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Love Food Hate Waste website design

Love Food Hate Waste website

Love Food Hate Waste website

Food waste is the largest single component of our garbage, and reducing food waste is good for the environment and good for the wallet. These were some of the key facts that the interface design process kept returning to as drivers for the Love Food Hate Waste website. It was also driven by weighty business goals: the program is to help NSW meet its municipal waste reduction target of 66% and commercial and industrial waste reduction target of 63% by 2014.

The website is to contribute to that by highlighting the issue to online visitors, educating them about food waste, the benefits of reducing food waste, and how to do it.

This project included hefty amounts of digital strategy, to conceive the best user experience features to have on a government website within very tight time constraints, NSW GCIO guidelines, accessibility standards, and limited content resources. It also involved the information architecture, user interface design (but not visual design), as well as end-to-end project management, and contractor management with the visual design and development teams.

During the interface design process, I got to trial some new ideas and approaches to prototyping the interfaces. Some of the features — especially the asynchronous recipe search results returns and portion calculator — came alive as clickable demonstrations, rather than being limited to static designs.

Go to: lovefoodhatewaste.nsw.gov.au

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TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website redesign

TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website

TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website

The brief to redesign the website for TAFE Northern Sydney Institute was essentially to connect students with the right courses at the right campuses, and to promote the business services that TAFE NSI has to offer. Results of requirements workshops clearly indicated the search and browse paths that people preferred, as well as the various scenarios that are in place when they are looking for courses and campuses.

These lessons helped me and others at PTG Global to redesign the search and browse workflows and all page wireframes, so that they would display the right information on the right pages, to make course information as clear as possible to find, read and respond to.

There were several challenges in the interaction design. The main one was trying to unite all the different ways that people searched for course information in a clear, consistent pattern. This was overcome by organising an ‘advanced search’ (at the time titled more options) as a dynamically overlaid panel with options separated as course details, location details, and course delivery. Having in-page tabs for several column panels allowed us to stick to client’s requirements of including access to a lot of information in a relatively small space. Including a ‘super footer’ in the design was also a good opportunity to re-cut the content and functionality available on the website in ways not otherwise available through the navigation.

The information architecture schema, screenflows, wireframes and technical specification were then handed over for another company to create the visual design.

Go to: nsi.tafensw.edu.au

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OZ-IA is on again

OZ-IA, the Woodstock for Australia’s information architects, is on again – Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd October. It should be a hoot, and this year I’ll be speaking in one of the short-session slots.

The OZ-IA program content is pretty diverse – as it should be! – and includes topics such as Agile IA, information flow in social networking websites, case studies, and prototyping software reviews. And hopefully some industry war stories too.

Me, I’m looking forward to hearing from Matthew Hodgson’s take on IA practices, Mia Horrigan giving social networking websites’ IA a good shellacking, and Captain Matt Fisher on designing Defence software systems. I’ll be presenting on the psychology aspects that went into the personas, information model, navigation and user interface for livinggreener.gov.au.

If you’re interested, there’s a poll going on which sessions people are looking forward to seeing. It’s good to see Matt reigning supreme.  ;)

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LivingGreener website

LivingGreener.gov.au home page

LivingGreener.gov.au home page

LivingGreener.gov.au centralises a lot of knowledge available on living more sustainably, especially government information about rebates, grants and loans available. Although there are many websites out there that tackle various aspects of sustainability and what we can do about it, this website’s unique strategic goal is to centralise lots of disparate informatio, encourage further activity, and increase the community’s awareness and uptake of rebates and grants available from the government.

I and other consultants were involved at PTG Global with the user experience design for LivingGreener, including:

  • Personas and want maps design based on user research, website traffic analysis and statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Information architecture, including an overall conceptual model based on leading people at whatever point they were at, on a journey towards being more active to live more sustainably
  • User interface design, with wireframes and prototypes and working with content writers to structure content to integrate action points throughout the website

Go to: livinggreener.gov.au

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Government launches LivingGreener

The Environment Minister The Hon. Peter Garrett has just announced the launch of a new government website: LivingGreener.gov.au. It centralises a lot of government information available on living more sustainably, especially information about rebates, grants and loans available.

LivingGreener.gov.au home page

LivingGreener.gov.au home page

There’s been a tonne of work involved in getting this website live, and the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has done a brilliant job at researching and listening to the target audiences to deliver something that anyone and everyone can use.

I was involved as Senior Consultant at PTG Global with the user experience design for LivingGreener, including:

  • Personas and want maps design based on user research, website traffic analysis and statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Information architecture, including an overall conceptual model based on leading people at whatever point they were at, on a journey towards being more active to live more sustainably
  • User interface design, with wireframes and prototypes and working with content writers to structure content to integrate action points throughout the website

This has been a really rewarding project to work on. One reason is that this website isn’t trying to be everything ‘environmental’ to everyone; it’s focused squarely on guiding people towards the government assistance available to help everyone do more for the environment. And that’s got to be a good thing.

This is only the launched version of the website too; there’s more content and functionality in the wings that will be rolled out – to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister – in due season. ;)

So take a look: livinggreener.gov.au, and here’s the official press release, too. What do you think? What are some ways you think a website can motivate you to do more for the environment?

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Collaboration: forget the hallelujahs, let’s talk about the information design

A lot of the projects I work on involve generating ideas and user interfaces for systems to get collaboration happening for organisations. Many business decision makers are all too aware of collaboration’s benefits, but struggle to make their systems realise these benefits. One of the reasons could be a lack of a rational model underlying the system changes needed.

