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thoughts and observations about design, information architecture and design history
Friday 03|30|01

In an effort to contribute to the growing collection of information about practicing IA and User Experience design, I am starting to create PDF files of artifacts and information from my experience. Much like Jesse James Garrett's information architecture resources, I will eventually collect this info in one spot.

The first item to share:
A Large Project Process(PDF file, 25k): This diagram visualizes the project process cycle that my User Experience Design team at AltaVista used when working on new projects. The diagram shows the roles, responsibilities and deliverables for the team across a timeline of sectioned steps in the UE design process.

One of the important things about this diagram, is that we developed this process in conjunction with other cross functional team members. The process also shows the iterative loops and interactions with other main team members - Usability, Product Marketing, HTML and Engineering. There are other groups in the cross functional team, but for the purposes of the design cycle - they are minimal in terms of interaction and influence over the design process.

We found this visualization helpful in defining roles and responsibilities, especially in groups with overlapping skillsets (IA and Usability) and also helpful to upper management to describe the process of collaboration and handoffs. My team consisted of Information Architects, UI designers, Visual designers and Technical Writers. The breadth and depth of our skills and responsibilities is reflected in the main body of this diagram. For some organizations, this center section could be divided into two - with IA separated from design - but I personally feel, and built my group to reflect this, that IA is part of the overall design process and shouldn't necessarily be separated out. (our team experienced this for a couple of months after a reorg and it was a disaster given the skills and talents of the group)

This process diagram does not have any assigned timing to the sections and was intended to be a telescoping process - moving and adjusting depending on the overall product lifecycle.

I believe this diagram (or variations of it) can be a useful tool to the design group in many types and sizes of organizations.

Posted by erin at 12:50 PM | in Information Architecture :: | Link

Monday 03|26|01

Just got my first issue of dot-dot-dot, graphic design / visual culture magazine and am very impressed. This is the second issue and is devoted to design criticism and discourse. The second issue has an interesting article about Design Philosphy that looks at gender-oriented perception. I read it and thought I should really be absorbing this, but is is basically unintelligible and too theoretical for my tastes.

There is a very good article by Robin Kinross lamenting over the need to acknowledge and understand our failures as designers. The author talks about how the current trend in magazines and monographs is to gloss over the designer's career and show all the good stuff. Compare this to a passage about El Lissitzky that speaks about his fight with Tuberculosis and working as an artist in a tough political situation / time. This knowledge emphasizes the triumphs of the artist as designer and Kinross speaks to us about the importance and use of failure. The knowing of context is as important as the accolades and triumphs we are used to seeing.

The journal is worth seeking out (can be found at and I am on the hunt for issue one - which is sold out.

Posted by erin at 10:07 AM | in Books :: | Link

Wednesday 03|21|01
Thinking About Philosophy of Design

I have been thinking about what it means to be a "designer" lately. All this discussion about IA vs. Interaction design vs. graphic design vs. usability has stimulated a lot of good conversation and has prompted me to think about what is means to design in the first place. What is design?

Posted by erin at 03:39 PM | in Theory :: | Link | Comments (1)

Saturday 03|17|01
Reading On The Train

I have spent the last three weeks consulting up in San Francisco. Since I live in San Jose, this means I either have a long drive or I do the train. After experimenting with driving and BART, I opted to take CalTrain the last two weeks of this gig.

What this left me was over 30+ hours of uninterrupted time to myself. So I have been reading and catching up on the pile of books that I had been collecting and wishing I had time to read.

Having large chunks of time to read like this has allowed me to move from one book to another fairly quickly and when you do that, it allows you to see parallels and contrasts in the nature of the content.

Posted by erin at 08:53 PM | in Books :: | Link

Tuesday 03|13|01
Goodbye Argus

Today we received notice that Argus was folding up shop. The news has reverberated across the IA community and people are lining up to comment and share their stories. It many ways what we are all doing is akin to a wake. Christina Wodtke sums it up well in elegant hack.

I remember 4 years ago when I first came across the Richard Saul Wurman book Information Architects and there was a definition of what that was in the book. I read it and realized that, that was what I did. All day. Every day. I asked my boss if I could change my title from Senior Graphic Designer to Information Architect. He laughed at me and said "what is that? That isn't a title or a real job. I have never heard of an Information Architect."

It wasn't until I got the O'Reilly book by Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville that I was finally vindicated - that this truly is a field with responsibilities and accountablitliy. It has a name and a scope of territory. I proudly call myself an Information Architect and bless Lou and Peter for paving the way. As my career has evolved from traditional graphic design into this wonderful world of IA, I see that in many ways, we are still having to fight the fight and justify why we need to be part of the team, why IA is as important or even more important than the visual design.

I met Lou this summer at the Advance for Design summit in Telluride. I gave him a hard time for the scathing review he did of the redesign of the AltaVIsta site that had launched in 1999. His points were right on and it was hard not to agree. I had worked on the part of the site run by the New Media division, and we had been told not to worry about the rest of the site. The outside world doesn't know what the inside issues are - politics, territorial groups in different divisions, etc. Later on, when we were giving our presentations, I sat in on Lou's and realized that the artifacts he was showing were very similar to mine. The process used to get from the beginning to the end was also the same. In my own work, as I evolved, I thought I had made a lot of stuff up. Seeing Lou's work from Argus, validated my work and the way my team worked in our company and I realized that there is a collective unconscious in our way of working.

