Monday, October 23, 2006

Formic User Experience - Information and ants

i have wanted to contribute for a while but needed to get a different google account (far too many blog id's not enough memory) and an evening where i can do something useful to contribute rather than just read.

I have been looking at a lot of material regarding user experience online and how the human brain searches for and organises information. UI studies and information architecture. Google it. There is a lot.

Then start reading the web focussed AND the non web focussed books on human information processing, memory, social group behaviour etc etc. No one seems to agree 100% on any of it. Despite the fact there are established psychological studies plus servers full of user interaction information it still seems to come down to a little research, a little luck and more often than not an inspired team who "feel" what is right along the way to get a website right for its audience. There is basic mechanical information and common "gotchas" to avoid but a guaranteed recipe for success with any audience at any time (as opposed to the current web zeitgeist du jour). Not that anyone is giving up easily. And with the greatest respect to the heads on sticks we have at the moment i don't think they have the silver bullet either.

I started typing up some of the more psychological and historical background as an intro (including some good stuff about networked social intelligence and ants - hence the post title), i got to 2000 odd words and thought i would save that for another time. Theres some good concepts but it may be simpler to post a bibliography and ask questions at the next book club.

so many people i speak to can almost subconsciously tell you how to put together a magazine in terms of organisation of information, source material, house style and design so that it completely nails what its users want in print but what is essentially the same thing scares the living bejeebus out of them online.

Which is quite funny as i do know the basic mechanics of what they are doing in print but even with reference to books, diagrams and experience of my own as both punter and trade i know i would struggle to capture that special essence that makes a title really interest, enthuse and inspire its readers. It would mechanically function and nothing would offend but to get that special something, i am not sure. Scary not really but daunting certainly.

So i have been looking for good examples of how to look at the user experience and trying to find articles that help explain in less technical terms what can translate from what we do so well in print to online. And everything i have read makes me think we know this stuff, we just need to think about it calmly and apply the lessons we know from building a print title in a niche market to an online version to work with it.

One of my favourite sites for coding snippets and web development also gives some consideration to the user experience of this march of technology and information. It rarely gives answers its very Zen but it does make you think about the process and that thinking can remind us of the basic ideas that make people read our brands and why people buy and get info online. Loads more on there but these are a couple i read again recently.

Alistapart - Users
Alistapart - The Money Page

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?