Nice information design/visualisation pattern browser

infodesignpatterns.com is a Flash-based site that presents over 50 design patterns ‘that describe the functional aspects of graphic components for the display, behaviour and user interaction of complex infographics’.

The development of a design pattern taxonomy for data visualisation and information design is a work in progress, but the site already has a useful pattern search, based on order principle, user goal, graphic class and number of dimensions.

Let’s help our visitors get lost

In ‘Community: From Little Things, Big Things Grow‘ on ALA, George Oates from Flickr says:

It’s easy to get lost on Flickr. You click from here to there, this to that, then suddenly you look up and notice you’ve lost hours. Allow visitors to cut their own path through the place and they’ll curate their own experiences. The idea that every Flickr visitor has an entirely different view of its content is both unsettling, because you can’t control it, and liberating, because you’ve given control away. Embrace the idea that the site map might look more like a spider web than a hierarchy. There are natural links in content created by many, many different people. Everyone who uses a site like Flickr has an entirely different picture of it, so the question becomes, what can you do to suggest the next step in the display you design?

I’ve been thinking about something like this for a while, though the example I’ve used is Wikipedia. I have friends who’ve had to ban themselves from Wikipedia because they literally lose hours there after starting with one innocent question, then clicking onto an interesting link, then onto another…

That ability to lose yourself as you click from one interesting thing to another is exactly what I want for our museum sites: our visitor experience should be as seductive and serendipitous as browsing Wikipedia or Flickr.

And hey, if we look at the links visitors are making between our content, we might even learn something new about our content ourselves.

Move your FAQ to Wikipedia?

Mal Booth from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) makes the fascinating suggestion: they should move their entire Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia. Their encyclopaedia seems to function as a fully researched and referenced FAQ with content creation driven by public enquiries, and would probably sit well in Wikipedia.

In Wikipedia and “produsers”, Mal says:

“Putting the content up on Wikipedia.org gives it MUCH wider exposure than our website ever can and it therefore has the potential to bring new users to our website that may not even know we exist (via links in to our own web content). With a wikipedia.org user account, we can maintain an appropriate amount of control over the content (more than we have at present over wikipedia content that started as ours, already put up there by others).

Another point is that putting it up on Wikipedia allows us to engage the assistance of various volunteers who’d like to help us, but don’t live locally.”

He also presents some good suggestions from their web developer, Adam: they should understand and participate in the Wikipedia community, and identify themselves as AWM professionals before importing content. I think they’ve taken the first step by assessing the suitability of their content for Wikipedia.

It’s also an interesting example of an organisation that is willing to ‘let go’ of their content and allow it to be used and edited outside their institution. Mal’s blog is a real find (and I’m not just saying that because it has ‘Melbin’ (Melbourne) in the title), and I’ll be following the progress of their project with interest.

I wonder how issues of trust and authority will play out on their entries: by linking to the relevant Wikipedia entries, the AWM is giving those entries a level of authority they might not otherwise have. They’re also placing a great deal of trust in Wikipedia authors.

Mal links to a post by Alex Bruns, Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC and summarises the four preconditions for good user-generated content:

  • the replacement of a hierarchy with a more open participatory structure;
  • recognising the power of the COMMUNITY to distinguish between constructive and destructive contributions;
  • allowing for random (granular, simple) acts of participation (like ratings); and
  • the development of shared rather than owned content that is able to be re-used, re-mixed or mashed up.

Adam’s post lists key principles that anyone “looking to develop successful and sustainable participatory media environments” should take into account. These points are defined and expanded on in the original post, which is well worth reading:

  1. Open Participation, Communal Evaluation
  2. Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy
  3. Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process
  4. Common Property, Individual Rewards

Collected links and random thoughts on user testing

First, some links on considerations for survey design and quick accessibility testing.

Given the constraints of typical museum project budgets, it’s helpful to know you can get useful results with as few as five testers. Here’s everybody’s favourite, Jakob Nielsen, on why you can do usability testing with only five users, card sorting exercises for information architecture with 15 users and quantitative studies with 20 users. Of course, you have to allow for testing for each of your main audiences and ideally for iterative testing too, but let’s face it – almost any testing is better than none. After all, you can’t do user-centred design if you don’t know what your users want.

There were a few good articles about evaluation and user-centred design in Digital Technology in Japanese Museums, a special edition of the Journal of Museum Education. I particularly liked the approach in “What Impressions Do People Have Regarding Mobile Guidance Services in Museums? Designing a Questionnaire that Uses Opinions from the General Public” by Hiromi Sekiguchi and Hirokazu Yoshimura.

To quote from their abstract: “There are usually serious gaps between what developers want to know and what users really think about the system. The present research aims to develop a questionnaire that takes into consideration the users point of view, including opinions of people who do not want to use the system“. [my emphasis]

They asked people to write down “as many ideas as they could – doubts, worries, feelings, and expectations” about the devices they were testing. They then grouped the responses and used them as the basis for later surveys. Hopefully this process removes developer- and content producer-centric biases from the questions asked in user testing.

One surprising side-effect of good user testing is that it helps get everyone involved in a project to ‘buy into’ accessibility and usability. We can all be blinded by our love of technology, our love of the bottom line, our closeness to the material to be published, etc, and forget that we are ultimately only doing these projects to give people access to our collections and information. User testing gives representative users a voice and helps everyone re-focus on the people who’ll be using the content will actually want to do with it.

I know I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but during Brian Kelly’s talk on Accessibility and Innovation at UKMW07 I realised that for years I’ve had an unconscious test for how well I’ll work with someone based on whether they view accessibility as a hindrance or as a chance to respond creatively to a limitation. As you might have guessed, I think the ‘constraints’ of accessibility help create innovations. As 37rules say, “let limitations guide you to creative solutions“.

One of the points raised in the discussion that followed Brian’s talk was about how to ensure compliance from contractors if quantitative compliance tests and standards are deprecated for qualitative measures. Thinking back over previous experiences, it became clear to me that anyone responding to a project tender should be able to demonstrate their intrinsic motivation to create accessible sites, not just an ability to deal with the big stick of compliance, because a contractors commitment to accessibility makes such a difference to the development process and outcomes. I don’t think user testing will convince a harried project manager to push a designer for a more accessible template but I do think we have a better chance of implementing accessible and usable sites if user requirements considered at the core of the project from the outset.