Retail Design

Her shop in Brooklyn is small but cozy. In a line around the walls are framed samples of her work with inlaid photos of the happy customers. The storefront blends in with the others on the block. The simple sign over the window reads, ‘Websites – Cheap.’

Patrons come in and chat about what they’d like. She asks a few questions about who the site is for and what will be on the site, then she shows them a few sites to get an idea of the overall scale. Sometimes the patrons relax in one of the big, comfy chairs and browse through the large 3-ring binders that serve as catalogs. The catalogs are sorted by website style and include price and time estimates for each design. The colorful screens are interspersed with questions like,

‘Serious, or fun?’

‘What will your website say about you.’

‘How will people feel after visiting your site?’

Normally she sits behind the counter quietly working on her computer. Occasionally she gets up to chat with the folks hanging out and refills their lemonade.

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Intertwingled Conversations

Sharing a desk with Craig, I noticed it’s not unusual for him to be talking to one team member on his mobile while conducting multiple simultaneous IM sessions.

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Interview with John Weir

On designing iht.com: ‘I feel with sites like the IHT that radical change is often not good, purely for the sake of design. It is expensive, time consuming, requires change on the user’s part, disrupts the publishing work flow and opens up all the problems which come with software development.

@ Ordinary Life

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Interview with Adam Greenfield

On Razorfish Tokyo: ‘I can tell you that the energy in the office is like night and day compared to my old gig. It’s nice to have actual projects moving forward for actual clients–high-profile ones, at that–and a management structure that understands and values information architecture.

On the best IA tool: ‘The tool that most reliably produces sound architecture, as far as I’m concerned, is a functioning ear. IA is something that should be done by talking to people (primarily users, clients, and developers), asking the right questions, and listening carefully to the answers.

@ Digital Web

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Writer’s Workshop Critique Format

Looking for a Lighweight Way to Receive Peer Feedback


In the past I attempted to improve the quality of information architecture work on the department level using heuristic analysis. It’s relatively easy to do, but in reality I found analysis sessions difficult to run because 1) the presentation and feedback process is time consuming due to the scope problem: IA covers a large problem area, and 2) heuristics alone are unstructured, possibly causing blank-sheet-of-paper syndrome.

I tried accomplishing similar results using a format borrowed from writing groups, described below. We used it at the design patterns workshop at CHI 2000 and it was very successful.

To address the scope problem, we’d only review an approach instead of an entire architecture. An approach could be summarized by touching on

  • the users
  • the business scenario
  • one path, one use case, or one blueprint


…and be expressed in under 20 minutes (figuring the entire exercise could run about an hour). The idea is that suggestions on an approach should help guide the IA through the rest of the architecture.

Writer’s Workshop Format


This version contains my modifications to include heuristics


In preparation, all critics have familiarized themselves with the IA approach before the workshop. One of the critics, the facilitator, provides an initial welcoming, the author first reads a part of her work to the authors, to remind everybody there’s a person with feelings behind the work. After this introduction, the author fades into the background and attends the following discussion without interfering (called a fly on the wall). One of the critics now summarizes the paper in his own words and the others can add to this summary. Next, the critics refer to the heuristics and offer positive comments on the submission, and subsequently constructive suggestions (what could be improved) are collected. The discussion ends with a summary of the good points of the paper (this sandwich technique avoids a negative lasting impression). After this, the author is welcomed back into the group and allowed to ask questions if some comments were not clear to her, or if she wishes to see another aspect of her paper discussed. She is not allowed, however, to defend her work at this time. As this whole discussion can be a bit harsh at times, the author is finally applauded for her work (and courage to submit it), and, to round out the activity with levity, somebody closes the session with an entertaining unrelated story.

In summary, the steps are:


  • Preparation
  • Welcoming
  • Author reads, then becomes a fly on the wall
  • Summary
  • Positive comments
  • Constructive comments
  • Summary of good points
  • Author’s questions
  • Applause
  • Unrelated story

I’ve tried it a couple times with limited success. I’m interested to know if others have used it or if it could work in an online critique format.

Thanks to Jan Borchers for sharing this format with me.

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Usable, Useful, Desirable

I’ve been thinking that different kinds of artifacts have different ratios of usability, usefulness, and desirability. It’d be nice to express this at the beginning of a project to set everyone’s expectations and syncronize design approaches. But how to express it?

Perhaps by analogy?

high desire, moderate usability

moderately high desire, despite low usabilty

only moderate desire, but high usability

low desire, low usability

Usefulness seems like a contextual and subjective quality, not a quality of the artifact itself. I could imagine owning two very different coffee makers and each would be more useful depending on the situation. A percolator is the best choice when you’re camping.

Ultimately usability and desirability are relative too. For example, my sister-in-law loves the coffee from her percolator. As usual, it’s important to know who you’re designing for.

Same idea, in PDF format.

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