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Final Reflections On A Website Design Project

In my first post three months ago, I outlined my personal learning objectives for this module.  I discussed how I wanted to:

  • develop an understanding of the theory behind web design and
  • to acquire technical skills  to support the delivery of a user-centred information service.

 In this post, I will consider the extent to which I have fulfilled these objectives.


UX design cartoon

I was initially sceptical about website design, as I had associated the word “design” with advertising. I wasn’t convinced that there would be much substance or theory to what I thought was a product-centred industry.  I was proved wrong; Although Bowles and Box (2011) highlight the potential difficulties that UX designers can encounter in the workplace (both in an organisation or an agency), they emphasise that the evidence-based arguments which a UX designer relies upon have the credibility required to deliver a sound, user-centred product.  As a result of this project, I have revised my opinion; information architecture/UX design is a reflective, evidence-based practice which really does put the user at the centre of its activities.


By Exploring and Assessing Software…

Netbeans logoI have experimented with a range of software; it’s been challenging to explore tools and use them to produce the different elements of our design process in a short space of time.  However, on reflection, I think that the usability criteria that we have applied to developing our website also apply to the usability of software; I can now see that software should be intuitive with good support documentation.  Consequently, some of my preferred tools have included Netbeans and WordPress.  Interestingly, this has led me to consider the role of librarians in “training” people to use referencing software or to search databases with overly complicated interfaces.  This perpetuates a product-centred approach which users should not accept!

And Through Learning To Code…

Learning to code using Jon Duckett's book

With no previous experience of coding I was unsure about how to tackle this aspect of the module.  However, I have learnt basic coding in HTML and CSS.  By using a logical and step-by-step approach, I have been surprised at what I have been able to produce.  I am pragmatic about what I need to learn; why re-invent the wheel when there is a wealth of resources available with the snippets of code available for creating rounded corners, horizontal secondary navigation bars and scrolling imagery?  I am confident that I can now read and write basic code and I am able to use resource materials from authors such as Duckett (2011), McFarland (2009) and W3schools.

And By Exploring Content Management Systems (CMS)…

Wordpress logoWorking on this project has made me increasingly aware of the extensive use of CMSs in the workplace.  As we designed a flat site, I think that my task in the forthcoming weeks will be to review the website I recently created to experiment with CMSs; I will focus in particular on switching the CMS from Drupal to WordPress and experiment with customising a template, as I think that this would be of relevance for a future role in an information environment.


You Don’t Have to be Able to Draw to be a Designer

One up sketching exercise for creating a wireframe

I had mistakenly believed that drawing skills were essential to design.  However, reading about the application of design in a wider context  (Papanek, 1985) and activities such as the “Six Up” and “One-Up” sketching exercises as suggested by Bowles and Box (2011) have made me realise that the generation of design ideas is not exclusive to the artistically-gifted.  I can see the value of using sketching exercises for generating ideas in a wide range of contexts.

Collaborative Working Works!

Teamwork wordleDysfunctionality in a team causes anxiety and stress for all concerned.  On this occasion, I  collaborated with colleagues who were from diverse backgrounds but who crucially, shared a commitment to the project; this resulted in us working effectively as a team.  We all had the opportunity to contribute to every stage of the process.  Basic IT skills were essential for this module, as was an appreciation of the implicit boundaries for support when working as a team on an academic task.  This was understood by the majority of the group at the outset of the project and I hope that it was accepted by all by the end.  Overall, I think that the website is evidence of our synergistic relationship; I found the democratic aspect of the work rewarding and in the future I would like to continue working in a similar way.

Iteration (kaizen) is good

Homer Simpson saying d'oh“Iteration” has been a key word throughout the project.  As discussed in previous posts, we iterated  ideas, wireframes, prototypes and the pre-launch website on the basis of user research and team decisions.  I think that in general, learning from big mistakes can be difficult, whereas learning from smaller errors is more manageable, less costly and more likely to produce successful results.   Team members agreed that all individual pieces of work would be subject to group iteration.  Working iteratively enabled us to develop collective responsibility for fulfilling the project aims.   I was able to trust and rely on team members and enjoyed the positive energy in our meetings.


As outlined above, I have exceeded my personal learning objectives for this module; I now need to reflect on my skills and future career path in an information environment.  But as I wrote in my first post, I intend to approach this new scenario in the same way as I build Lego.  One brick at a time.

Blue lego brick


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media

Papanek, V. 1985. Design for the real world: human ecology and social change. London: Thames and Hudson.

Wordle of 5S methodology

Using 5S Methodology for Evaluating a Website Redesign Project

As our website design project nears completion, I will take this opportunity to evaluate our work.  Hoekman (2007) discusses the relevance of the Japanese “5S” management approach, to UX design.  Grounded  in a philosophy of minimising waste, I can see its relevance to the largely Agile project management approach which we have adopted. I will give a brief description of each of the 5 features of this model and then outline their relevance to our approach to the project and the website.

5S methodology

5S methodology


Wikipedia (2012) describes this as a process whereby all unnecessary materials, tools and procedures are eliminated.  This was reflected by our research and analysis of the organisational and user requirements. For example, promoting the festival was a key requirement, whereas setting up e-commerce facilities for merchandise was out of scope.  In an ideal situation, it would have been satisfying to produce a fully functioning site.  However, by defining our requirements we were able to avoid “scope creep” (Bowles and Box, 2011) thus making the best use of our limited resources to produce a site which met the stated key organisational and user requirements.


