Post OZ-IA 2007 Information Architecture conference in Sydney

| info architecture and usability | No Comments

Saturday night IA beers thanks to the nice guys at HappenerI have just gotten back from a jam packed weekend of presentations and drinking in Sydney at the annual Oz-IA conference. Information Architecture is a relatively new industry, however there was a good turn out with people not only coming from Sydney, but also Canberra, Perth, London, New York, New Zealand, and even Canada with about 120 attendees in total.

There isn’t much of a web development industry in Townsville and even less of a community for information architecture specialists, so it was really good to get out and meet people with the same interests.

Rashmi Sinha gets everyone talking about SlideShareOne of the key presentations that got everyone talking was Rashmi Sinha from SlideShare who talked about ten things that they learned by using agile design methods when developing SlideShare. Information Architecture usually requires a lot of research, planning and testing, however they took an entirely different approach and it appears to have worked well for them. I hadn’t previously heard of SlideShare, but put simply, they are an online sharing site for slideshow presentations. People can upload their PowerPoint presentations which can then be tagged and shared easily through the online medium.

Some of my other favourite presentations (in no particular order) included:

Designing sites people love – balancing emotion with business reality
Discussed the recent revamp of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Australian newspapers) websites including their reasoning for the new layout and changes in content focus. I visit everyday and didn’t really like the redesign when I first saw it, but it has since grown on me, and after seeing the presentation, I could understand why they have done what they have, and I think that it should be beneficial for users in the future.

Is length still an issue?
Iain Barker asks the question is length still an issueThis was a well backed up presentation discussing whether it is still important for content to be ‘above the fold’. Was really nice to see a bit of the research that has been done, and in my opinion, length isn’t so much an issue anymore, with most users realising that they need to scroll to see the full extent of a page, but of course like most things this depends on the context of the page. If you are a news media website with a lot of content and articles, you need length to get all the information to your users. If you are a small business with a single product, you might be able to fit everything you need to say/show on one page. Overall good presentation, that was well backed up with research.

Analysing quantitative data
Steve Baty pulls out the mathematic algorithms to teach us how to analyse quantitative dataOne of the most brain-intensive presentations of the whole weekend, but Steve has a very fun approach to keep users interested. At first I wasn’t really sure where he was going, and as I have previously done some studies regarding statistics, it wasn’t too much new information, and found myself drifting off a bit, but at the end it all came clear (and intriguing) and enticed me to want to learn more. Would have been nice to see a bit more as to what algorithms can be used in what situations etc, but I think I heard a rumour that Steve might be writing up a paper on this so I look forward to hearing more .

Love in an elevator – selling the value of IA to business
This was a fun presentation, with lots of pictures to help us all wake up from the after lunch slum. Now to convince my boss that information architecture is important…

Get out your pinking shears, it’s time to cut a few patterns
Sharon gets everyone interested in patternsI had heard a bit about patterns, and worked with programming patterns in Java, but I hadn’t really done (or considered doing) patterns for design. This was a real eye opener for me. I have had the book Designing Interfaces: Patterns for effective iteration design on my Amazon wish list for quite some time, but hadn’t really considered it a priority book. But after hearing Sharon explain what patterns are and what they can do, I am very interested to learn more. Expect to hear some more about patterns in the future.

Exploring multidimensional tagging frameworks
As far as I am concerned tags are great. I expected to get a bit more out of this talk, but overall it was good to get an idea of where tags might be heading in the future.

Semantic analysis in IA
Interesting presentation showing how linguistics and semantics to make information machine-readable.

Donna Maurer discusses ethical issues and information architectureEthical issues and information architecture
Any talk by Donna is going to be good, and this was no exception. Was good to see some insight to the way she works, and provide some generalistic guidelines for what we should and shouldn’t do.

Open your mind – map it
I don’t really use mind maps, I’m more of a lists kind of person, but it was interesting to see some of the cool stuff you can do with mind mapping software. Definitely made me want to try it out (especially the functionality to turn it into a report later).

What else did I get out of this weekend…?