Without Argus, we are all a little poorer and will have to work a little harder to make sure that we persevere. I am confident that these talented individuals will go on to spawn a new generation of firms out there and I look forward to seeing it.

Posted by erin at 09:25 PM | in People :: | Link

Saturday 03|10|01
Some more thoughts on Self Organizing

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of self organizing sites. So far what I have read - spurred by the launch of and its outgrowth from Slashdot - has been primarily about sites full of Editorial. Sites for and by writers like: The Vines and Theme Stream and sites that are message board like allowing members to post and rate other members and their comments - Plastic, Slash. The self-organizing concept has had some application in Amazon - books bought by others, and Google. These applications are still in their infancy and are generally transparent to the end user.

Posted by erin at 06:21 PM | in Theory :: | Link | Comments (1)

Reading Lists and Relevant Sites

Never one to say that I don't jump on the bandwagon. I have posted some recommended readings that relate to my interests and things I write about as well as a listing of relevant sites.

Posted by erin at 04:14 PM | in Interaction Design :: | Link

Friday 03| 2|01
User Centered Design Thoughts

Just finished reading Lou Rosenfeld's interview with Christina Wodtke. She shares her evolution into IA and her thoughts on user centered IA. I mention this because I have been interviewing for jobs all over the bay area and most of the firms want to know what my User Centered Design Process is. I think this is something that every interaction designer, web designer and information architect should think about - even write down. It is more than slapping in usability testing on the end of a product cycle. I have had to crystallize and articulate my process to many people and it has made me think about how I actually practice this process. I have also become more aware of when we have to cut corners and compress timelines and in most cases user testing suffers. So here are my thoughts on the whole process:

Posted by erin at 03:56 PM | in User Centered Design :: | Link

Thursday 03| 1|01
Interactive Design History

Some more thoughts in response to Peter Merholz's thoughts on my questions listed in the previous posting.

The collected history of interactive work, so far, seems to be scattered and niched into areas of performance and installation (Bill Viola or Laurie Anderson) or computers and technology (where hardware seems to have the stage over the UI or the experience - the Apple desktop metaphor excepted). I think a lot of the work by Brenda Laurel crosses out of this boundary into thoughtful exploration of experience design. Design for use.

There are starting to be collections online and in museums of interactive work collected as artifacts of culture or art. The Walker Art Center | New Media Initiatives | Gallery 9, as mentioned by Peter, the SFMOMA and Randall Packer's site: Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality as shared with me by Jeff Gates are all good starts.

My question "Who stands out of the crowd" was posed in reference to the Creator rather than the historian. In the large pool of IAs, interaction desingers, web designers, etc., whose work really stands out. From an aesthetic standpoint, an interactive standpoint, a usable standpoint. What metrics of success are we using to decide what is worth keeping or putting on that pedastal for time. I am interested in work that is not the stuff we are seeing collected by the museums above. Not the artists conceptual pieces, but commercial, functional type works.

What are we creating today, that is the equivalent of the great posters of Josef Muller Brockmann, Herbert Matter, Jean Carlu or A.M. Cassandre. What websites are as elegant and effective as the work of Paul Rand, Paula Scher, Herbert Bayer or William Golden? What work is being created now, that will be as surprising or elegant and usable 30 years from now?

I had occasion this past weekend to meet and chat with Massimo Vignelli. He asked, as a website was being shown on screen, "why did it have to look so ugly?" Good question. There are a lot of answers and maybe it won't be until we get past the visual ugliness and have effective, useful sites that perform well, and are well designed visually will we be at the level of printed work that seems to be worth saving for the long haul. I think we are still held hostage by the medium and the bandwidth but it is something worth striving for.

On Another Note
My sister is managing editor of the online journal Switch, the journal of the Cadre Laboratory - the Digital Media Arts program at San Jose State University. Our worlds are colliding and overlapping as she writes about data, multimedia and the concepts of social software in networks and communities. This discussion and theory in academia is great to follow, because it sparks ideas for practical application in our work as IAs. The whole notion of social networking and self organizing structures is fascinating to me.

A thought about Modular Design
I wanted to comment on the points that Peter makes in his Trends section of his thoughts from the ASIS&T 2001 Summit, Reflections and Projections Panel.
The idea of developing and designing in a modular fashion is great. I have been designing that way for years. The nature of my past work, was developing dynamically driven sites for newspaper clients. The company I was at developed city guides, auto guides, real estate guides, entertainment guides and yellow pages with maps and directions. The software/web sites were developed as independent modular structures that were then sold to third parties who published their content and laid on their visual design over the architecture. Basically it was a plug and play system of large and small modules. It was extremely flexible and we could reuse modules from one client to another - only the content and sometimes the placement on the page was different. Designing a site with this in mind from the beginning adds some early complexity to the design process, but it makes all the difference in the world later on to the flexibility of the publishing system and the page design for the end product.

Part of the key to design effectively in this way is to have technology that will support this flexibility. In addition, as designers we must understand enough of this technology to design effectively for it or to push the limits and stretch the technology. I was fortunate in my past job, that I worked with some truly great C++ engineers and that the development process was collaborative. I could push for new things and they would push back then turn around and build something even better.

Posted by erin at 09:30 PM | in History :: | Link

EM Design is home to the resume and portfolio of Erin Malone.
site updated every now and then :: copyright 1995-2007 Erin K. Malone
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AIGA Experience Design - past, present and future: An interview with Terry Swack and Clement Mok

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Chicken Run: Summit Closing: Sunday

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Learning from the Powers of Ten

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