Monday, August 21, 2006

Adding design process attributes to patterns

(this is a follow-up to my previous post called Processes + Patterns = ?)

update (September 28, 2006): I made some small changes after I re-read this post today. I hope they help increase the legibility.

Let's see what happens if we add processes to patterns.
  • Patterns are tradionally centered around context of use: When is it a good idea to apply this pattern, and when not?
  • Processes are all about context of design: in what situations should we include what types of designers in the team, delivering what and how?
The idea of adding design process attributes to patterns expands the focus of patterns to include the context of design.

This could allow us for example to determine that certain aspects of Agile processes work better for informational sites than for e-commerce sites. Or that a community website on average takes three times as many usability evaluations to complete successfully. Or that a site's usability with breadcrumb navigation is rated higher if a card sort excercise was used in the design process.

Attributes that could be captured with the patterns (and evaluated by users) are:
  • Design Roles
  • Design Methods
  • Design Deliverables
Here are some examples of each, using some of the titles from Martijn's patterns (with Initial Capitals) for reference:

Design Roles
  • Some of the more commercially oriented site types really need a marketing or branding expert.
  • Search-heavy sites need an indexer or search expert.
  • A Web-Based Application like a Product Configurator should not be designed without an interaction designer, just like a site using Faceted Navigation needs an information architect.
  • The designer of a Printer-Friendly Page could use the help of someone fluent in CSS.
  • The Artist site needs to reflect the artist's personality so either the artist him/herself or a good personal ethnographer should be involved in the process. (Check out the work Stamen did for Vito Acconci).
  • A designer who considers using the Premium Content Lock pattern may need the help of a business analyst and a marketing intelligence expert to calculate the ROI.

Design Methods
  • Performing a card sort excercise seems like a good idea for Corporate Sites, Portals, and Information Seeking experiences, as well as for several types of navigation and menus.
  • Web-based Applications, Community websites and Blogs probably benefit most from iterative approaches by including feedback from participants in usability tests or real-world web traffic analyses.
  • A one-off Branded Promo site, Campaign, or Fun site may not have to be usable as long has it has an impact, so you want to measure emotional responses.
  • Design proposals for Campaign pages and Banners could be evaluated using A/B- or multivariate-testing.

Design Deliverables
  • For larger Web-based Applications and most Wizards, you cannot live without a set of documented screenflows, showing happy paths and alternatives a user can take through the application when completing a task. (Informational Corporate Sites and smaller Campaign sites can usually do without.)
  • E-commerce sites in general are bound to improve if the maintainers take a look at the web analytics reports.
  • Moodboards are usually the start of any Branded Promo site and Campaign site, whereas most Forms, Guest Books and Search Results don't require one.
As shown above, this idea is more applicable to higher level patterns (Martijn's Site Types, Experiences, and larger functional elements like shopping carts) and less suitable to lower level patterns (like list management or the action button).

Collecting evidence
How would adding design process knowledge to pattern collections work in practice? As with patterns, it would require volunteers to suggest proven processes for inclusion with the patterns.
A selection of agreed-upon names for the attributes of processes (roles, methods and deliverables) might be a good start, to allow for suggestions to be made by simply selecting them from a dropdown list.
Of course such a collection of links between patterns and process attributes by itself is not knowledge; it's how the roles, methods and deliverables were applied in the design that is interesting.

In time, as with patterns, this knowledge will emerge slowly from a collection of contributed stories. Maybe collections like AIGA's design archive or CHI's Design Expo can serve as a starting point. Or could the Design Management Institute be good a source?

To be continued...
I'll let you know what I find when I dig into this idea deeper. In the meantime, suggestions for approaches, sources, ectetera, are more than welcome!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Processes + Patterns = ?

You know I am a fan of design processes.
I am scheduled to moderate a panel on IA processes at EURO IA, and have published about UX processes for Web2.0 and the Standards for UX process StUX. Lately I've been thinking about an open source design process (which I wrote about in Dutch on our company blog).

I have also long been a fan of design patterns.
I recently moderated a panel on Patterns for Web2.0 at The Web and Beyond and can't promote Martijn van Welie's pattern collection enough. When I get the chance, I encourage's clients to format their corporate styleguide in the shape of a pattern collection, similar to what Yahoo! did with their styleguide.

Now, what do you get when you combine the two? What is the result of combining design processes with design patterns?

Here's why I am asking this. I am currently reading Stewart Brand's great book How Buildings Learn: What happens after they're built. In chapter 5, Magazine Architecture, on page 69 of my edition, he writes:
"architects Richard Bodane and his colleagues in the Offices of General Services...have developed a database on roof design and performance. The database tracks a growing number of the state's 10,000 buildings, recording variables of location, design conditions, specified components, testing results, and the history of problems and their solutions. By correlating design information with performance problems, the architects identify patterns of success and failure. How interesting it would be to go even deeper in the analysis: what were the organizational patterns associated with the roof successes and failures? Which arrangements can detect crucial errors and correct them, and which cannot? The answer to that question could affect all of architecture."

Let me highlight this bit: "what were the organizational patterns associated with [..] successes and failures?"
See what I mean? What if we could complement design pattern knowledge with knowledge about the design processes that support it? Could the result similarly affect all of design?

(Read more about this topic in the next post called Adding design process attributes to patterns)

Monday, August 07, 2006

EURO IA and Oz-IA programs announced

This week the two Information Architecture events that are scheduled for the last weekend of september have announced their programs.

Here are the highlights, as far as I am concerned:

The EURO IA Summit includes:
  • An opening keynote by a proud European(!) Peter Morville
  • Eric Reiss will predict the future in his Seven Trends speech
  • IA Processes and Deliverables will be discussed in a panel that I am allowed to moderate
  • Luca Rosati's panel will discuss IA Education in Europe
  • Long-time acquaintance Steven Pemberton will close on the second day and I wonder which version of the Web he will discuss (Web4.0? Web5.0?)
The Oz-IA Conference/Retreat features:
  • Thomas Vander Wal discussing (his very own) folksonomies
  • Donna Maurer will deliver a new & improved version of her Lakoff presentation
  • Dan Saffer will sign copies of his book talk about wireframes for AJAX
  • I wish I could attend Eric Scheid's workshop on a common cartography for sitemaps
And wouldn't this be a great bonus: the two events could form the basis for a World Information Architecture Rendezvous, the next step up from Keith Instone's IA around the world idea! (I hope to talk some more about this soon)

Being a member of the organizing committee of the EURO IA, my choice was made for me. I hope you will be able to choose between and attend one of these wonderful events!