  • Met lots of new people with similar interest groups
  • Learned a bit more about the Information Architecture industry in Australia
  • Got to see the sights of Sydney and do a little bit of shopping
  • All the walking around (and the early mornings) got me a bit more motivated to start jogging again… maybe tomorrow I shall start again, but we will see.
  • Potential opportunities to move south to improve my experience and job opportunities. There appears to be quite a bit of work available down here, and it wasn’t as cold as I imagined it might be.
  • Joined twitter

Further resources

Flickr photo pool
Official Oz-IA 2007 website

Business of web design – 35 tips from James Archer @ SXSW07

| business | No Comments

James Archer CEO of Forty Media talked at SXSW07 about his tips on issues affecting web professionals. Here are my notes on the key topics he discussed. You can download the full podcast @

  1. Limit your services
  2. Find a role model
  3. Don’t be flaky to your clients (stay dedicated, and follow through)
  4. Document your success
    “the hard part is growing your business and making other people understand what is good about your business.”
  5. Don’t trust your own brain – write things down or you’ll forget
  6. Don’t let your clients follow up with you – you should five them updates before they get a chance
  7. Don’t let your colleagues follow up with you – become reliable so that when they ask for something they know it will get done
  8. Talk to people you don’t know
  9. Always be teaching (tutorial marketing)
  10. Beware of perfection – cost of perfection is high
  11. Avoid free projects
  12. Don’t waste money on stuff you don’t need
  13. Don’t let yourself get ripped off. You shouldn’t get to a point where its done and you haven’t received any money – create contracts
  14. Be firm with your clients
  15. Don’t jump through hoops for clients especially for unpaid work upfront
  16. Shape clients ideas so that they think they thought of it
  17. Don’t bill by the hour, clients should be paying for you doing it right which is based on experience, qualifications etc.
  18. Track your time
  19. Honour your commitments and keep deadlines
  20. Understand the physics of a project
  21. Build your portfolio – don’t do work that you cant put in your portfolio
  22. Use the right tools
  23. Differentiate and find your own niche and be good at it
  24. Set company principles
  25. Be excited about your work
  26. Be straight with your clients
  27. Always do whats right
  28. Plan for the future – think long and short term
  29. Plan your work and work your plan
  30. Customers should come second, employees and yourself should come first
  31. Treat every dollar that you get from your business as an investment
  32. Treat your clients like you love them. Don’t treat them like a number, figure out how you can make them successful because if they are successful you will be successful
  33. Create solid contracts
  34. If you work at it you will succeed
  35. Take time to play to keep the creative juices flowing

OMG the IT Crowd Season Two

| Uncategorized | One Comment

If you haven’t heard of the IT Crowd it is a British sitcom which is absolutely hilarious. If you have a bit of technical background you will probably find it more entertaining then the standard viewer, however there is always something that everyone will get a laugh from.

I just found out that series two has just been released which is awesome seeing as though I thought it had been axed.

There are only 6 episodes per season which is a shame, but they are usually all quality episodes. Find our more at the official channel 4 site or do a search on YouTube.

400 bookmarks and counting

| tools | 2 Comments

Last week I hit 400 bookmarks in my account. For anyone who doesn’t know, is an online bookmark managing site. I know that sounds really boring and you are thinking why would I possibly need that? But it has absolutely changed the way I work and I would have to say that it is one of the best and most useful web application I have come across so far.

Why use is perfect for anyone who either:
a) wants a way to access all their bookmarks from any computer
b) has a lot of bookmarks and wants a way to organise them
c) is interested in seeing what other people are bookmarking
d) wants to share their bookmarks with other people (optional)

I not only use to bookmark sites that I like, but also for sites that I have stumbled across and don’t have the time to read straight away. I simply tag these pages as ‘todo’ and then when I have time I can filter my list of bookmarks by the tag ‘todo’ and voila hours of entertainment.

Rumor is that version 2 will be released soon and from what I have seen it looks good.

So if you aren’t already using check it out at: and see if it is useful for you. Oh and don’t forget to get the firefox plugin so you can easily tag and store any page you come across quickly and easily.