Hoekman (2007) discusses how this process aims to reduce wastage and increase efficiency by ensuring that resources are accessible and organised so that the most relevant information is prioritised.  We managed our work flow so as to achieve maximum efficiency, as illustrated by our use of social media and cloud-based file storage:

Facebook, Dropbox and Google Drive

Setting up a closed Facebook group enabled team members to communicate despite working and living some distance from campus and we regularly exchanged information  about task progress/completion, support, advice and links to useful resources.  The “alerts” function allowed the group to stay in touch and to respond quickly to messages and queries.The group Dropbox folder for the project enabled team members to access all aspects of the project.  We were able to review our output, thus highlighting areas which had been completed or which required further development. 

In the future I would consider using a closed social media group for a project, although I would prefer to use Google+ for its Hangouts facility and and also for its less public interface.  Dropbox was easily accessed by all team members.  However, I prefer using Google Drive, as it allows team members to work simultaneously and collaboratively on a document, thus reducing time spent in reviewing, discussing and amending documentation.  Given that some team members were unfamiliar with Drive, we opted to use Dropbox but I would certainly use Drive in the future.


According to Wikipedia (2012), this process ensures that the workplace is kept clean, tidy and organised. This is illustrated by our methodical approach to the management of the project. For example, although we did not number the individual files until the end of the assignment, we maintained a clear folder structure in Dropbox which reflected the assignment’s 5 deliverable documents.

Dropbox folder contents

Screenshot of some of the contents of our Dropbox “deliverables” folder

By doing this, all team members were able keep track of progress.   Hoekman (2007) describes how the graphical elements of a website such as alignment and colour palette should contribute to its mood and personality.  Thus, we chose the font Adobe Caslon Pro for the title of our website:

Adobe Caslon Pro typeface

Adobe Caslon Pro typeface

as it is derived from William Caslon’s first original English typeface; we felt that this complemented the historical aspect of folk music which the festival organisers seek to preserve.  Similarly, the festival logo was subtly adjusted to include the dominant colour from the town’s crest:

Town crest and our redesigned logo

Colour matching between town crest and our redesigned logo.

The use of a pale blue background supported the vibrant colours in the logo and photographs featured on the homepage, thus creating a colour scheme which was both easy on the eye and accessible to users with low vision.  As a result, users described the site as being clear and inoffensive.

In the future I will continue to integrate “seiso” in the management of my work.  This seems almost instinctive, perhaps due to the nature of the information management course I am undertaking.  As discussed in a previous post, I have limited experience of using design principles.  However, I think that that by working collaboratively and then testing and iterating a design, I would be able to support the development of a sound UX-based design for a website.


Wikipedia (2012) describes the role of standardisation in the 5S methodology, as illustrated by the standardisation of work stations for employees performing similar tasks. This element was reflected in our project by the standardisation of our  user research.  Thus, we created a template for the questions, format and collation of user research.  We also wanted to achieve consistency within the website (something which was missing from the original site) to improved its usability.  In order to standardise the layout we initially created a wireframe/prototype in Visio by collaborating on the design iterations on campus.  One team member was then assigned to update the changes.  Similarly, when constructing the website, we assigned a (different) team member to be the “keeper of the code”.  Thus, although all team members were responsible for coding content, embedding maps, videos etc. in individual pages, this approach ensured that coding errors were minimised and  that the site maintained consistency. 

Overall, I feel that our approach to the user research and website layout was successful.  However, I think that this was largely due to the opportunity for team members to work collaboratively prior to standardising an approach.  Thus, instead of being “standardised”, I would describe our work style and website content as “consistent”.


This aspect of workplace organisation is described by Wikipedia (2012) as being an ongoing effort to find ways of improving existing processes.  This is closely linked to the Japanese word “kaizen” meaning “improvement”.  Its meaning has evolved over time to describe an iterative approach to both design and project management and is an inherent aspect of Agile projects (Bowles and Box, 2011).  Consequently, our final round of user testing (pre-launch user journey task observations and corridor tests), revealed user requirements necessitating adjustments to the website.  For example, clearer content layout for the Line-Up” page.

Our website is the result of the iterative (shitsuke/kaizen) approach to our decision-making and design process.  On reflection, although I was not fully aware of it at the time, I can see that evidence-based kaizen was key to supporting our team cohesiveness and confidence.  For example, our original hand-drawn site map evolved through ten versions into its final incarnation:

Site Map V1

Version 1 of our site map

Version 10 of our site map

Version 10 of our site map

By viewing the iterative process as evidence of progress and as a means of minimising errors in the construction phase of the website, we consequently felt more positive as a group.


Designed originally for the Japanese manufacturing industry, the 5S model has relevance to other work environments, including information architecture and UX design.  As with all management models however, I think that it is important to focus on the broader rather than the detailed aspects of the model.  For example, standardising work practices would be overly restrictive to UX designers but essential for staff working in a hospital.  Using the 5S model has been useful in describing some of the key aspects in our website redesign project; its elements fit implicitly within the Agile project management approach but is also suitable for the management of projects in hierarchical organisations.


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Hoekman, R. 2007. Designing the obvious: a common sense approach to Web application design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Wikipedia, 2012. 5S (methodology) [online]. Available at: [Accessed 26th January 2012].

