Smashing Magazine: “Minimizing Complexity In User Interfaces”

An easy-to-read article on how to build easy-to-use, user-friendly and intuitive (web) applications interfaces. A must read for all developers. If you don’t want to read all of it, go straight to the last paragraph:

First, reduce actual complexity by eliminating unnecessary features and then hiding what you can’t eliminate. Secondly, reduce perceived complexity by minimizing visual noise and reusing elements. And finally, use the blank state to help orient users.

Minimizing complexity in the user interface will help people learn your application more quickly, use it more effectively and be happier all the while. As jazz musician Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Here’s the original article: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/07/minimizing-complexity-in-user-interfaces/

Give me a new CMS but don’t touch my content!

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a little while now.

Should I or should I not write about the current web migration to SharePoint 2010 project I am working on?

I think I should.

I could actually write a book about it, but I’ll try to be brief and post an article on my blog (which by the way has not been updated recently, mainly because I spend my time on Twitter these days).

I could write about what’s not working in our fifth or sixth CMS migration attempt since we launched our current web CMS (back in November 2002). I could examine the issues we’re facing from a project management perspective and list the reasons why we are and have been failing at migrating our website to a more recent and robust platform.

But no. I’ve decided to take a “content strategy” viewpoint, and describe some of the problems we’re facing, mainly because we do not have a content strategy or at least some understanding of what we’re trying to achieve (forget about ROI, measurable goals, business objectives, etc. — such things do not exist in our world).

As an online communications specialist (a mix between content strategist, web designer, content manager, information architect and web project manager) working for a secretariat of the United Nations, I try to apply a basic user-centered approach to website development and, in fact, all things web. You know, the usual “know your users, find out what they want out of your website, match their needs to the organization’s products, come up with personas, wireframes, content audit, branding, and then, and only then, build your website”. That doesn’t work. Failed attempt number one. It fails because we see our website as software or a platform, not an online communications tool with content. In other words, content was clearly left out of the picture.

Then I’m thinking, if you can’t convince your IT colleagues, try with the comms people; they would know about the content, how important it is, etc. Well, they know it’s important, but can’t really figure out why it is important, or to whom, apart from the organization. It’s as if there was no correlation between what you have online and how people see you from the outside. Typical organization-centered attitude. Failed attempt number two. It fails because we do not know who we want to connect with, or how. It also fails because we do not know how to measure the efficiency of our web presence.

Then, as a last resort, I decide to talk to the substantive divisions, who “own” the content. And I mention the concept of content inventory or content audit. The theory is very interesting if you want my opinion: look at your existing content and review it before moving it to a new platform. Just like getting rid of old furniture before moving houses. That’s just the theory. In practical terms, I haven’t found a way to convince divisions that this is the way to go. Auditing your content — or at least getting an idea of what content you have on your current site — will have an impact on many things, from the technical issues (identifying data sources where your content is residing) to the financial issues (moving only the stuff you need will help you save time, hence money), to the communications and PR ones (for example, you could move all news items, but what’s the point of announcing an event that took place in the past?). Failed attempt number three. It fails either because our organization cannot understand that useless content on our website is affecting our online and offline reputation or simply because we don’t understand the life cycle of our content.

I could go on with this list forever. These problems may be common to any large-scale web project migration, or any web presence, but no matter how you see this, I’ve come to realize two things over the last year:

  1. All these issues are connected to the fact that we’ve completely left out the concept of “content” when doing web stuff. Implementing SharePoint 2010 as your web content management and document management platform means you’re just installing a tool. Not addressing the issues related to the content, which is the reason why we’re implementing the tool in the first place, does not make much sense. To put it plainly, we’re missing the “content” in content strategy.
  2. These issues are all connected to the concept of “content strategy”. Having a tool to publish content online without agreeing on the basic editorial or governance rules does not make much sense either. We’re missing the “strategy” in content strategy.

Oh, I forgot to mention I’m a web guy working with a bunch of IT people (developers, business analysts, PM, server administrators), which means that every time I tell them, “Wait, we should look at the user data, do a user survey, ask our colleagues how they use the website or what’s not working!”, they give me this weird look and say something like, “OK, you do that; in the meantime we’ll start with the coding …”. Failed attempt number four.

 

PS. I realize this post is a bit depressing. So in order to cheer you up and convince you that content strategy is the way to go, here are a few links you WILL find useful:

Of course, you can also Google the keywords “content strategy” — there should be enough stuff about the topic out there by now :-)

Oh, and if you are interested in all things content strategy AND live in Geneva, Switzerland, check out the Geneva Content Strategy Meetup I’m running. Come join us! We have cookies…

Google’s world

Over the last months, I’ve discovered and started to use new tools available from Google. As for many Google users, it all started with the basic search engine, available through local domain names (I use google.ch). Some of the free Google tools Google that I currently use are:

  • Picasa
  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar (related post)
  • Blogger (I now switched to WordPress)
  • Google Earth
  • Google Talk
  • Analytics (related post)
  • Google Groups
  • etc.

For a complete list, see: Google Help.

I’ve become a sort of Google-addict, in the way that I’m really happy with the tools they provide and use them almost everyday. But isn’t this going to put me into trouble? I mean, it’s an addiction, and addictions are dangerous, right?

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our CultureSeriously, I guess while some people are happily using all these tools Google is providing, some others think: “watch out, Google is slowly but surely storing all your private information on their servers.” I’m not a techie, just a lambda user, so I don’t really know how much information Google has about me. I don’t know if it’s interesting to them either, but the questions people are starting to ask around keep me thinking about it.

And then, a few days ago, I went to a book shop and I found this book: “The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture“, by John Battelle. I’ve started to read, because I’m really curious about this Google-mania. Let’s see if I can find some answers to my many questions.