Oz-IA: Info Architecture conference Sydney, 22-23rd Sept

| info architecture and usability | 3 Comments

Over the last couple of weeks I have been looking into some of the upcoming conferences on web development, design, usability, information architecture, and well basically anything to do with online technology as part of my quest to learn as much as I can so that I can make the online world we live in a better place. I have found lots of interesting conferences, most of which are located either in the states (Austin, Texas – SXSW Interactive March 7-11 2008), London (Future of Web Apps Oct 3-5 2007 ) and New Zealand (Webstock). Which based on my (non-existant) budget, means the chance of me making it to any of these is currently unlikely. But don’t fret cos today I found something even better… SitePoint blogger Lisa Herrod posted an article about events coming up in Australia.


Oz-IA/2007 - Sydney, September 22nd/23rd 2007But wait it gets better – one of the events, Oz-IA is offering a free pass to one lucky blogger. Woot! That is exactly what I need and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The catch… entries close today at 6pm so I am now hurriedly writing to try and get an entry in. Heres what I have found so far about the conference from their website.

When: 22nd – 23rd September
There will be 8 sessions a day, the ones I am interested in most include:

Ethical issues and information architecture by Donna Maurer
Last week I downloaded a podcast by Donna on Usabillity for rich internet applications from the 2006 Webstock Conference, and although haven’t had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet, I really like where it is going and I think she definetly has some great ideas hat we could all learn from.

Designing sites people love – balancing emotion with business reality by Elizabeth Pek and Andy Coffey.
I think theres a lot I could learn from this presentation. At Uni, the IT componenet of my degree focussed mainly on the back-end programming and as long as something worked then it didnt matter how ugly, or un-user-friendly it was. I disagree and I want to change that by making applications that work and people actually love using them… so hopefully this should give me a couple of tips.

Semantic analysis in IA by Matthew Hodgson
I am a sucker for organisation, so Information Architecture is something I have started doing a bit more research into, but I haven’t really had a chance to get deep in yet, so this would potentially give me the motivation to learn more.

Exploring multidimensional tagging frameworks by Scott Parsons
I love tagging, I think its great. However I don’t think it is currently being used as widely as it could be. Also I am considering implementing tagging in one of my upcoming applications, so multidimensional tagging sounds interesting..

It is at this point that I realise I think I am going to like all these sessions.The winners keep on coming…

Open your mind – map it by James Breeze
I like getting all my ideas out on paper (or a whiteboard), however there isn’t too much structure to it, so this could be a good way to learn how to get more out of my crazy mind jotting sessions.

Information Architecture of Wikis by James Matheson
I haven’t worked much on the development side of Wikis but now that I think about it, they are pretty good at structure information so it would be nice to learn a bit more. Potentially something we could all learn to use when creating information structures in other applications.

Landing Page Optimisation by Hurol Inan
This is a must. I think the first page you go to really makes a difference.. if the first page is confusing, chances are the other pages are not going to make much difference. First impressions count.

“Theres no I in team” a case study in collaborative information architecture by Patrick Kennedy
In my experience teams can either make or break a project. Working with a good team is great, but if you have a bad team, then it makes you wish you could do it all yourself.. I’m interested on finding out how to make teams work better.

ROI in Information Design by David Sless
This isn’t really something I have looked into before. Potential to learn something new here.

Rise to Play a Greater Part – Delivering Specs in the Bigger Picture by Faruk Avdi
I love project management and I love planning so this would be fun.

I am running out of time, so I am just going to leave it at that for now. I will have a more in-depth look into all the presentations over the next couple of days and post some more info for anyone who is interested.

Overall the conference looks very interesting. If you have any interest in Information Architecture, or even if you don’t I suggest you check it out, I am sure there is something we all can learn.

If I am lucky enough to get picked, look forward to hearing a lot more about the all the sessions. If I don’t get picked – look forward to hearing more about ways to help me make money to cover the cost of getting me down there

Updates to site

| tools | No Comments

Hi everyone. Just a quick update on a couple of changes I am making to this site. Today I have started using FeedBurner to monitor my site feeds. So if you have already signed up for the old feed, please signup for the new feed instead. For anyone not familiar with RSS and feeds, I will be posting an article on this in the upcoming weeks.

I am in the process of officially adding this blog to technorati, you can check out my Technorati Profile.