South Park cartoon Linux joke

The Open Source Movement And Me

The open source movement has been a thread running through my studies over the last 18 months.  Each module has provided opportunities for students to explore the role of this movement.  Thus:

Open source and modules

What Is The Open Source Movement?

According to Wikipedia 2012, para. 1,

“The open source movement is a broad-reaching movement of individuals who support the use of open source licences for some or all software.”

However, I would argue that the Open Source Movement is an illustration of a wider Crowdsourcing Movement.  Howe (2006) cited in Wikipedia (2012, para. 3) says that “crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.”

On reflection, I can now see that my (small) role in classifying galaxies in the Galaxy Zoo 2 astronomy project in 2009 is an example of crowdsourcing for scientific research.  The satisfaction gained from making a small contribution to a large project is reflected in other socio-economic environments.  Design, research, fundraising and social campaigning are benefitting from this wider movement.

What Are The Key Issues Regarding Open Source Software For Information Professionals?

The Open Source Initiative specifies criteria which must be met by software seeking to be defined as “open source”.  Graham and Kramer (2012) outline issues which I consider to be of relevance to information professionals, including the potentially limited documentation, patchy support, requirement for greater technical understanding and non-functioning of some applications.      These issues were evidenced in my recent experiments with Drupal.  However, the authors also describe the advantages of choosing from a wide range of free applications which are supported by a vibrant community of supporters.  Thus, small organisations could avoid becoming “locked-in” to a product  by a vendor and benefit from greater customisation.

Implications of Open Source Software For Our Group Project

The group project has provided some practical illustrations of some of the abovementioned issues.  Thus, We were unable to use Adobe’s Dreamweaver software for coding the website as the project duration exceeds the free 30 day trial period for the product.  Instead, we used the open source Netbeans 7.3 software (interestingly now sponsored by Oracle).  I found this to be a better product than Dreamweaver as it highlighted potential coding errors.  We also successfully experimented with Gimp as an alternative to Adobe’ s Photoshop product.  Obtaining a copy of Microsoft’s Visio software (for wireframing) via the complicated licensing agreement between the vendors and the University was complex and time-consuming; some students on the course did not succeed in obtaining access to the product.  As working part-time students, we have very limited access to on-site computer facilities and open-source products have been essential to designing and building the website.

The second implication for our group assignment is reflected by our approach to the management of the project.  I have discussed the Agile approach to project management in a previous post.  On reflection, it seems to me that the Agile approach, with its flattened management structure and iterative nature is an applied example of crowdsourcing.  Thus, all group members are able to contribute knowledge and expertise at different stages of the project via an open process of iteration.

Implications Of Open Source Software In The Workplace

My current role in the Fines Section of a university library has highlighted a potential role for open source software.  The library management system software and vendor servers are sometimes affected by technical problems which can result in borrowers incurring fines incorrectly.  Problems can only be solved by the software vendors (and only if they deem them to be of a high priority), which can cause frustrating delays for the product users.  It would seem logical that libraries with their commitment to open access should support the use of open source library management systems and other related software.  This becomes of greater significance to librarians when software companies are juggling the demands of owning information and journal databases with those of selling library software to search information resources.  The advantages of integrating the two sides of a business may not be in the interests of library users.  It is therefore encouraging that as shown by research by Winkler and MacDonald (2012) there is growing interest in developing standards-based open library management systems.

My experience of using both a range of proprietory and open source software has emphasised the need to consider a number of issues regarding software:

  • the implications of a product to the organisation’s business aims (can the business afford to become dependent on a software product?)
  • current and future customisation and interoperability (will the product enable or limit business requirements?)
  • costs (both immediate and longer term)
  • ethical considerations (does the business have policy requirements to fulfill?)

I think that these criteria will vary in importance depending on the workplace environment and would be matched against other explicit and implicit criteria (for example, familiarity with a product) in an organisation’s decision-making process.

So What About Open Source And Me?

In the interests of fairer access to digital technologies, I would prefer to see greater use of open source software and resources in education and the workplace.   These can only thrive thorough adoption, so I will make my small contribution to the Movement by recommending the open source products I have used in this project to friends and colleagues.


Adobe Systems Inc. 2012. Products [online]. Available at: Accessed: 08 January 2012].

Galaxy Zoo. 2012. Homepage [online]. Available at: Accessed: 08 January 2012].

Graham, R. and Kramer, J. 2012. Introduction to web content management systems site development [online]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Extension School. Available at: [Accessed 03 January 2013].

Netbeans. 2012. Homepage [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2013].

Open Source Initiative. 2012. The Open Source definition [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2013].

Wikipedia 2012. Open source movement [online]. Available at: Accessed 08 January 2013].

Winkler, M. and McDonald, R.H. 2012. Kuali OLE: a collaborative community model for software development. Information Standards Quarterly [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2013].

Designing Websites With Content Management Systems

Should we use a Content Management System (CMS) or a flat site for our group project?

This week we had to make a key decision regarding the construction of the website; the choice was between building a flat site from scratch or adapting a template from, the version of this blogging site which requires paid-for hosting.

Why adopt a CMS?

CMSs are an increasingly common method of managing information in a wide range of information environments.  As discussed by Namer, (2012) and Boag (2009), benefits can include consistency of layout, enhanced usability, increased security (anti-spam, anti-hack software), multiple author facility, capacity for increased usage and reduced administration costs.

