I had a great time this morning at The PreWorkTalk organized by IxDS Berlin.
The visionary introduction on “transformative services” by Nancy Birkhölzer was then perfectly illustrated by 4 food projects… That’s what I call sense making! 
Thanks to IxDS for this enlightening morning.

T is for Taxonomy

Taxonomy is creating entities based on needs or interests of users by carefully selecting terms and organizing them in a tree-like structure with parent-child relationships.

The word Taxonomy was first introduced by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Botanist, to organize and classify organisms in the 18th century. The field of Information Architecture adopted the term taxonomy to help organize information for users of a system. 

Some of the challenges we face when we need to organize content are:

  • Which items are being classified? 
  • What are the needs of the user?
  • What terms are actually used by the users?
  • What categories should be used?
  • Which category should an item be included in?

The Approach
A systematic process of research, design and testing helps to solve the challenges of creating a taxonomy. User research activities such as card sorting, interviews, user observations and competitive analysis can help uncover how users think about the terms being classified. 

There are a few considerations to think about when you are in the designing the taxonomy.

  • Will the hierarchy be wide by having many sibling relationships or will it be deep with many parent-child relationships?
  • Will the hierarchy be logically ordered?
  • Can an item appear in multiple categories?
  • Will the parent category have enough items in there to justify it being a category?

There are various taxonomy validation techniques available. Delphi card sorting, remote card sorting, usability testing, and search analysis can be used to verify that the information is organized for the user.

Additional Resources 


Sample Size Calculator
Creative Research Systems Calculator

Online Card Sorting Tools
Optimal Sort
Socratic Card Sort

IxD Theory: Principles & Heuristics

Are some of the foundational principles more important than others? If so, which ones? Why are some more important than others? Can you point to examples that illustrate the hierarchy you propose? Consider both Neilson’s and Norman’s lists.

While the hierarchy may vary depending on the specific goals of the project at hand, several of the principles stand out as integral aspects to most, if not all, interactive tools.

Consistency : Allowing for the user to adapt to a new interface can be challenging as devices and tools continue to change. By instituting already established rules and reactions into the interface, this consistency allows for quicker adjustment and a sense of familiarity. Ultimately, all interfaces are going to be used. I found Jeevan Kalanithi’s assessment of consistency in last night’s discussion to be so spot on when he asked, “What are you going to teach the user?” He asserted that you can choose one thing to be innovative about while leaving the other aspects alone.

From a designer’s perspective, I think this outlook brings in the tenets one finds in the established methodology of scientific study. Consistency, in a sense, acts as the controlled elements in an experiment. We generally know how someone will use, say, the volume buttons on the iPhone, because they reflect the language of an already-existent model used in a bevy of items. The innovation, on the other hand, is what it is that we’re actually testing. Is our hypothesis of how the innovative aspect will be perceived and used correct? Given a level of familiarity, these new aspects can then be more easily evaluated and improved for a person’s needs.

Feedback & Visibility & Mapping (A Muskateers-esque Trio) : At the most basic level, we need to a confirmation of our actions by the interface to understand it is responding to our actions and is working properly. This verifies our functional relationship with the object. Imagine a time when you’ve shared an anecdote with someone. When they did not respond and you immediately start to wonder, “Well, did they hear me?” In the real world, as in the relationship between the real world and a system, people have a certain expectation that if they execute task X, there should be some sort of reassurance that the task was actually completed.

If we go back to the iPhone volume button, a person would expect that if they depress the “+” sign button (consistency,) the button will go down and the volume will go up. Not only do they receive the audible feedback of the “click” when the button is depressed, they can visually see the volume setting rise incrementally as the ringer volume display pops up simultaneously to the button press. If the same person were to press the button down and not hear, feel or see the established feedback, there would be no way of knowing whether the ringer volume went up and how much until someone called. 

Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors : “Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.” If this were indeed the case in every interactive system, I wouldn’t have quite so many phone calls from a certain someone in my life that struggles with technology. In an ideal system, we not only allow for the user to become familiar with the interface, but, hopefully, we empower this person to complete the given task with an assurance that not all is lost when something goes wrong.

While I may see these aspects as rather important, each of the principles that Norman and Neilson point out require awareness and, really, acceptance, in the design process. 

Google Material Design

We challenged ourselves to create a visual language for our users that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science. This is material design. This spec is a living document that will be updated as we continue to develop the tenets and specifics of material design.

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Iterations of Draggable Controls


The above shows iterations of my work designing graphical interactions with network map items. Initially I had items placed directly on the map and connected to each other via small connectors attached to each item and a line drawn between the connectors. The major difficulty was deciding how the user would interact the items themselves. There were a number of actions possible for items on the map. Should the user double-click the item to get to the actions? What about a hidden menu indicated by a small icon next to each item? Considering scenarios where many items and connections exist, the various indicators started to interfere with each other and create the potential for clutter, especially since the items could be dragged to anywhere on the screen and the map had to respond appropriately.

Everything on the screen needs to be considered carefully when you allow the user to drag things wherever they like.

The final design put the item inside of a “control ring”. The ring allowed me to get rid of the clutter of the connectors and menu indicators. Now users could access the most common actions by clicking various portions of the ring. Less common actions were beneath a menu which was now clearly labeled on the ring.

I later drew the map items in Adobe Illustrator and exported them as SVG files for use by the development team.

Watch on suchdesign.tumblr.com




Drawnimals brings together e-learning and having fun with pen and paper by motivating children to draw around the iPhone or iPad and encouraging them to think outside of the box. The app helps them leave the digital screen with a simple physical interaction. It shows the children how to draw the main features of animals and the lovely animations motivate them to learn the alphabet.

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