I find collaboration is a lot like religion: most people already think they know what collaboration is, could talk about it a bit, but probably haven’t really fully experienced it. It’s something other people do. A big reason for this is the language we use: we tend to talk about it in terms of its outworkings, motherhood statements, and end products. Do these sound familiar:

  • Collaboration will deliver more innovation
  • Collaboration will make us more efficient and more profitable
  • Collaboration will strengthen brand loyalty
  • Collaboration will enable more effective management
  • Collaboration will reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Collaboration will end war and bring about world peace

…OK, you get the point. We can’t help but think about collaboration in grandiose hyperbole. What business decision makers are often left with is a big chasm between collaboration’s great promises, and the right systems and interfaces to actually get it happening. I think we need to speak more in terms of information models, and start with the patterns and habits that people are already used to. I think we can speak more in terms of good old stock-in-trade for Information Arhictects: finding, organising and sharing information.

Finding information: moving beyond keywords

Search is big. I mean, really big. Google has spawned not only its own verb, but new approaches to searching and sifting through information that others are adding innovative thinking and features to all the time (like Clusty and Vivisimo).

Search is crucial for collaboration because we’re always going to approach information in terms of what we want more than what we can give. It’s time that the various comprehensive search features out there were made more available inside organisations’ systems. Searching for information has to be integrated (searching several systems at once), contextual (offering more relevant results related to your tasks) and predictive (offering avenues that you might not have anticipated).

When predictive search works together with integrated and contextual search, organisations can better anticipate what issues lie over the horizon, giving them an edge over their competition.

Organising information: moving beyond folders

Information is traditionally organised into files, folders and business areas. Think of your average office intranet, and the way your files are arranged on your server; everything is probably arranged by the organisation chart. The server probably has a big folder called ‘Clients’, with hundreds of folders for specific projects inside. This type of thinking arises from the more traditional metaphors we’re used to, like filing cabinets, rolodexes and business cards. It works up to a point, but it relies more and more on keeping that mental model of the structure in your head.

This creates issues when new uninitiated staff arrive, when the organisation restructures, and so on. This approach can also limit scalability, place too much reliance on technology and hold back organisations’ potential.

A more useful model puts the person at the centre of the information, and organises everything by connections. Connection-based categorisation adds a new dimension of relevance to information management, and allows a more flexible, agile and future-proof way of finding and working with information.

For example, every document on your server probably belongs to some sort of project, case or other discrete unit. It has one or more authors, one or more versions, and so on. Every author has a relationship to that project (a role to play, duration they’re on the project), relationships to the other authors, and other similar projects that they have worked on. And each of those projects has its own relationships.

Get the idea? Mapping this sort of metadata reveals connections that users may not be aware of, and aid in searching, browsing and adding richer meaning to that document. One example of this in action is the way LinkedIn displays connections to other people that you’re linked to. It does this to give greater context to connections, and reveal other people you may not have known about, or may not know that your connection is connected to.

Here’s a table comparing the ways organising information by connections can help:

file management
Organising by files and folders
Knowledge management
Organising by common topics
Connection management
Organising by people
Information is organised by whatever makes sense at the time

Is an induction manual filed under HR? Or Policies and procedures? Or Training?

Information is organised by more real-world terms and business rules

Such as by subject or topic, or by roles and tasks

Information is organised by people and their experience

So it has more associations than just by topic or business rule

Rigid and static structure

Information can only be stored and referred to in one place

Flexible but static structure

Information can be referenced from many locations, but can lose relevance over time

Relational agile structure

Information is referenced from many locations, and new connections are made all the time

Not as intuitive

Finding information usually requires induction and memorising locations

More intuitive

Finding information is associated with terms people already understand

Very intuitive

Finding information is associated with people and their experience, as well as familiar terms

Searchable

But you have to know what words to search with, or work by trial and error

Very searchable

Grouping information by familiar topics improves searchability
Highly searchable

Searches are expanded to include people’s experience and expertise

Not much collaboration

The system doesn’t help people to learn from each other

Some collaboration

The system passively allows people to learn from each other

More collaboration

The system actively encourages people to learn from each other

This approach doesn’t necessarily mean replacing existing organisation practices and technology. It means adding the connection management layer to make your existing organisation more effective.

Sharing information: moving beyond email

Sharing information is actually an oxymoron to a lot of people; there are many people who have got to where they are precisely because they don’t share information, and perhaps are specifically required not to. But for the rest of us who aren’t spies or lawyers, there can still be a culture of only sharing information when we have the time and when we’ll profit from it.

But let’s assume we are sharing information. It typically means relying on technology that is simply not purposed for collaboration. It typically means using email messages to do the sharing, and the inbox to do the collecting, which presents all sorts of limitations in terms of file versions, decentralisation and difficulty in finding information. Collaboration can instead be fostered with the following factors:

  • Openness – the more people are present and able to contribute in a collaborative space, the more useful it is. A knowledge management system open to only a few authors won’t be used as much as a more multi-author (or wiki) based system.
  • Trust – information has to have credibility and authority to be relied upon.
  • Convenience – the easier it is to seek and contribute information, the more the system will be used.
  • Context – people have more incentive to use collaborative tools when they are seamlessly available as a part of the work they are already doing.
  • Personalisation – offering features that let people customise the system to the way they work increases use and usefulness.

Start with the information design

Effective collaboration systems should start with a clear articulation of the information model, and the way that an organisation’s people are to use that model. Getting used to talking about the information design rather than the high-falutin’ benefits will help these sorts of projects actually succeed.

It will also help in resolving sticky issues like governance in systems that express the points of openness (above). It will help to strike the right balance between ‘top-down’ governance, corporate-regulated roles, permissions and information management, and ‘bottom-up’ open contribution and sharing.

It will help change a system people have to use to a system people will rely on. Amen to that!