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SxSW: Blogging Jeffrey Veen

March 15, 2004 @ 1:40am

I was torn between several panels in this time slot, but The Frontiers of User Experience won out. Nothing against Jesse James Garrett, who was originally supposed to run this presentation - I met him at Jeffrey's Adaptive Path office before my Meet The Makers event in San Francisco and he seemed interesting. I just like listening to Jeffrey Veen.

Early on he mentioned the demise of Webmonkey and their farewell party later tonight. Then he talked about following strict design rules and why it is more important to listen to an audience. A quote from Sea Kayaker's Deep Trouble explained that knowing the rules without knowing the reason behind them will give you an approximation of competence and leave you vulnerable to the exceptions.

Veen told us to use patterns to find the experience a user needs and used examples of classification schemes for presenting information to people. He showed how classification schemes differ between groups of people and surveyed the audience to see who called the drink you get with popcorn: soda, pop or coke? When he was a kid he would ask friends what kind of coke they wanted and they'd answer "Dr. Pepper." So labels are important and it seems like there are internationalization issues just within English-speaking audiences in America.

"Design suffers from politics." Don't give people the site that makes only the CEO happy. Not news really, just good advice.

Another common sense rule: Make sure your design/interface is extensible.

No one follows the roadmap you think they are following. They are watching TV and answering email and have fifty other browser windows open while they are on your site.

Veen offered two successful design approaches: top-down (observe users, develop mental models) and bottom-up (take an inventory, develop a content model and apply librarian skills). Hay Net was a great example of a site - and a government one at that - that understands what kinds of people are coming to visit.

Then he showed off some of Adaptive Path's spreadsheets and schema for mapping user and stakeholder interviews into the architecture for a Web site. Their Mental Model and Content Map is an incredible visualization of the architecture of a site.

Paraphrasing: "These days, Web designers don't innovate with colors and font choices. They innovate by finding out what people want and letting people navigate a site that way."

He showed the Wine.com navigation (for wine geeks) and BestCellars.com (for everyone else). It is immediately apparent why Best Cellars is clobbering Wine.com.

Beyond the Broadmoor hotel Flash-based room finder, the Iokio Camerafinder is an impressive tool for finding a digital camera to fit your needs that makes no Web server round trips. Fisher Bikes has another great Flash application that lets you tell the site what you want based on slicing and dicing in the order you want to use - not the order the e-commerce site wants you to use.

Then he showed us his remodeled kitchen, but that was just to rail on great craft versus the hack work we have seen in ten years of Web design. It was a great talk. I can only imagine what Jesse James Garrett's talk would have been about.

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