I have taken down the gravatars for now, as they didn’t seem to be showing up. If anyone knows the solution to this problem, please let me know and I can put them back up.

I have also added a small Google AdWords banner at the bottom of my posts. I wasn’t going to add advertising to this site (not for a while anyway) as I wanted to keep the clean look and stray away from the advertising scene for now, but there are bills to be paid and I need all the help I can get. If anyone really hates it, please let me know and I can move/remove it.

The last couple of days has been a bit of a whirlwind with lots of nice feedback on my gtd project as well as potentially scoring a new client. I am going to try really hard to put up some more info on the gtd project this weekend, so please stay tuned.

A big thank you to everyone for their support, you guys rock!!!

Goals to achieve before the end of 2007

| goals | 6 Comments

Two posts in one day… wow!!! I was going to leave this post for another day, but since I have already written it, why procrastinate anymore. Here is a list of my current goals. Now while non of them are really anything new, it is time that I write them down in a place where I can access them later. Also if I post them here, maybe I will feel more motivated to make sure they get done. Each goal is set out in the following format: Name, why I want to do this, when I want to accomplish the goal, how the goal is measurable or can be considered successfully complete.

1. Learn Ruby on Rails
Why: I have been working on this for a month or two now, but I want to get as in-depth a knowledge as I can because it is such a fantastic programming method and I plan on making it my focus point for future projects.
Due: I am a bit of perfectionist, so I will probably never feel I know everything I want to, but by the end of the year I want to have completed reading the books I already have, and be confident enough to take on any project that is thrown at me.
Measured by: Finished reading books, read as much as I can from the web, made at least one workable app, and written up help documents to teach others.

2. Compete GTD application
Why: So that I will have a central storage/managment point for all my tasks and goals, as well as become more productive and organised. Also helps to fulfil my goal of creating at least one RoR app this year. For more details on this project refer to my last post.
Due: Stage one – end of September, Stage two – end of December
Measured by: Stage one and stage two specifications

3. Blog more
Why: Share knowledge and improve my writing
Due: This is kinda never ending, but for now I will set this frequency until the end of this year.
Measured by: At least one blog entry a week.

4. Save money
Why: Why would you not want to save money? The key reason being so that I can travel overseas at the end of next year.
Due: $8K by November next year – thats a pretty tough goal for me, so let’s see how we go.
Measured by: Ummm not spending the money in my savings account, and putting in at least $250 a fortnight…ouch.

5. Study interface design (and usability)
Why: Refresher for design, to learn good practices and so that my applications are so easy to use that people will WANT to use them.
Due: 01 November 2007
Measurable by: Reading all the books I have, doing some research on usability and interface design and writing some blog articles about it

6. Study Information Architecture
Why: To get a better understanding for how to structure information, competitive advantage, to make better applications.
Due: 15 December 2007
Measurable by: Reading all the books I have, doing some research and writing some blog articles about it.

7. Complete another two projects by the end of the year
Why: To work towards my goal of running my own business, expand my skills, knowledge , experience, and network. (also i really like working on new projects)
Due: 31st December 2007
Measured by: Completing two projects (one of them can be my GTD project, if I get it to the state where other people can download and use it). If you would like to suggest another project, please leave it in the comments, or send me an email.

I will post some info on setting, managing, and meeting your goals when I get a chance. Until then if you are looking for help on setting goals make a post below or send me an email and I will be more then happy to help out.

First screenshot of my GTD project

| gtd project | 10 Comments

For anyone who doesn’t already know, I am currently working on a Web application to organize my tasks, goals and quite simply make my life easier by reducing the amount of needless thinking and procrastinating I do. This is the first app I have made from scratch using Ruby on Rails (RoR), and I am really looking forward to seeing how it all works out.

Ruby on Rails logo

So far working in Ruby has been an absolute dream. For any developers, or even designers out there, who are thinking about learning Ruby on Rails, I can’t recommend it enough. I have only been working with it for about 2 months now, but I have found it an absolute dream to work with. I am completely self taught and started off by reading Build your own Ruby on Rails web applications by Patrick Lenz, and Agile Web Development with Rails by the Pragmatic Programmers. I highly recommend both of these books, and will write up a review for each once I get a better grasp of RoR and get this project under control.