There are certainly several advantages to an organisation using a CMS instead of a flat site. However, the adoption of a CMS can also have negative consequences.  My initial observation of its adoption by a small charity reflects a need to consider and plan for the implicit costs and long-term consequences.  Garrett (2003) supports this view by including discussion of CMSs in the “Scope Plane” of his 5-Plane model, thus ensuring consideration of issues such as staffing and workflows once the CMS is active.  Harrison (2009) discusses how CMS databases place additional demands on expensive, limited server space.  The abovementioned charity has seen its server space reduced dramatically since the introduction of a CMS-based website.  Given that the organisation cannot fund additional server space, it is urging all staff to review their files in order to make more space available.  Graham and Kramer (2012) discuss the high financial, time and staffing costs involved in website development and maintenance.  For example, staff need to be allocated time to update the website (who is going to reply to the daily emails and posts that arrive via the website?) and training must be undertaken on a regular basis to keep up with software changes.

Our group decision…

After undertaking a brief trial of, we have opted for constructing a flat site.  The decision was based primarily on the group’s desire to gain coding experience and to accurately reproduce the prototype /wireframes we had developed through testing.  Although this approach supports our personal and academic development, I  think that the time and expertise required to build a flat website would be beyond the reach of small, community groups such as the one we are working for.

In terms of the group project I am pleased with our decision to build a flat site; I think that the thought-process involved in constructing a site from scratch will definitely help us to develop a better understanding of usability and coding which can both be applied to a CMS.

In the meantime, I am conscious of the relevance of skills related to using a CMS in the information job market and I have therefore spent some time experimenting with two packages.  This is a summary of my findings from a short trial.  (More detailed and accurate comparisons of a wide range of CMS packages are available online to individuals and organisations.)

WordPress (Hosted Version)

  • Intuitive, clear user interface
  • Good range of customisable templates for non-expert users
  • Clear support documentation


  • Wide range of customisable templates
  • Support documentation is very technical
  • User interface is not very intuitive: e.g. uploading images requires user to modify file settings
  • Potential to extend site-specific functionality

Given that the charity that I am volunteering for is using Drupal, I decided to experiment with this CMS by signing up with Native Space, a web hosting company and I am now the owner of a website.

I have constructed my (very) basic site using Drupal but I have encountered some difficulties.  This is largely due to my inexperience with online CMS systems and the use of web hosting.  On balance, it was easier and more intuitive to design in WordPress than Drupal.  I was disappointed by the amount of time I spent looking for and creating functionality in Drupal which was readily available in WordPress.  Mark (2011) suggests Drupal offers greater flexibility and functionality in the long term for an experienced designer.  Indeed, it is evident from the limited functionality  and content of my Drupal website that this CMS is not suitable for non-expert users.  If the aim is to support a wider range of people to build and maintain websites, WordPress would be my choice in the future.


Boag, P. 2009. 10 things to consider when choosing the perfect CMS [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: [Accessed: 03 January 2013].

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Graham, R. and Kramer, J. 2012. Introduction to web content management systems site development [online]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Extension School. Available at: [Accessed 03 January 2013].

Harrison, D. 2009. The advantages and disadvantages of content management systems [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 December 2012].

Mark, J. 2011. How WordPress took the CMS crown from Drupal and Joomla [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at:  [Accessed: 11 December 2012].

Namer. 2012. The best content management systems to use [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 03 January 2013].


Learning to code is like learning to read

It’s just like learning a new language…

Learning English

I remember learning to read in English; my class teacher presented me with a thin A5 “beginners’ reading book” from the Infants’ department.  I was 9 years old and had left my home in Milan as a fluent reader and writer in Italian as well as being a fluent speaker of Marathi.  Needless to say, during that first year, I amassed a collection of unread “easy-readers” in my desk.  In the meantime, I spent my time in the local library, tussling with the social and linguistic complexities of Paddington Bear and The Famous Five.  Thirty six years later, I have become fluent in several more languages and worked as a primary teacher; a positive outcome to a rather sorry start to my English education.  This experience came to mind when I undertook a coding workshop as part of this week’s lecture.  It was evident that I was encountering a familiar problem; I needed to learn to read.  Again.

Learning HTML and CSS

Of course, HTML and CSS are strictly not languages, they are simply a way of adding context, style and structure to text so that it can be displayed in a web browser.  Nonetheless, as with a language, the pages of code needed to be understood and used to communicate something.  My strategy at the age of 45 was the same as that which I used at the age of 9. Firstly, I ignored the complex details and looked at the broad meaning of the written code.  (As with any language, you do not need to know every word to understand the meaning of a sentence.)  Secondly, I trotted off to the Library where I found some accessible manuals and online references (dictionaries and grammar books).  Lastly, I am spending time trying to build a basic understanding using contexts, phrases and expressions borrowed from web designers (native speakers).

Enjoying Learning

As with any of the languages I speak, there are major gaps in what I understand and can currently achieve using HTML and CSS.  However, I am heartened by the fact that a year after dispensing with my “beginners’ reading book” I finished  the “The Hobbit”. I don’t know if I will make similar progress with coding but in the meantime, I am enjoying learning and I am rather pleased with my achievement to date:

First Page


Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media

Project Management Models


My post last week on the role of iteration in the design process has led me to consider the impact (to date) of the project management approach we have adopted on our task.

