Sunday, January 23, 2011

Doing Work Through Serial Accidents

A couple of decades ago (yes decades) while I was serving our great country, I was told by a drill sergeant that he did "more work on accident than I did on purpose."  For the longest time, I took that to mean that he was a harder worker than I, he had a more defined direction than I, or he was at least more motivated.  At the time I thought it was a clever quip, and I have been known to use it myself from time to time, mostly when identifying laziness in others.

However, as an IT architect, I have overtime developed a new appreciation for this maxim.  It now describes to me the failure of poorly designed applications and poorly defined information architectures. As Wodtke and Govella wrote in Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web we need to ask, "Why Does Your Business Need You to Make a Web Site?"

Do we even ask that question?  I have been in many design sessions where everyone in the room thought they knew why the business (or customer) needed the web site.  However, the "why" is not a monolithic entity that is easily understood by one designer, or defined by the actions of one user.  To me there is actually a taxonomy of "web site whys", and these whys need organized in a cohesive manner.  Just as objects in OOAD,web site whys need a overarching cohesion (much like this blog entry, stay with me).

Business web sites provide process automation to internal and external customers.  Web site whys drive the processes that developers and designers implement in these web sites.  The collection of processes that are automated need to relate to their individual whys as well as the top why in the taxonomy.

Along with cohesion, automated processes need to be underpinned with intuitive user experience design and information architecture.  How a process is defined in a web site includes how easy the process is to complete in the web site.  This is where "wayfinding" comes in, but more often where web site design breaks down.  If the customer cannot find their way in your application or web site, then their success or accomplished work may be the product of serial accidents. Serial accidents provide little value and more often lead to lost productivity, and inevitably lost revenue.

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