Take-away facts, quotes and top tips from the 2008 IA Summit - Day 2

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 15 April 2008

I've spent the weekend in Miami at the 2008 IA Summit, where I was giving a talk on 'IA for tiny stuff: Exploring widgets and gadgets'. Yesterday I published a round-up of my take-away facts, quotes and top tips from Day 1 of the conference. Here's my take on Day 2.

IA Summit 2008 logo

Extending the gaming experience to conventional UI’s - John Ferrara

I think it is a generation thing, but I've been to several presentations now at conferences where someone basically stands up and says - 'You know, games make more money than movies, and do more complex interactions than websites with less buttons, and people really enjoy doing it, yet somehow nobody outside the games industry takes it seriously', and lots of the audience are astonished that these things even exist.

John basically set out the premise that if you understand how games are structured, and how video games are structured, then you understand that there is nothing different to playing games or learning maths or filing your taxes online. As long as you specify the objective, the environmental constraints, the rules and what is the reward, anything can be a 'game'.

He also believed that 'Games are going through something of a golden age in interface design' and that at the moment 'Games are becoming more Web-like and the Web is becoming more game-like'. He thought that with 63% of the US playing video games, it was reasonable to assume that 'the interface conventions in games will provide a worldwide visual lingua franca'.

A few pull-quotes can't do justice to how much good information there was in this talk, and it is one I'd recommend you have a listen to the podcast version of, even if the bit where a complete novice was playing an EyeToy game in front of 200 people doesn't make much sense on audio.

The best moment for me was when John started explaining that NASA had a tender out for someone to provide a NASA MMO game. They think that:

" MMOs help players develop and exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly in demand by employers. These skills include strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, team-building and cooperation, and adaptation to rapid change."

John Ferrara thought the tagline should be:

"If you love Warcraft but wish it were nerdier"

Content page design best practices - Luke Wroblewski

Luke was repeating his presentation from the previous day, and billed it as 'Content page design best practices - with 50% less energy'. However, he needn't have worried as he was a brilliant presenter, with some really good points to make.

His bottom line was that IAs generally spend their time optimising web pages for the experience of visiting them in the context of having arrived from another page within a site, whereas up to 95% of traffic on sites can come from external sources like search engines, links, and direct recommendations from email, Twitter and instant messaging.

He showed some contrast between designs that did and didn't work. One was looking at the old version of the Chicago Tribune site. If you measured it, it turned out that on a page, 24% of the space was taken up by content, and 76% of the available space was taken up by navigation, advertising and what Luke termed 'site overhead'. He contrasted that with a New York Times page about the Virginia Tech shootings, where 90% of the page was actual 'content', and only 10% was 'overhead'.

In the course of the presentation, there were some great facts as well:

  • The average time for an answer to appear to a question on Yahoo! Answers in the US is 5 minutes
  • The average time for an answer to appear to a question on Yahoo! Answers in Taiwan is 45 seconds
  • A research study across page views on 650,000 URIs showed that 25% were displayed for less than 4 seconds, and that 52% of visits to web pages are shorter than 10 seconds
  • If the visibility of a link on a search results page drops by 20%, then the likelihood of a click drops by 50%

Like John's Games UI presentation, this was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend, and worth tracking down on slides or audio when it is published.

The information architect and the fighter pilot - Matthew Milan

Matthew Milan's talk was focussed on comparing the situation of Information Architects with the career of military strategist John Boyd. His philosophy taught that making good fast decisions is better than spending more time making 'the best' decision - since 'He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives'.

[Interesting to note that earlier in day one of the skills NASA thought their proposed MMO game would promote was 'adaptation to rapid change']

Matthew was concerned that Information Architects were not reacting to change fast enough, and posed the question that in 2018 time would we be debating:

" What killed Information Architecture "

Personally, I found the talk veered too much towards the academic study of the way that people think, which I have to confess isn't my strong suit at all. Where I did agree with Matthew was with his point that the people IAs most need to influence do not yet speak our language, unlike the Generals who apparently adopted Boyd's "language" without formally crediting him.

Panel: Developing junior programmes in UX teams - Margaret Hanley, Karen Loasby, Henning Fischer

Karen Loasby, Magaret Hanley and Henning Fischer were talking about how to run junior and intern programmes to bring fledgling IAs into a business. Karen is an obvious choice to talk about this since, as she said herself:

"Managing the juniors in my team is my favourite thing in my entire job"

At the BBC Karen has found that the right balance to strike is two juniors amongst her team of 16. Two engenders competition between them for any permanent roles that might come up, but doesn't destroy their hopes of ever succeeding.

She thinks the BBC are uniquely placed to hire junior IAs, because in the London job market at the moment demand for IA vastly out-strips supply, and most agencies want people who can hit the ground running. That means she gets 'super-bright candidates' who are just lacking experience.

Henning's tale of the intern programme at Adaptive Path was slightly different. Whereas Karen has found people grateful to be offered a chance to start at the BBC, Henning has found people negotiating with him over the 'perks' they are going to get as a ten-week intern.

Margaret's experience has been that "Writing the paper is easy, developing the programme is hard" - she hasn't been able to get her junior IA intake scheme off the ground yet at WTG

Quote of the presentation came from Mags directly to me. They had an exercise where you had to draw your ideal junior IA, and I had to go to the front to pick up a pen so I could complete the exercise. Mags pointed out:

"Because you've got a computer, but you don't have a pen?"

I'm really going to have to try harder to take on board Leah's advice from the previous day about sketching, sketching, sketching before I even get to the point of pushing pixels.

And finally...

I had a cracking cab driver on the way down to Lincoln Road that evening. He asked me where I was from, and I told him from London, but that I had moved to Greece. I politely returned the question - 'Are you from Miami?'. That earned me a lecture on how us Europeans always have the same couch, the same phone, live in the same house, all our lives, whereas 'It ain't like that in America. I been all over the place'. Which obviously, having literally told him about 30 seconds earlier how I had totally moved country, I haven't ;-)

1 Comment

Although I stand by my comments about intern candidates and perks, I would like to point out that this group is in the minority.

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