It can be argued that the provenance of each of the abovementioned project management models dictates its focus.  For example, the “Waterfall” approach was developed in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are characterised by a need for completion in each phase of production and with little scope for iteration.  Similarly, “Agile” project management was adopted by software companies as a means of developing and adapting products in a fast-changing environment.  This approach is frequently criticised for being product-centric (Bryan, 2012). The “Lean” approach has its roots in Japanese manufacturing and aims to improve value to the customer by reducing waste and maximising efficiency (Wikipedia, 2012).  Moreover, there are numerous variations to each model  (for example, Agile/Scrum and Waterfall/V-model), underpinned by a wide range of certified training programmes.


A waterfall approach to managing a project is useful where there are accountability, safety standards or legal requirements on the organisation.  For example, a public service, medical or financial service-based organisation would benefit from using this model (Seigel, 2011).


Bryan (2012) argues that Agile UX is a response to Agile product development where the requirement for “sprints” in the process have reduced the opportunities for UX professionals to influence the design of a product. The author also argues that in order to produce a “quick fix”, Agile methodology relies on assumptions (e.g. via the use of journeys).  This is in contrast to the traditional UX approach, which relies on researched usability data.  However, by working in cross-functional teams, communication and collaboration is enhanced (Bowles and Box, 2012).  In my experience, this team approach can be difficult to implement in larger organisations with hierarchical structures.


According to Gothelf (2011) Lean UX is based on an amalgam of the agile model with the Lean Startup approach as described by Ries (2011).  He argues that UX designers should use traditional UX tools but only test in-depth when necessary.  Moreover, he advises that there should be less focus on “deliverables” (documentation).  As with the previous model, this approach requires a cross-functional, collaborative approach which can be culturally challenging to large, established hierarchical organisations.


James Box, one of the founders of Clearleft describes their project mangement approach as one which takes account of the context of the organisation, generating a high number of design ideas and then synthesising them into prototypes which can be iterated.  He is sceptical about user research, arguing that rational choices are not independent of emotion and that aesthetics can make a user perceive the usability of a product as being better than it is.  I am not convinced about this; visual design is only one aspect of usability and the user research we have conducted has shown how a range of users (with varying degrees of interest in visual design) have been unanimous in their response to the usability of a website.

What Kind Of Project Management Approach Is Our Group Using?

The overall structure of the project has been predefined by the academic nature of the task.  Project tasks are recommended for each week but these are not all compulsory; within the framework, we could potentially have followed any of the abovementioned approaches.

It seems to me as if we are using a UX approach that brings elements from all three models.  Thus, we are using a structured approach with clear, documented phases (waterfall); there are short, low-fidelity iterative cycles (lean) and we are working closely as a team in order to achieve timely completion of the project (Agile).  In my opinion, this pragmatic approach ensures that best practice derived from each model is adapted to suit each client and/or project.

Is Our Approach Working?

The success or failure of our approach will become evident in the final feedback we receive on our project.  However, to date, the mix of approaches used have facilitated the following aspects of the project:

  • the generation, development and iteration of ideas
  • group collaboration and flexibility
  • meeting weekly deadlines
  • remaining on track to complete the project by its completion date

My previous experience of academic project work has not been as successful and on reflection, this has been partly due to a lack of clarity about the project management process.  For example, as discussed in my previous post, iteration is a key aspect of design but it is also an important part of the overall management of the project.  I can now see that in previous academic group projects, this feature was not understood by all team members, thus causing frustration and dissent within the group.

Future Projects

In the future, I would look carefully at any project and clarify the approach being used to achieve the task.  This information may be implicit in the organisational culture or explicitly stated within the group.  This clarity would facilitate the roles and tasks within the project.


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Bryan, P. 2012. Is UX strategy fundamentally incompatible with Agile and Lean UX? [online]. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Gothelf, J. 2011. Getting out of the deliverables business [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Ries, E. 2011. The Lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Penguin

Seigel, B. 2011. A comprehensive website planning guide [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Agile software development [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Lean manufacturing [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Waterfall [online]. Available at: [Accessed 29 November 2012].

The Dyson DCO1: The Product Of 5,127 Design Iterations

“Iteration” is a word which I had not encountered until embarking on this web design project.  According to Wikipedia (2012) it is:

“…the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration,” and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.”

With its roots in the mathematical and computing community, the concept has been adopted by UX designers as a feature of the project management process.  Garrett (2003) advises that

“…you should plan your project so that work on any plane cannot finish before work on lower planes has finished.  The important consideration here is not to build the roof of the house before we know the shape of its foundation”  (??)

Evidence of Iteration In Our Group Project

Mapping our group project onto Garrett’s Five Planes model shows that we are entering the  “Structure Plane” phase of the project.  In line with Garrett’s abovementioned advice, we have taken the opportunity to review our output in the previous “Scope” and “Strategy” planes.  For example, we were advised by our lecturer to refine our user journeys and we were consequently able to clarify our ideas about the personas involved, thus finalising the archetypes.  Building personas was a task assigned to Week 3 of the project schedule but in retrospect, it is clear that it would have been almost impossible to achieve the level of detail for each aspect of the scenarios, personas and user journeys without having progressed the project.

This week we have focussed on wireframing, an activity characterised by iteration.  Bowles and Box (2011) argue that wireframes are a key aspect of the outputs or “deliverables” which document design choices.  However, wireframes play a more useful role by representing a design which can be tested with stakeholders.  Kelley (2011) argues that testing early in a project will provide a wealth of information to refine and improve a product before too much time and effort is invested in an idea. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss the “fidelity” (level of detail) in the deliverables and outline a range of tools to create wireframes with varying degrees of fidelity.