Anyway I will write more about RoR later, for now let’s get back to my web app. Currently I haven’t come up with a nice name for it, so if anyone has any ideas, please post them below. The applications goal is to help me manage day-to-day tasks; weekly, monthly and lifetime goals; and to make thinking one step easier for me. I am also going to trial out integrating a ‘meal planner’ so that I need to do even less planning everyday. I will detail each of these concepts in more detail later, but for now let’s just say that I am hoping that this will make me more productive, less stressed, and just an overall happier person.

So far all it really does is allows me to add new tasks, which I can view in a quick list, or click on an individual task to expand and see additional details such as project, date due, status, notes etc. The application will be loosely based around the Getting Things Done principle by David Allen, however I will also be trying out other organising techniques such as time blocking, to find what method works best, and most likely, create a hybrid of many organising techniques.

First screenshot of my GTD project

As you can see I am trying to keep a very simplistic design. Currently I think this is a good thing, but we will see how it goes once the app gets a bit more functionality and I start using it daily. I will try and post weekly or maybe bi-weekly posts about this project so that I stay on track. If anyone has any ideas as to how to improve this, or would like to signup for the beta, please post below or send me an email. I will add more details on this project in the projects section when I get a chance, but until then, just keep reading this blog to stay up to date.

Thanks for the support everyone!!!

How not to integrate Google Adwords into your site

| design, info architecture and usability | 3 Comments

Don’t get me wrong I actually like Google Adwords. But there is a time and place for them. Here is a good example of how NOT to integrate google AdWords into your website that I came across while looking for AJAX tutorials today.

Example of bad use of Google AdWords

Whats wrong with this picture?

1. Hard to distinguish the difference between the Google ads, and the real content.
Now while some users (those who claim to make 5 digit incomes from Google ads) suggest that this is a good thing, think about your users. If someone stumbles across your site, for example looking for a tutorial on AJAX, and accidentally clicks a Google ad when they thought it was part of your site, do you think they will realise their mistake and come running back to you? Or will they just close the window and search elsewhere? If you answered yes (to them coming back to your site), congratulations you must have a loyal band of followers. But for the rest of us, chances are they won’t come back to your site again.

2. You can’t read the actual content
In the example above they have placed the ads between the article title and its body, which is a problem because:
a) it’s hard to determine which text is related to which article
b) you can’t quickly see how many articles are on the page, and if there are any that are relevant to what you are looking for
c) you need to scroll just to read one article which has only a couple of lines of text

So where should i put my Google Ads?

I personally find the best place for Google ads, is either at the end of an article (before the comments) or in the right column with any other advertising you might have. Google ads are clever in the way that they display ads based on the content for your page, so using them at the bottom of an article, can be a good way to provide users with additional information, without the need to research it yourself. This is also the most probable time (in my opinion) when users would be willing to click ads, as they have already found (and hopefully read) what they wanted, and are open to suggestions as to where to go next.

Want more information?

Here is just a couple of sites that I came across with some useful information on Google Adwords/Adsense.

Official advice from Google: Where should I place Google ads on my pages?
Smashing magazine: Google AdSense – Facts, FAQs and tools
ProBlogger: Positioning your AdSense Ads

Bring on the gravatars

| development (web) | 2 Comments

Today I have updated this site with Gravatar so that all you nice folks that leave me comments (you know who you are) can now also include an avatar. Gravatar ( Gloabally Recognized Avatar ) allows you to store an 80 x 80 pixel image on their servers. They even have a nice tool to help you crop your image. Then each time you leave a comment on a gravatar enabled site, it will automatically add your avatar, based on your email address.

Sounds nice, where do i sign up?
To signup, just go to pop in your email address, upload a picture, and you are ready to go.

Run your own blog and want to add gravatars?
The good team at gravatar have created plugins for most of the popular blogging engines, so just head over to and download the plugin for your site.

Edit (15-08-2007): there appears to be an issue with Gravatar not always displaying pictures. I have taken them down until I can be sure that they are gonna work,  if anyone has any suggestions as to how to resolve this issue, please let me know.