The Role of the Web, an Excerpt from Understanding Context

What place am I in? By giving us the ability to link to anything at any time, the web complicated this question and changed our concept of context. In this excerpt from Chapter 2 of his new book, Understanding Context, Andrew Hinton explores why that happened, and how our resulting “place confusion” affects the way we perceive and use the web.

The Core Model: Designing Inside Out for Better Results

We’ve all fallen into territorial arguments about what content belongs on a site’s homepage. It’s the most important part of your website, after all—or is it? Ida Aalen shows us how to circumvent these turf wars with the Core Model approach, starting with a workshop to get everyone on the same page about what really counts as important—to your users. By identifying the core elements of your website as a team, you’ll make those smaller decisions about page design and content placement a lot faster, and without getting political about it.

Gardens, Not Graves

The stream is great for showing timely, scannable content. But solely organizing by reverse chronology leads to a dire loss of context. What can we do to make content easier to understand for those coming across it for the first time? Allen Tan explores methods for turning our untended archives into lively, flourishing spaces.

The Battle for the Body Field

As we attempt to combine multi-device design requirements with complex, media-rich narratives, we’ve hit the wall. The chunky, fields-and-templates approach we’ve developed can’t save us from the mismatch between our content and HTML’s descriptive tools. The good news is we don’t have to convert all our projects to XML to learn from the XML community’s wisdom. By using custom elements and properties to represent content’s meaning, transforming it into HTML on output, and ensuring that editing tools share the same vocabulary, we can publish structured content that supports the needs of today’s editors and art directors while also making our content safe for future generations.

Seeing the Elephant: Defragmenting User Research

Silos: good for grain, awful for understanding customer behavior. Just as we favor the research tools that we find familiar and comfortable, large organizations often use research methods that reflect their own internal selection biases. As a result, they miss out on detecting (and confirming) interesting patterns that emerge concurrently from different research silos. And they likely won’t learn something new and important. IA thought leader Lou Rosenfeld explains how balance, cadence, conversation, and perspective provide a framework enabling your research teams to think across silos and achieve powerful insights even senior leadership can understand.

Connected UX

Your inbox overflows with customer emails suggesting features and improvements. Instead of benefiting, you feel overwhelmed by an unmanageable deluge. You conduct usability tests, user interviews, and competitive analyses, creating and sharing key insights. Yet within months, what you learned has been lost, forgotten, or ignored by someone in a different department. What if you could sift, store, and share all your customer learning in a way that breaks down silos, preserves and amplifies insights, and turns everyone in your organization into a researcher? MailChimp’s user experience director Aarron Walter tells how his team did it. You can, too.

Security Affair

Apps are shifting more logic to the client, which is changing the security landscape. These are exciting times for the web.

Digital Publishing and the Web

Electronic books are on the rise everywhere. For some this threatens centuries-old traditions; for others it opens up new possibilities in the way we think about information exchange in general, and about books in particular. Hate it or love it: electronic books are with us to stay.

Material Honesty on the Web

Material honesty—the idea that a substance should be itself, rather than mimic something else—has guided everyone from Ruskin to Charles and Ray Eames. How might material honesty apply to our immaterial (digital) projects? What light might its principles shed on such aesthetic debates as flat versus skeumorphic web design? And how might a materially honest approach change how we conceive and sell our projects? Kevin Goldman forecasts increased longevity for our work and even our careers if we apply the principles of material honesty to our digital world.

You at the IA Summit—on Us

The IA Summit is one of the longest-running and most welcoming web conferences out there, and it’s one of our favorites for user experience professionals and information architects. This year’s event takes place April 5-7 in Baltimore, Maryland. If you happen to be in the area or can travel there, we’re even giving away a free pass—just for commenting on this post.