Do I Have To Draw?

I am not very confident about expressing my ideas thorough drawing; sadly for me, the artistic gene passed from my mum to my younger sister (an embroidery artist).  However, I was confident that this week, somebody in our group would take the lead and demonstrate a talent for drawing the wireframes for our website design.

It soon became evident that my interpretation of designing on paper was not one shared by the lecturer.  Although we undertook some sketching exercises in a recent class, the lecturer emphasised that the aim was to enable everyone in a team to express their ideas, regardless of their drawing skills via sketching games such as “Six To One” and “Design The Box” (Bowles and Box, 2011).  This seemed like a commendable idea but I could not envisage myself needing to undertake this kind of exercise in the workplace. I was proved wrong this week.

How I Was Proved Wrong

Our group planned a site map together, as shown below:

We then began to discuss the key elements of the homepage.  It was clear that we had many ideas but that they were jumbled up and difficult to describe.  It was at this point that the lecturer suggested that we undertake the “Six To One”sketching exercise.  It became clear that drawing ability was irrelevant, as the aim was to generate ideas and refine them collaboratively.  On reflection, this exercise was in essence, a highly focussed iterative process which highlighted two key issues:

  1. as with the persona and scenario-building exercises, this sketching activity could be used as a problem-solving activity in the workplace
  2. this is a very democratic approach to reaching a mutually agreed decision; it allows everyone in the group to have a voice and to be heard

I will consider these issues in more detail as follows:

1. The Contribution of Iterative Design To The Economy

The first issue came to mind when I listened to Monday’s discussion on “Start The Week” (BBC Radio 4, 2012) with Antony Gormley (sculptor) and Ron Arad (designer, architect).  The programme focussed on the current squeeze on Art and Design subjects in the education curriculum in favour of an exam system biased towards Science, Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) subjects.  The aim is to develop the country’s skills base in these areas (House of Lords, 2012) so as to improve the country’s economic productivity. The participants argued that technological and scientific innovation is grounded in good design principles and maintained that the skills gained through an art and/or design-based education can be transferred to economic sectors outside the creative industries.  I am beginning to see that activities such as the personas, user journeys and sketching exercises are a minor example of the creative approach which could be used more widely to generate ideas with economic benefits in other sectors. For example, some commercial organisations, such as Dyson capitalise on the relationship between design and engineering. The company’s founder, James Dyson trained at the Royal College of Art in London.  The design for his bagless vacuum cleaner was inspired by a structure at a sawmill which span out saw dust.  His first machine, the DCO1 took five years and 5,127 prototypes, an iterative process during which he targetted and tried to solve the key issues which affected users of standard vacuum cleaners.

2. The Rejection Of Elitism

The second issue came to mind after attending a talk on campus about the UX industry from two experienced practitioners.  It was evident that the work culture in this sector is based on collaboration and “a rejection of elitism” (Bowles and Box, 2011) via a relatively flat organisational structure which echoes the culture that I experienced when working as a teacher.  This is in sharp contrast to the library environment where a very strong hierarchical structure continues to dominate the decision-making process at all levels of the organisation.  In my opinion, this type of culture stifles creativity and limits opportunities to solve problems with consensual agreement.

Was Sketching Useful?

Overall, I found that the sketching activities were the key to generating and developing ideas as well as acting as a tool for solving problems; they bridged the gap between our researched user journeys and creating a design for the website.

Would I Use Sketching In The Future?

Having understood the aim of the activity and seen the positive results, I would recommend this activity as a tool for generating ideas.  In the future I would approach it with more confidence and I would feel less self-conscious about using a variety of resources, including different types of marker pens, felt tips and large sheets of paper to help express my ideas.

Given that I would wish to use wireframes to test ideas as part of an iterative design process, I would think carefully about presenting sketches for testing ideas; some stakeholders may find this form of presentation confusing and this could detract from the research being undertaken. However, I would certainly use the abovementioned techniques to sketch wireframes with a group of people so as to mock-up a consensual design using medium/high fidelity tools.


Having produced some hand-drawn wireframes, our group was encouraged to try out different tools to produce documentation which would be consistent in appearance and easier for stakeholders to understand.  I consequently tried out demo versions of “Axure”, “Mockingbird” and “Balsamiq”.  (The free versions all had restrictions on their functionality.)

Choosing Software For Wireframing

Overall, I enjoyed using Balsamiq the most, as it was flexible, easy to use and it allowed notes to be added.  Axure had the potential to be a powerful tool but there is simply not enough time for us to learn to use if effectively, even though it has a built-in HTML function.

As a group, we decided that Mockingbird was the easiest tool to use but its main drawbacks were that we could not edit collaboratively in the trial version and and that secondly, it did not have an HTML function for us to test a prototype.  After an impromptu tutorial of Visio from our lecturer, the group agreed to use Visio to design the remaining wireframes and prototypes.  Its familiarity (it is part of the Office Suite), accessibility to the full version, HTML functionality and ability to work collaboratively on designs were the key reasons behind our decision behind using this software (although I think that PowerPoint would produce very similar results for our project).

On reflection, if I was adept at using all of the abovementioned packages, I would probably choose a tool to suit the client and the style of website they require.  Thus, I might consider presenting wireframes made in “Balsamiq” to clients in a creative business and use “Axure” for an engineering-based client.

