Monthly Archives: February 2015

Attending ALA Midwinter 2015

I recently attended the ALA Midwinter 2015 conference in Chicago ( My work at ITHAKA is a great fusion of my two professional interests: UX and libraries, and this was my first chance to attend a conference for librarians.

It was quite a different experience from the UX conferences I’d been to. It seems like there are at least two kinds of UX conferences: The pure-training kind, where the program consists of sessions where you can learn about stuff. The other kind offers professional development, but also opportunities to further the agenda of the organization. Think UXPA – in addition to listening to talks about UX, you can also meet with other leaders (at the chapter or international level) to talk about the profession.

The ALA is huge, and there seem to be a ton of opportunities for librarians to get involved with the ALA. Much of the sessions were committees and interest groups getting together to talk about whatever they were interested in. That seemed to be the focus – in contrast, UX programs seem to be oriented around the speakers themselves. You pick and choose sessions based on who’s speaking and what they’re speaking about.

The sheer volume of sessions on the program was overwhelming. For any timeslot, there could be dozens, and the timeslots all overlapped with each other. On top of that, you might have to go to an entirely different hotel to get to a session you wanted to attend.

I’m glad I went, though. It was fantastic to immerse myself in the world that librarians live in. There are plenty of folks in that world interested in user experience, so I got to talk shop a few times while I was at the conference.

A Discontinuous Experience with Outlook

Sometimes (maybe often?) I wish that my desktop wasn’t treated as a completely separate platform from the iOS I use on my phone (and occasionally on an iPad).

As I continue to find better ways to deal with email, I recently tried out Microsoft’s Outlook, which they recently acquired from another company and rebranded as theirs. It does some good work – it has the ability to hide messages until you want them back, but it seems to cooperate with the labeling system I put in place for my email. It also has a nice distinction between “important” emails and “not so important emails”.

The problem actually comes in when I want to use this Outlook on my laptop. It turns out Microsoft’s Outlook for the web is actually just their free email service, corresponding to Google’s Gmail and Yahoo!’s Yahoo! Mail. It doesn’t even seem to work the same as the iOS app.

What the heck, Microsoft? You snared me with this clever little app, and then when I try to continue the experience on my laptop, you try to get me to use the latest version of Hotmail. We live in a world where people move across devices. Your product lineup needs to recognize that.

Argus and Information Architecture

Information architecture was invented twice, and one of those times, it happened in Ann Arbor. Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, two librarians in Ann Arbor, began to think about the problem of organizing information on the Internet during the 1990s and ultimately wrote the seminal “Polar Bear Book,” Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Then they started a consulting agency called Argus.

Argus is one of those places in our local professional history that acts as a nexus point. Various members of our community worked there. Argus famously (or, at least, it should be famous) worked for Borders, the now-closed Ann Arbor-based book store. In the days before the Amazon of today, Borders wanted to figure out what to do with the Internet. Argus proposed an online presence where users could buy books online. Borders turned down this idea of, basically, doing what Amazon ended up doing.

Amazon went on to be very successful. Borders entered a slow decline, eventually closing down and taking with it a local institution, a “third place” where people could mingle in their community, and a source of jobs.

Argus closed earlier in the wake of the 2001 bursting of the dot com bubble. It is nevertheless an interesting episode in our local history.

Human Factors on a Snowy Night

Last month, I had the chance to sit down with Paul Green, professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, to talk about his intersection with the local User Experience scene. It was the first interview for my history project and a good start.

I drove from downtown Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan’s North Campus on a cold January night and found my way to Professor Green’s office. It was crowded with years’ worth of papers, reports, files, and books, with just enough space for him to sit at his desk and a guest to sit next to him.

We talked for about an hour and a half about how he came to UMTRI; about the life cycle of professional organizations (which, as it turns out, is a common theme in these interviews), and the formation of ACM SIGCHI. Professor Green is actually a member of the human factors field, which is an important predecessor to human-computer interaction and, ultimately, user experience, and still a highly relevant field today.

When I left the building, everything was covered in a thick layer of fresh snow glinting in the street lights. It was a long, snowy drive home, but worth it.