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Archive for September, 2009

IDEA09 Redux!

I’m excited to announce we’ll be doing an IDEA09 Conference Redux in Philly on October 9! Please join us at Messagefirst’s headquarters in Old City for an evening of fun where we’ll share what we heard, learned and got excited about at the IDEA Conference in Toronto September 14-16, 2009.

All donations to this event will benefit the Information Architecture Institute, the organization behind the IDEA conference.


Lacking the right tool or the right perspective?

I have a pesky question that I’m trying to figure out. I thought maybe putting it out there would help me solve it. I would really appreciate your ideas.

Let’s say you are working on a project and your main goal is to solve an information access problem: “audience X does not have access to Y data sources which would help them do their job better”. The value of the information they would draw from these data sources is indisputable.

You know from some preliminary interviewing that audience X is made up of people in different roles that share the overall problem but are interested in different parts of those data sources available. You also learned that while access is the first barrier, other barriers to use are: domain knowledge (understanding that data, knowing what to do with it), language (different segments speak about the same data in different terms) and lastly, some tool knowledge issues: the majority of people feels overwhelmed by the poor ways this data is accessible today (reports, databases, online systems, etc) when/if it is accessible to them.

From that, you feel sufficienctly confident to say you need to do something that is not just optimizing the solutions that (sorta) exist for these people, rather, you have enough information to justify that a good candidate solution to this problem is to make it easier for people to get to these data sources by creating a mechanism that democratizes access (aka provides them with a starting point to the many sources, at the very least), simplifies the consumption of said data (using plain language, removing decorations, providing relevant visualization, making it clear what the sources are, etc) and make their use of this data more pleasurable, understandable, meaningful, usable, and that ultimately becomes part of their day-to-day work (at the most ambitious).

So you are ready to go for that: How do you actually plan this “product”? (will use this term to make it easier to describe the solution). How do you make the leap from this cursory understanding to a level of “this is the stuff we need to build”? I generally have many answers for this question, but here’s where I’m stumped:

  • This is an internal project and I don’t have many resources at all to get started with (thought I know that once some success is shown, I can get more resources). That includes time for the type of research I would normally like to do for this.
  • The volume of data available is just insane. Simply building a “flexible” system that could accommodate any and all scenarios would be a very stupid idea and I know would not accomplish any of the goals above.
  • The audience I’m talking about doesn’t know what they want. They definitely expressed all the values and attributes of what they want, but this doesn’t exist and they never had anything that did this for them, so I don’t have good hints as to what are the pieces of this puzzle I need to put together (read: features).
  • In my mind, if I had a mental model map where I could align features to user tasks, I would have the right tool to be able to select what to start building first in order to make some headway. I, however, don’t know how to go through the process of creating a mental model from thin air (or my preliminary interviews). I can’t really think of how I would structure the research interviews that I would use to comb tasks from. Also, never done that for something that is entirely new (nothing to validate against).

In short, I can’t think of a better way to get from “knowing about these people pains, desires and expectations” to “here are my priorities for what to build”. I am seeing this is a new product management challenge for me in addition to UX problem to solve. Not only do I have to figure out how to create a solution that meets those goals, but I have to do this over and over for a long long time, because the success/failure of this effort = my success/failure, which is very different accountability than solving someone else’s problem. I am really enjoying that challenge, but need to learn how to bridge the gap in my own expectations and tools I would normally use to resolve this.

So, what do you think? I may not have given all the information that would help resolve this, but ask away and I’ll clarify any points.

Am I lacking tool or perspective?