An Iterative Approach To Group Work

Wireframing has been a focussed and well-recorded exercise in iterative design for our group.  However, on reflection, I can see that we have used iteration throughout the project.  As shown above, this has applied to our work output but it has also been implicit to our approach.  We have accepted as a group that our individual contributions whether oral or recorded should be refined by the rest of the group as our collective understanding is greater than the individual’s. This is not always the case and I will explore the reasons why this approach to the project appears to be working well for our group in a later post.


Axure Software Solutions. 2012. Axure RP [online]. San Diego: Axure. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Balsamiq. 2012. Balsamiq mockups [online]. Sacramento: Balsamiq. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

BBC. 2012. Start the week: art and design with Antony Gormley and Ron Arad [online]. London: BBC. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Kelley, D. 2001. Design as an iterative process [online]. Stanford: Stanford eCorner. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Microsoft Corporation. 2010. Visio 2010 [online]. Washington: Microsoft Corporation. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Some Character. 2012. Wireframes on the fly: mockingbird [online]. San Francisco: Some Character. [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Iteration [online]. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2012].

“If an item does not appear in our records then it does not exist!”

The abovementioned words are spoken by Jocasta Nu, Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives when Obi-Wan Kenobi is searching for the location of the Kamino planetary system…

However, this is a very 20th century view of a library or archive; ongoing development of the Semantic Web is pointing to a future where certain information may only exist as as an entity when created by a user.

The Semantic Web: a web of data

I first came across the term “Semantic Web” when I was researching the changes to cataloguing standards 12 months ago for a previous module.  It is something that that has been of interest to me since then.  Working in a library and studying on this course has highlighted how the library community appears to be struggling to adapt to changes in the information environment.  The Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloguing standard has been developed to encompass digital resources but will not be fully embraced by the British Library until 2013 (CILIP, 2012).  In my opinion, RDA can only be a stepping stone to the adoption of a new standard which will embrace Linked Open data in the Semantic Web, as discussed by Dunsire (2011).  Given that the related issue of ontologies is now being openly discussed on programmes such as “Woman’s Hour” (BBC, 2012) I can only hope that the slow adoption of newer standards does not lead to libraries erasing themselves from the information map!

Some of the principles which underlie this third iteration of the Web are visible in my everyday interaction with websites.  For example, the John Lewis website offers suggestions aimed specifically at me based on the “saucepans” and “table linen” which I have previously viewed:

These suggestions consist of linked metadata from within the John Lewis website and similar examples can be seen on other websites.  However, it was not until this week’s lecture where we discussed how tailored content can be fed into a fully live web page that I was suddenly struck by the fact that static web pages will no longer need to exist in the future.  By linking all forms of an item across all resouces, what will be the implications of this to website design?

This is a complex and evolving field in which I have no technical expertise.  However, I can see that some issues will affect design.  For example, given that searching will become more refined and personalised, the field of information retrieval will probably focus more on “filtering out” irrelevant information.  Designers will therefore need to find more creative ways of ensuring that their site content is accessed by the target market.  The second implication that comes to mind is that users will be able to access content more flexibly.  The traditional hierarchical structure of websites is already being reconsidered by designers so that all pages on a sitemap could have equal importance; reducing the amount of navigation on a site is discussed by Bradley (2012) who examines the development of single page websites.  It is clear that these sites reflect a desire to draw information together into one location, enhancing usability of the website and making it more dynamic.  (Site does not function as well on iPad.) However, I think that this style of website is in preparation for a time when the retrieval of individual web pages will become inefficient and uncompetitive.  Thus, a single page website would help to ensure that the entirety of the organisation’s information would remain unfiltered in a Semantic Web search.

The Synaptic Web: A web of “live” connections

The lecturer discussed a second model for the Web – the Synaptic Web.  My limited reading on this subject seems to suggest that this approach focusses on a folksonomical approach to the future development of the Web.  Thus, proponents for this model discuss the Synaptic Web as being descriptive rather than prescriptive.   However, having examined the transfer of information between different fields, for example, between film archives and academic libraries, it is evident that common standards or a high level of interoperability is necessary to achieve the initial fast, accurate connections prior to developing “plasticity” that is, the connections between the connections, as described by Loux and Blantz ( 2011). Thus, whereas HTML was the common standard for the first incarnation of the Web, Resource Description Framework (RDF) could provide the platform for a more descriptive Web.  My current thinking is that there will probably be a convergence between the two models to create the the Web of the future.


BBC. 2012. Woman’s Hour: Power list expert witness: science and engineering [online].London: BBC. Available at: [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Bradley, S. 2012. Exploration of single page websites [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

CILIP 2012. Implementing RDA in the UK: strategies and lessons learned [online]. CILIP: London. Available at: [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Dunsire, G. 2011. Web resource management and semantic web [Online]. Ahmedabad: INFLIBNET. Available at:htt p:// [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Loux, K. et al. 2011. The synaptic web [online]. San Mateo: PBWorks. Available at: [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Halloween Interview and Task Observation

Halloween night was the date when I conducted an interview and task observation with a good friend who regularly attends folk events and festivals. (Please note that the interviewee is wearing the microphone.)


