it is to be useful.
Peter Merholz wrote a very interesting post about audience segmentation and the web: Thinking About Audience Segmentation. I was provoked enough to comment there, and the comment I left was long enough to repeat here.
…I have been frustrated by poor attempts at such segmentation for years, both in trying to serve clients (or bosses) who insist that we try and by sites that try and segment me. I think there are a couple of important things to note.
First of all, I think the University example is telling – it is easy to assume that in a university context, the segments are going to be quite distinct. But that assumption is meaningless until thoroughly tested with the segments themselves.
Second, segments work really well when they exist (or more accurately, is reflected) in the product, information, or other subject of the website itself. For cellphone companies, for instance, that actually have different pricing for businesses and consumers. The danger is in assuming too much. Just because business users expense their phones and so can afford more $$ doesn’t mean a “personal” customer doesn’t want your more expensive offering. Making it less accessible to them based on incorrect segmentation can equal shooting yourself in the foot.
Third, and stemming from #2, in my attempts to DO this kind of segmentation in large sites, I have found that in fact you want to allow EVERYONE to access ALL of the content through each view (and NOT by “pretending” to be in a different group). The key to the segmentation is that it is just one particular entry point, not a hard and fast ‘rule’. I learned this the hard way – by segmenting stuff OUT of different views then having to put it right back in later on. Views provide emphasis and prioritize certain information over other information, they don’t become the sole container in which any information resides.
interesting thread going on over at Peter Merholz’ site following his post, “Thoughts on the definition and community of ‘information architecture’“.
For my part, everything I’ve seen lately about IA suggests that it expands far beyond the range of things that I generally consider IA. In many ways the role as it is currently being defined is what I consider to be the product or project manager’s role. And I don’t think that’s the right way to go. In my work, I absolutely would not want the IA person to have the designer report to her or him. It is precisely the tension between these two related, but different, roles that I think gives the best opportunity of getting it right.
Same goes for content definition. I want the tension between the conflicting ideas of the IA and a site’s editor (assuming it’s a content-rich site you’re working on) to go to work, which if managed properly will produce interesting results.
In my ideal org chart, there is a project manager and reporting to her or him are a) an editor; b) a lead designer; c) a lead programmer/application developer; and, d) an IA. They do their work, each taking the lead on different aspects of the project but working as a team.
Peter Merholz (of peterme.com) wrote about Zooming User Interfaces, making particular note of PAD++ implementations, which are indeed quite cool. I couldn’t help but remember Apple’s old Hotsauce project, AKA Project X. It was certainly one of the first examples of something along these lines, and interestingly enough continues to live today, in a way. For an update, visit this note by Brian Duck. It dates back to 1999 and describes how Hotsauce mutated to become part of the RDF spec.