Month: September 2007

idea 2007

If you are in New York City in early October, check out the idea2007 conference, which will highlight and discuss designing complex information spaces of all kinds. A limited entry pre-conference event kicks things off on the 3rd of October, and the conference proper is on October 4th and 5th.

Throughout their days, people are engaging with complex information to manage their lives.

And designers now realize that information isn’t simply this stuff you find – the appropriate presentation of information helps people make sense of the world around them.

This conference addresses issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world. Where “cyberspace” is a meaningless term because the online and offline worlds cannot be made distinct. Where physical spaces are so complex that detailed wayfinding is necessary to navigate them. Where work processes have become so involved, and so digitized, that we need new processes to manage those processes.

This conference brings together people who are addressing these challenges head on. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will discuss designing complex information spaces in the physical and virtual worlds.

Keep an eye on the conference blog for further snippets.

I’m a member of the IAI and a little disappointed that I won’t be there, I’ve also been helping out on the conference website (although it’s a bit cheeky to claim that as my contributions have been few and infrequent).

How many?

A sudden holiday is all well and good but the shift in time, and the fact that we don’t return until October, pushes timescales the wrong way. Admittedly said timescales are all of my own making but still, I don’t like rushing things.

Today is a typical example. I’m working at home as the car is in the garage to get an intermittent clunking noise investigated, and I’ve got the dental hygienist later on today. I’ve had to go to the post office to pick up my new oneman business cards, only to find they’d been ‘re-delivered’ (despite what the card through the door said!) and I got a letter in today reminding me that my household insurance runs out at the end of the month. You know, whilst we are in Spain.

The presentation I’m giving at the TICAD conference needs to be handed in by the 19th October, and a customer at work would like an early cut of the documentation I’m working on (that won’t be complete until December) next week. Typical.

I still have some CSS work to complete for someone, a new template for another, and thankfully the other two websites that are on the horizon are staying there, so at least I don’t need to worry about them whilst lying in the sun (yes, I would!).

In saying that, I wasted far too much time twittering like a pirate yesterday (with Lyle’s annoyance only spurring me on!) and flitted between sporadic bouts of work and the footie on TV last night.

Thankfully packing for the holiday isn’t a big deal, shouldn’t take me more than 15 mins. That’s the advantage of knowing where we’ll be eating and drinking when we get there, and knowing that I don’t even need to bother with a shirt. 9 days of shorts and t-shirts (maybe not at night though).

In other news I’ve just “discovered” Jeff Buckley’s album, Grace. I’ve no idea why it’s taken me so long.. actually I do, it’s the cover of the album, just used to put me off for some reason. What a voice that man has.

I’ve also installed, but have yet to play with, a little firmware update for my camera. Totally unsupported of course, but a friend with the same camera (Canon Powershot S3) reports it works well. Something to do whilst lying in the sun then! Which reminds me, I must get some new stuff on my iPod… ohh and books.. which books?! Eeeep, PANIC!!

Trickle vs Traditional

The following is taken from current experience, fitting a Publications team into an agile (XP) development methodology. It’s very much a work in progress…

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In a more traditional development environment, there is likely to be specifications and design documents on which you can rely. This is not the case in an agile development environment, with requirements focussed around user acceptance, and a heavy reliance on word of mouth (through pair programming) and shared knowledge. It may sound chaotic, it is not. Each piece of functionality is assessed and if there is not a direct requirement for a piece of functionality it doesn’t get done, similarly each piece of functionality is stated as a story, and will have an index card created which can be used to track the story through various stages.

To match the pace of software development, the Publications team needs to adopt a similar approach. Rather than waiting on information to come to us, we need to be involved, engaged and pro-active in learning and understanding what we are documenting, and breaking out of the old authoring model.

Previously large chunks of documentation were written by the same person, often at one sitting. You’d outline a chapter and start bashing in the words, investing a lot of time and effort into your ‘baby’. That concept is no longer applicable.

The trickle method relies on the ability of the technical author to retain a “big picture” view whilst working on multiple chunks of information at any one time. The information will not come in a set order, nor from a definitive source, instead it will trickle in from various parts of the development team, testing, and so on. Your job is to monitor the flows of information, position yourself within a stream (or two) and divert the information you need into the documentation.

As such, the technical authors will be sat within development teams and are expected to attend all designing and planning meetings. Understanding as much of the work as possible, as early as possible, will benefit the documentation, and having a technical author in place at the beginning of the development process will benefit the product. Be the user advocate, keep the tasks they will be performing in mind and strive to contribute as and when you can.

This way of working is different, and does mean you need to adjust your mindset somewhat.

You will not:

  • Be able to write entire sections in one go.
  • “Own” the document you are working on.
  • Always finish what you started (but only if it’s planned that way!!).

Hopefully this new approach will make us much more involved in the day-to-day development of the product, and by bringing additional benefits to the development team, will increase our standing with them.

We're taking the Costa Brava plane

Stepping out the front door, greeted by pinched skin and the glisten of frost on the car, I realise that summer is truly over. Just as well, I thought, that we’re off to Spain next week. Still mid-20s there which will do very nicely thankeweverymuch. But no, it’s not a last minute description.

As well as being thoroughly hacked, nay fucked, off about the non-running-ness brought about by my knee injury (you’ll note how I’m trying to stay away from the d- word) there has also been the small issue of Louise packing her job in. That’s not the whole story though, never is, is it.

She worked for a small local company, the type of place where job titles don’t matter that much as everyone just pitches in as and where needed. Her official title was Customer Sales Support… summat, but she was also the Office Manager and had various other admin responsibilities. It’s the kind of role that suits my wife down to the ground as she’s at her best at the centre of things (her nickname there was “the Hub”, I’m not entirely sure that was all that kind) and for a long time she liked things there. Unfortunately the company took a downturn and the CEO started to display some less than wonderful ‘management techniques’. I struggle to understand the motivation behind the ethos he was aiming for, having spent all my working life in IT where working hours are flexible, tea breaks are whenever you want them, and ultimately you are treated like an adult and allowed to get on with things.

Suffice to say that she’d been looking to move for about 6 months, but a few ‘last straws’ had passed until, when she returned home crying for umpteenth time we decided she should tell him where to stick his job. Either that or I’d go up there and throttle him. Faced with a husband jailed for murder, Louise wrote her resignation later and handed it in a couple of weeks ago. We knew we’d be ok, money-wise, for a couple of months but it took us into the unknown.

I’m not very good with the unknown and I only realised at the weekend that my stress levels were through the roof, and that I needed to dial back a little less I head off down a road seldom travelled (blimey, it IS hard to obfuscate such things).

Knee-wise it’s still sore but feels a little better, and I’m going to use my time off running to build my upper body strength, tone up where I can, and improve my flexibility with some basic yoga stuff (whatever I can manage without stressing my knee of course).

Job-wise, Louise was offered, and accepted, a job yesterday! She went for the interview in the morning and they offered her the job that afternoon. She was positively beaming about the interview and the company, and is still a little stunned that they offered her the job so quickly. I keep telling her that she is more talented than she thinks (a long standing issue with my wife) but I think, now, she is starting to believe it!

Woo hooo, what a great day.

Where does this fit with flying to Spain? Well, we had already discussed that, presuming Louise got a job before November, that we would fly out and see her Dad before she started her new job, rather than try and get a week away as soon as she is in the door. As she starts on October the 7th, that left us with next week. It’s a hard life…

In other news, I neglected to wish my mate Keith a Happy Birthday yesterday but, as he was in hospital getting his appendix removed, I don’t think he’ll have noticed. Sorry mate.