I prepared a question sheet for the interview and practised on my teenage son, so as to check the flow of questions, as suggested by Kuniavsky (2003).  I downloaded a free version of Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 in order to record the observation tasks and I practised using this software (again, on my surprisingly obliging son).  I was impressed by the quality of the screen capture and used the headphones and mike pictured above to record the participant’s audio very clearly.  However, I decided not to include the webcam feature as this lagged behind the audio and screen capture.

The data capture sheet had separate boxes for each screen as a reminder of the 4 key questions for each screen.  I felt that this was important to ensure consistency in our approach across  all tasks and all participants.  During my test task observation I became quickly aware that it is almost impossible to take notes whilst talking to a participant and I agree with Kuniavsky (2003) who suggests that this exercise should be conducted by 2 people.

Conducting the interviews and task observations

We encountered a range of issues which I have categorised as follows:

1. Technical Issues

I had to find, download and practise using the software; this initially seemed straight forward but it became difficult to troubleshoot when we encountered problems with Internet connections; firstly with teenage children playing online game during the task observation with Participant 1 and secondly on campus where the Eduroam wireless system failed, forcing us to rely on audio recording for  Participant 3 and 4.  Although I had tested the wireless system on campus at 9.30am, I hadn’t made allowances for the notoriously high demand on the wireless network in the Library between 11am and 2pm.  In the future, I would minimise the chance of this happening by connecting via an ethernet.  Indeed, as I write, I am also wondering why I didn’t video the task observations using my phone…

2. Lack of interviewing experience

Having conducted the interview/task observation with a familiar primary user, I had become aware that the series of questions which we had agreed as a group were very specific to the website and that they were not going to provide as much background information as we might need to understand the lifestyle, interests and motivations behind the behaviours of the interviewees, particularly the primary users – about whom the group had little information.  We needed to ask additional questions but this proved to be difficult as two of the interviewees were line managers for two members of the group!  Although this wasn’t ideal, there were advantages to using senior staff.  Firstly, we were allowed to conduct the interviews during work hours and secondly, we were able to access a suitable venue (a group study room in the Library).  Consequently, given the budget and time restrictions of the project, I feel that we gathered enough information to fulfill our user research objectives.  In a future project, I would include additional questions to enhance our understanding of the primary users.

The second issue that arose due to my lack of interviewing experience was deciding when to interrupt and re-focus the interviewee’s attention to the question/task as opposed to just keeping quiet and listening! This is obviously a skill which needs to be developed over time; recording and listening back to interviews has certainly helped me to analyse my performance.  For example, when observing task 3, I insisted that Participant 1 should try and find the Facebook page from the website, even though she had proposed an alternative route which would have worked in real life.  This is discussed by Krug (2006) who outlines a range of motives for users not choosing a designed route, including the idea that users will revert to previously successful strategies for solving problems, even if they are unorthodox.  The result of my intervention was to force the participant to undertake additional searching which was invalid as it was not what the participant would have done under normal circumstances.

3. Interviewee Issues

There was evidence that interviewees were slightly nervous about the interview/task observations.  Participant 2 arrived late and flustered and seemed less focussed in his approach to the tasks.  I had booked the room for 5 hours to suit participants’ needs.  Unfortunately, the interviews were arranged by another group member with only 15 minute breaks between each participant’s 30 minute slot.  In the future, I would leave longer periods between interviews to accommodate over-runs and to allow time for re-setting equipment.

Participant 3 wanted to give the “right” answers, as shown by the transcript of one of the tasks:   Participant 3 Observation task 1buying a ticket.  We tried to minimise this anxiety by preparing an introduction speech, as discussed by Kuniavsky (2003) which was read to all participants to explain the purpose of the task.  Unfortunately, this participant is an experienced manager who would probably not wish to appear unable to complete a task in front of her junior staff (even if difficulties were due to the website design).  In future, I would therefore avoid any potential conflict of interest by not interviewing my own line manager, unless the person was a key stakeholder to the project.

4. Analysis Issues

The original plan had been for the interviewers to share the transcription process with the other members of the group. Unfortunately, as 2 of the interviews were affected by the technical problems, we thought that it would be very difficult for the rest of the group to transcribe the audio-only recordings of the practical tasks.  Consequently, we have yet to analyse the data.  I am conscious of the fact that transcripts are raw data and that the interviews and task observation results need to be summarised and analysed to obtain the information required to build archetypal personas.  We will try and complete this before next week’s lecture.

What did I learn?

  • Interviewing is difficult; asking searching, open-ended questions without leading a participant or imposing one’s views is a skilled job
  • Researchers need to work in pairs and allow extra time for delays and discussion
  • Researchers should have back-up recording equipment in case there are technical problems
  • Audiovisual recording of the research provides an accurate record intervieweee responses

Was this research useful?

Overall, despite some of the issues outlined above, I can see that this user research has provided us with real information required to map realistic scenarios and journeys for the primary users which had not been available to us from the SurveyMonkey survey. In the future, I would undertake similar research, not only to support the development of personas and user journeys but also to provide an evidence base. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss how this would be particularly important where stakeholders may have conflicting priorities, as it would help focus everyone’s attention on the key requirements.  As with the persona development, I can see how this is going to provide the basis for the design aspect of the website.


Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Evans, W. 2012. Customer research & persona development [online]. San Francisco: slideshare. Available at: [Accessed 01 November 2012].

Krug, S. 2006. Don’t make me think! : a common sense approach to web usability. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Kuniavsky, M. 2003. Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann