The Beanstalk Foundation is Live!

Beanstalk Foundation Logo

After four months of learning all about Drupal, and getting re-acquainted with Apache and PHP, I’m proud to reveal the new Beanstalk Foundation website.

I was helped in crucial ways by Beanstalk’s creative director Johnny Vanderweit, wordsmith Nate Ragolia, and my old friend Mark Harris. Still, I’ve had more of a hand in every element of this website and crowdfunding platform than in anything else in years. And it was so much fun! I’ve got engine grease up to my elbows.
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Mobile Pizza

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 9.19.53 AM

I did some agency work for a large national pizza chain, streamlining and optimizing their online ordering workflow, and wireframing the web app for same. It was a good opportunity to produce some formal mobile work, alongside the experimentation I’ve been doing.

Workflows and wireframes for an mobile pizza ordering web app.

Workflows and wireframes for an mobile pizza ordering web app.

For an e-commerce workflow, it was quite mature and complex, with the need to integrate location-based menus and coupons, customer loyalty systems, and sophisticated product configuration, while minimizing user input and cognitive friction.

One of the workflows for the mobile pizza web app.

One of the workflows for the mobile pizza web app.

The workflows and wireframes were completed in about two weeks.

Novus Biologicals is Live!

The Novus Biologicals website homepageRocket surgery has nothing on immunobiology and proteomics. With over 100,000 products, in a dozen categories, and the most complex set of product attributes and filters I’ve ever had the honor of untangling, the Novus Biological website was a textbook case of Information Architecture challenges. Working for SpireMedia, I took on the task of understanding the incredibly intricate world of antibodies.

It was a long and hard slog, yet we got through the information architecture and wireframes mostly on budget and on time. Beyond organizing and laying out the site, I also helped resolve some thorny data issues, such as how to apply cumulative filters on a dozen variables to a list of 50,000 items. I also helped evaluate, spec and implement the Novus Explorer, a Flash-based relationship browser, which for the first time gives researchers a visual, interactive way to explore the connections between antibodies, proteins, diseases and genes, clicking through to extensive scientific litterature. I dare say that, for a site with a tenth the budget of its main competitor, the new novusbio.com raises the bar.

On a personal note, I also had the pleasure of working again with Scott Osgood, an old friend, colleague and client from my Immedient/INS days, who took on the job of CTO for Novus on the same day that I took on the Information Architecture tasks for Spiremedia. A very happy coincidence indeed!

I’m more than a little proud of the work that went into this site, though of course the real credit goes to the amazing design and Drupal development teams at Spiremedia, who burned even more midnight oil than I did.

DRD v3 is live!

Thumbnail of the DRD websiteThird version of the Department of Redundancy Department’s website, this time using WordPress. WordPress is a beautiful piece of software, highly discoverable… of course, it’s targeted at geeks, but I think it broadens the target a bit.

For the DRD’s site, I chose a simple theme, and tweaked the typography. Videos will be hosted on YouTube, which will keep things simple as well.

If you have a high opinion of me, and a strict sense of appropriateness, please don’t look at these crazy, NSFW videos. Thanks!

BT DiamondIP is live!

BT DiamondIP WebsiteA whopper of a project!

I was able to set a good direction on the information architecture, and to keep everyone committed to a more-or-less standard navigation scheme. There was little I could do to influence the tone and tenor of the copy, but I did help cut down the marketese to a manageable level. In terms of the visual design and branding, I got to work again with my good friend Peter Alexander, who took in the strict constraints that I was imposing and provided me with just the clean look and photo-graphics I was looking for.

I was committed to building a good modern website, with as little compromise as possible in the quality of the code, design, and trying to stick close to semantic HTML. Noble goals. But I didn’t get a choice in CMS packages. EktronCMS it would be. Ektron is an ASP.NET CMS package with all the features you could want. Smell a rat yet?

It was a constant struggle to get it to work, to get it to work as it should, to get it to work well with clean code. I based the site’s HTML structure on the BluePrint CSS Framework, but that got partially butchered by the junk code ASP.NET wants to inject, and the spaghetti code that Ektron gleefully injects everywhere.

Of course, as a CMS package, Ektron fails as many do: by making GUI editing as complex and counter-intuitive, if not more, than HTML itself. Which means, of course, that the webmaster will have to do the updates anyway… and I could do them faster in Notepad! Also, as a typical ASP.NET application, it breaks all the time. And as a typical enterprise application, it’s also very slow, and ugly as a pig farmer in a cocktail dress.

Nevertheless, I soldiered on through. I used an XML sitemap to drive the navigation dynamically, Ektron collection controls and content placeholders and other god-awful components to put together a site that looks good and doesn’t suck. And custom-coded a bunch of tools and forms. I worked through my Christmas vacation in Paris to get it done. And now it’s done.

I’m proud of the result, yet I can’t say that the process made a lot of sense. I’m an excellent swimmer, but I don’t like to be forced to swim with a backpack full of rocks, especially when nobody needs the rocks or the backpack.

Stratification Tool

Thumbnail of the stratification toolBuilt a flash-based complex data visualization and stratification tool for a higher education consultancy. The company helps higher ed institutions to recruit and retain students. This tool is aimed at targeting outreach and marketing efforts to the right populations of high-school students, to maximize recruitment success.

In technical terms, it’s a statistical analysis tool. Likelihood to enroll is calculated for a body of applicants, and the tool gives a visual and interactive interface to the process of dividing that body into sub-groups.

This was a dense app, with lots of complex actionscript. I started with the data, building a visual representation that can be rendered as a histogram or smoothed line chart, with arithmetic or logarithmic scale. The user can then add or remove stratification bands, and set the bounds by sliding a knob along the y-axis. Each band reports its totals and percentages in real-time as the bounds are slid around, allowing the user to quickly create a 50-student band, or a band of 50 likely-to-enroll students.

My main goal was to take a complex decision-making process and make as much of it as possible as intuitive and tactile as possible. I did leverage some of the built-in actionscript animation libraries, using them sparsely and quickly to indicate pliancy of the UI, and give an overall feeling of responsiveness.

This was the most technically dense and complex Flash project I’ve done to date, involving XML/SOAP, handmade graphing routines, GUI design and lots and lots of math. I enjoyed it immensely.

Breaking through at BMGi

A slide from the BMGi training sessionsDelivered a series of Lovable Sharepoint training sessions for Breakthrough Management Group. BMG is an exciting company, that does what I do: Consult on process. They do it mostly with large industrial clients, where a little process can save a lot of money. I was out training their staff on the user-directed approach to SharePoint. We developed Personas and Goals, explored user-centered information architecture, developed an exquisitely goal-oriented site. 

The message of Lovable SharePoint really hit home at BMGi, where they are acutely aware of the pitfalls of over-engineering. I looked at their resource plan, their scale, and their pressing needs, and basically told them to turn most of SharePoint off, for now. We focused on a high-value, easy-adoption, community-driven approach, and solved some thorny issues with as little new technology as possible.

We had a blast. Over three training sessions, I saw hesitant and overwhelmed team members gain confidence, interest, and more than a glimmer in the eye about the changes we were planning. I left them excited, enthusiastic, and hard at work on this new approach. 

Then I started driving home in the worst snowstorm in over a decade. The one-hour trip from Longmont to Denver turned into eight hours stuck on the freeway. Still, it was a great day!

Lovable SharePoint Event

Over the last few months, I’ve been making a big splash around town with my latest crazy invention: Lovable Sharepoint. It’s a new service offering, that proposes to take a behemoth of a gas factory, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, affectionately known as MOSS, and implement it in full-scale, gas-factory enterprise environments… with UX spearheading the effort. 

 

Title slide for LSP. Image by Peter Alexander.

Title slide for LSP. Image by Peter Alexander.

I’ve put together a presentation, most unlike the typical Microsoft-Gold-Partner Bullet Monster, consisting mostly of one image or word per slide. I’ve worked together a nice 30-minute speech, worked in some blocking and staging, and performed it, first at an INS sponsored event at the Microsoft offices in Denver. We had a full room, while most of these marketing events usually draw about ten people. I had set a single red rose, and my business card, at every seat. Warm breakfast was steaming at some tables in the back. Lights were dimmed a little.

 

It went very well. My friend Cliff Burton was opening for me, with a review of the MOSS feature set, and he was wonderful, turning this dry subject interesting with his deadpan self-deprecating humor. He rammed through the feature set in twenty minutes, connecting everything to what I would say next. He left the audience awake, in a good mood, and expecting more bullet points and clipart.

Then I went up, and I killed, man! I killed! 

I appealed to the grand vision of freedom and joy: enterprise transformation. I showed pictures of a peace march, and described adoption as a very passive-aggressive form of protest. How can we miss the mark so much, with such great intentions? I showed the tower of Pisa. I stressed that an intranet is a process, not a product, I described the user-driven process, the focus on goals, not tasks. Expanded it to a new vision where top-down and bottom-up feed off each other.

User-driven process, Goal-directed approach, Community focus.

I finished with a plea to approach this work with love. The lights came up and everyone was still awake. They were quite alert too. Hands shot up and I took questions, good pointed questions. Handshakes happened with our sales guys. Cards changed hands. I got some personal thanks and good-jobs. I also got the best set of speaker evaluations to date. And my sales guys were drooling at the leads. In the room were IT and Project managers for a large Christian charity, and I think the “love” message struck a chord.

I love it when that happens. When I can be passionate in a business setting, and the reaction I get. People are starved for authentic genuine passion, in the tech world, but it’s as necessary, if not more, as good requirements and functional specs.

MOSS envisioning engagement

The final site map

I’ve been sent to Los Angeles to help a CTO make a case, in one week, for a MOSS implementation. I approached the process with personas & goals, ethnographic interviews, and a usability-oriented review of their current systems. I also established a good rapport with the CTO, by listening to her business goals and inferring her personal goals. She wanted to shake things up, to streamline the bureaucratic machine while empowering the splinter groups, the internal startups that had developed in a vacuum of control. I can respect the wisdom of that approach, especially when dealing with the potential bureaucratic armageddon that can be unleashed with tools like SharePoint.

I applied my goal-directed approach to navigation, yielding a site map that provided a “Cathedral” area for corporate unity, and local, flexible “Bazaars” for the mavericks. We accommodated the security requirements of the compliance division, putting a key ally in our camp. In one week, we put together a solid plan, and the client invited me to help her present it to her boss.

It was a very quiet, subdued moment, after the chaos of trying to piece together a company in a few days. Just the company’s president, my client, and myself. He appreciated the potential for a healthy balance of corporate types and entrepreneurs, as well as the value of our plan. His questions afterwards were related to the logistics of making it happen. The dialog was productive, good decisions were made.

I head back to Denver, with another feather in my cap. The local sales guy is amazed at how calm our client seems to be. It’s not calm, dude. It’s focus!