Making Things

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

“This focus on delivery must underpin everything we do. It’s understandable for designers to want strategic roles, as we encounter tactical limits. But in claiming the territory of design thinking, we must never forget the design doing, where true craft and talent turns thought into results.”

From “The Fall and Rise of User Experience,” keynote speech by Cennydd Bowles at IA Summit 2011


Pickin’s from ALA Web Design Survey 2007

October 18, 2007 § Leave a comment

The results of the ALA Web Design Survey 2007 are out, and I was especially excited to check out the fancy PDF report b/c I was a respondent.

Interesting (to me) notes:

  • The second largest group of U.S. respondents were from the Midwest (p. 9). Now that I’m sure I’m not alone, where is my local chapter of the Markup & Style Society? If you think I’m kidding, you obviously haven’t met me.
  • “Women make up significantly greater percentages of the information architects (22.8%), usability experts (24.7%), web producers (24.5%), and writers/editors (41.6%) than they do of other titles” (p. 30). Yeah, that’s me.
  • “The job titles that consistently show higher earnings than the sample as a whole are: accessibility expert, creative director, information architect, interface designer, usability expert, web producer, and web director” (p. 31). Sweet!
  • “Respondents who are project managers and information architects indicated the highest satisfaction with their work” (p. 46). Super sweet!
  • “There is only a slight increase in earning from high school graduates to junior college graduates, and a similarly slight increase from bachelor’s degrees to master’s degrees ” (p. 33). Not sweet, says the master’s student!

Welcome to the world, redesign!

September 23, 2007 § Leave a comment

I am proud to announce the unveiling of the new University of Missouri-Columbia Graduate School website today!

screen shot of the new Mizzou Graduate School home page

Unfortunately I will not be in Columbia to celebrate — I left to start a master’s in information science at Indiana University just before the final user testing phase of the project. Steven Richardson, my supportive supervisor at Mizzou, is the one copying all the new pages onto the server and taking care of the inevitable little fixes today. A hearty thanks to him, as well as to Janey Osterlind, our talented graduate assistant, for their contributions to the project. I would also like to thank the Mizzou central Web Communications team, who offered advice throughout this redesign process that has greatly improved the final result.

This project took me the better part of a year to complete, from initial research, to information architecture, to content editing, to hand-coding XHTML (including microformats), to visual design prototyping and CSS coding, conducting as much user testing along the way as possible. I truly believe that this version of the site will improve the user experience for applicants, students, staff, and faculty.

I hope to write more about particular details of the redesign in the future — I’ve learned so much working on it!

In the Beginning, There Was the Catalag, Part I: Academic Programs

June 10, 2007 § Leave a comment

Serious nerding out ahead!I recently completed one colossal step toward the information redesign of the Graduate School’s website—overhauling the way we list our academic programs.

I hope to write more about the background of this redesign, including details of the new information architecture I built, but for now I’m skipping ahead.

In the process of the creating the content inventory for our 500+ page site, I noticed a disturbing situation: three separate lists purporting to be the official “Fields of Study” index existed. And they were all different! Gulp.

Even among the first three items in each list, the inconsistency is apparent.

Screen shot of the Catalog list
Screen shot of the Fields of Study list
Screen shot of the Admission Requirements list

The Troublesome Trifecta

In several cases, a program would be called a different name on each list. For instance: is it “Biomedical Sciences,” “Veterinary Medicine – Biomedical Sciences,” or “Basic Biomedical Sciences”? Is it “Learning, Teaching and Curriculum,” or “Curriculum and Instruction”?

How Did This Happen?

As far as I can tell, the three-list disaster was rooted in two major issues: a failure to see the three lists as connected content, and a focus on ease-of-use for the staff at the expense of usability for our audience.

Early in the process of conceptualizing a redesign of the Graduate School website’s information structure, I recognized the disconnect in the minds of our staff between the Graduate Catalog (fully online for several years now) and the rest of the site.

I will probably talk more about this in another post, but in this situation, as in many others, this mental separation had been the impetus for a repetition of information on the site—once for the Catalog entry, and at least one more time in an area of the site outside the Catalog. Rarely were all instances of these originally identical bits of content updated at the same time, and the result was a mess of conflicting information.

So that accounts for two lists (one inside the Catalog and one outside), but this problem was compounded by our need for a content management system that we didn’t have. We were putting a teeny tiny bandage on this gaping wound by housing a third list (which linked to admission requirements for each program) within a database that could be edited directly by our admissions supervisor.

The Solution

I chose to work toward the creation of one master list—an official part of the Graduate Catalog—that would include all relevant information about each academic program, including a link to the program’s website, admission requirements, faculty, courses, degree requirements, and all the other details that were currently listed in the Graduate Catalog entries. As with the rest of the Catalog, any mid-year changes to the entries would be made using the <ins> and <del> elements, an idea borrowed from the way I had once seen amendments to the U.S. Constitution presented.

Luckily for us, we will be moving our site into the University’s new content management system after our redesign, allowing our admissions adviser to have access to our ever-changing admissions requirements for each program.

The Naming of Things

One of the first steps was to figure out how to make the index of programs easy to browse. Each degree or certificate program has an official, registered name—but we weren’t always using it, because sometimes the official name didn’t actually describe the program very well. Some of the academic programs that administered the degree and certificate programs were also engaging in some creative (but unofficial) renaming, which meant that prospective students would not always know the official names.

Book Indexing to the Rescue

Luckily for me, I had recently learned quite a bit about the principles of indexing through a freelance job in which I indexed a book edited by one of my former professors. The professor had introduced me to the indexing instructions from the Chicago Manuel of Style, and I decided to use its guidelines for cross-listing entries as a starting point.

After I separated the official names of the degree and certificate programs into broad categories based on those used by U.S. News & World Report and alphabetized them within the categories, I added cross-listings anytime I thought prospective students might look under another name. For example (Note: The hyperlinks don’t actually go anywhere.):

Digging Into the Content

Figuring out the index was easy compared to the task of combining the content attached to each of the three lists, which had never really been edited and formatted for the web before. After four weeks of solid work, I finally added all the necessary subheads, combined conflicting information about admissions requirements into accurate summaries, and managed to fix most of the other grammar and factual errors.

Next week I hope to conduct some user testing to make sure that my work has really resulted in a more usable framework for our poor students, who have been dealing with some confusing content for far too long.

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