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  • Search Patterns Book Review

    (Originally published on CDG Interactive/Innate blog)

    After a few months’ hiatus, the CDG Book Club is back. In this installment, UI Developer Ivan Wilson discusses Search Patterns: Design for Discovery by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender.

    I first heard about the book Search Patterns during the IxDA Interaction 10 conference in Savannah, Georgia when I attended Peter Moreville’s lecture about The Future of Search. This brief book (less than 200 pages) interested me because it focuses less on technology and more on design. It’s not about Google or Yahoo, but on interaction designers and information architecture.

    That said, the main premise of the book can be summed up in the following statement:
    The problem of search is designing interfaces and processes that allow people to find things.

    Let us step back a moment. Is searching and finding two of the same things? Well, no. And that is a bit of a revelation to anyone, especially me who builds the front-end code for search pages.

    The book addresses two main points:

    1. Search is a not passive activity.

    What do we do when we go to a search page? Input term(s), click button, get results—right? But what happens when the results don’t lead to the information the user is looking for?

    The user isn’t some blank slate. Even if you’re just surfing around, you’re affected by a variety of filters–such recommendations from friends, past memories, etc. As users, we’re always judging whether a search result is right for us or just another dead end. If a user isn’t finding what he’s looking for, the problem isn’t necessarily an inadequate use of the search; it may be a user interface problem. In other words, the interface may not be adequate for what/how the user wants to find.

    2. Information need to be findable, not just searchable.

    Here, the authors approach the problem from the other end: those who create the content that is being searched. Especially on the web, content does not lend itself to being able to be found in an instant. It’s up to content producers and coders to make content searchable by using tools such as keywords or tags or database indexing. If you’re a business, you need to understand how to categorize products in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the user to find them via search (for example, adding information like ISBN numbers for books).

    Throughout the book, the authors detail different interfaces currently being used (faceted navigation, widgets, etc) in search. They also give glimpses into the future, with examples of search being tied in with social media like Twitter or Facebook. Also, the authors detail some of the methods the users take in searching for items whether in narrow or expanded focus.

    But in the end, designing for search engines will be about more than speed and accuracy; it will be more about having the process of finding easier. And that is what this book is about.

  • What One UI Developer Learned at the Opera

    (Originally published on CDG Interactive/Innate blog, edited by Jennifer Mayne Hoppe)

    Images of the Met production of Shostakovich’s The Nose, produced by William Kentridge –
    Google Search

    A lot of people think of user interface (UI) developers as “tech guys,” but I see myself more as a designer. At its base, design is about solving problems. So I’m really a designer who solves problems through programming. Like any designer, I have to think creatively—and I often find inspiration from the wide world OUTSIDE of my cubicle. (Yes, despite appearances to the contrary, I can function away from the office from long periods of time, like a cubical lungfish…)

    Take, for example, a recent Saturday I spent at The Metropolitan Opera. I watched a performance of an opera titled The Nose. Composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, in 1930, the opera is about an official who wakes up and find his own nose missing, only to find out that it has full life of its own (as well as higher status than he does). The music and the singing were well done, but was really got my attention was the production’s design.

    The design was conceived by South African artist William Kentridge, who is well known for his work with stop animation from drawings and paper cutouts. In this production, Kentridge melds his own aesthetic with historically appropriate references from the 1930s. Specifically, the set design follows the artistic strain of Russia a movement was about breaking and re-interpreting of artistic conventions like the revolution that spawned it.

    Kentridge enhanced the on-stage elements by projecting stop animations into the production. Projected onto the back of the set, the animations looked like early abstract shape animations of the same period in which the opera took place. Then Kentridge mixed the animations with live film and archive film footage. Rather than distracting from the action on stage, these elements truly enhanced the satirical nature of the opera.

    And that’s what really good design does. It frames the content for maximum impact and engages your attention. Great design happens when someone examines a problem thoughtfully and creates a solution that fits so well, it seems like the only solution.

    So now that I’m back “home” in my cube at Innate, I’m taking inspiration from my afternoon at The Met, and striving to find the most elegant, effective, and engaging solutions to the design and technical challenges that I’m working on.

    Such is the life of a UI developer!

  • Back from Interaction 10…into Snowmageddon

    Leaving Savannah after Interaction 10

    More photos, posted at my Flickr account – Interaction 10 (IxDA)

    Flew into Savannah before Snowmegeddon Round #1 came around and it was goregeous. Rainy but in the 50’s and I could wear a light jacket for a few days. Great time, only to fly back home the day before Snowmegeddon Round #2 came in. It took 2 1/2 weeks before I could see the sidewalk again.

    Snowed-in Neighborhood

    As for Interaction 10, it was a blast and a real big work motivator for the remainder of the year. Some of the lectures presented some real interesting ideas and I will find some way to introduce or talk about them in my work. It also helps meeting interesting designers and other professionals that really want to make the profession better.

    As for Savannah (beyond the really nice weather) was a good host and just darn friendly (Southern hospitality does exist…). I would definitely love to come back ASAP but the conference has to move to a new site. Unfortunately, it will not go back to Vancouver next year. 🙁

    However, it will go to…Boulder, Colorado. It was announced on the last day, with a special low rate for about one week (sorry already gone, darn…) But, the excitement as already started. Especially with a really funny and interesting video promo – see http://www.vimeo.com/9395674.

    Anyways, as soon as I can break open my piggy bank, I am registering for next year.

    Interaction 11 @ Boulder, Colorado – http://www.ixda.org/i11/

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  • Excuse me if you heard this before, but…

    I am really, really busy.

    Sorry for the month delay but new blog postings will be up in the next couple of days.

    I will also be writing two blog post for CDG again, both dealing with topics brought about during lectures at Interaction 10 in Savannah a few weeks ago.

    As for here, blog posts about Interaction 10/Savannah and the restart and final stages of Charles project.

    Later.