A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Berkun, Scott

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Advice for New Managers: Part 1

The central mistake new managers make is egoism. On the surface, the change is all about you: you’ve been promoted, you have a new job title, you have a new office. Perhaps you’ve been waiting for this change for some time, while watching peers or friends get promotions, and now finally you feel you’ve received the respect you’ve earned.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Management>Collaboration


An Annotated List of Interaction/Web Design Resources, Books and Websites

This list provides resources about web design, usability, and related topics.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Resources>Bibliographies>User Interface>Usability


The Art of Usability Benchmarking

One common concern raised by managers and engineers alike is this: how easy to use is enough? This question, and the absence of an easy answer, is often the first defense people offer against investing in usability and ease of use. The smart usability engineer or designer has at least one response: the usability benchmark. By capturing the current level of ease of use of the current product or website, a reference point is created that can be measured against in the future. It doesn't answer the question of how usable is enough, but if the benchmark is done properly, it does enable someone to set goals and expectations around ease of use for the future.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Usability>Methods


The Art of User Interface Prototyping

It takes a certain craft to know how and when to build prototypes of web designs or software designs. This primer of prototyping explains when and how to build them.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface>Usability


The Best of CHI-WEB and SIGIA-L

The chi-web and sig-ia mailing lists are two email based discussion groups on the topics of web usability, design and human computer interaction (the later with a heavier emphasis on information architecture). To subscribe to chi-web, read the info page or to get a better flavor for what happens there, use its full searchable archive. Alternatively, you can join sigia-l from here or view the sigia-l archive . Using the archives for each mailing list, I've compiled a list of the summary postings from useful threads, and a few personally selected favorite postings. Please note: my list below is not an exhaustive list of summary postings. I just picked the ones I found most salient and valuable for reference. Also, these summaries are collections of contributing posts: they are a mixture of opinions and commentary, with some references to reports, usability data, websites or books.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb. Resources>Mailing Lists>Web Design>Multimedia


Critical Thinking in Web/Interface Design Part 1

At the heart of design and engineering is critical thinking. The ability to separate what is worthwhile from what isn't is the hallmark of the best in many fields, from film directors to project managers, programmers to designers.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Critical Thinking in Web/Interface Design Part 2: Idea Generation

How do you cultivate good ideas? What process do you use? This issue discusses how critical thinking relates to generating and managing good ideas in design.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Designing on Both Sides of Your Brain

There is every reason to use logical and creative approaches when working on any kind of design problem. The best designers know how to switch between approaches, and bring together both kinds of thinking into a process for discovering and crafting the best ideas.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Web Design>Methods


Designing on Both Sides of Your Brain

There's a natural balance that can be mastered between both intensely imaginative, and passionately logical lines of thought. We need to seek out this synergy to be good at design. The surprising truth is that for designers everywhere, the scientific method can be an extremely powerful tool for finding and evangelizing your great ideas.

Berkun, Scott. Boxes and Arrows (2002). Design>Graphic Design>Methods>Cognitive Psychology


The Explorer Bar: Unifying and Improving Web Navigation   (PDF)

The Explorer bar is a component of the Internet Explorer web browser that provides a unified model for web navigation activities. The user tasks of searching for new sites, visiting favorite sites, and accessing previously viewed sites are simplified and enhanced by using a single user interface element.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2005). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Fitts's User Interface Law Applied to the Web

Interface design is difficult in part because everything requires interpretation. A design that works for one task or one user might not be appropriate for another. In other types of engineering, like architecture or bridge building, designers can always rely on laws of physics and gravity to make designs work. There is at least one immutable rule for interface design that we know about, and it's called Fitts's Law. It can be applied to software interfaces as well as Web site design because it involves the way people interact with mouse or other pointing devices. Most GUI platforms have built-in common controls designed with Fitts's Law in mind. Many Web designers, however, have yet to recognize the powerful little facts that make this concept so useful.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface>Human Computer Interaction>Web Design


Good, Evil and Technology: A Fun Philosophical Inquiry

Are there good websites and evil websites? Rarely. Most things we know and use fall in between: tools are amoral. They don’t prevent someone from using them for bad or work better when used for good. Great software performs just as well when you’re drafting praise for homeless shelter volunteers as when you’re writing recipes for orphan stew. If we want to claim that the things we make are good or bad, we have to go beyond their function. Goodness, in the moral sense, means something very different from good in the engineering sense.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2001). Articles>Technology>Theory


How To Avoid Foolish Consistency

People don't like to learn things. If they take the time to learn something, they expect to be able to apply that knowledge in many places. It follows that good designers conserve the number of things users need to learn to get stuff done. The streets in American cities are good examples of conservation of knowledge. Anywhere in America, yield and stop signs look exactly the same. Traffic lights use red, yellow, and green to mean precisely the same things regardless of the street or city. Mailboxes on street corners use the same colors and icons, so they are clearly identifiable anywhere. It becomes difficult for people when their knowledge of things breaks down. A driver from a country with different street signs who visits America will make mistakes until they learn the new signs. Even subtle variances like the difference in speed of two different yellow traffic lights can cause American drivers to make mistakes.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


How to Build a Better Web Browser

Web browsers are funny things. On the one hand, they’re supposed to be lightweight little programs that just let you view websites, and on the other, they carry the same burdens as operating systems and application suites, trying to provide everything to everyone. Here in this little essay I explain what I know about designing browsers. I’m in the lucky minority of people that have actually designed successful browsers, or parts of them, for any length of time, and with Firefox and Opera in the headlines, and the art of browser design becomes important again, I thought I’d write down some of what I know. Its been years since I was a program manager on the Internet Explorer project, but I’ve maintained interests in the design of navigation and searching systems of all kinds: what follows is a rough summary of what I’ve learned.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Web Browsers


How to Get the Most Out of Conferences

Conferences are what you make of them. If you’re not sure why you’re going, or what you want to get out of the experience, you’re unlikely to get it. This essay gives one perspective on conferences, and how to make them more valuable and engaging experiences. I think in general professional conferences take a very conservative approach to training and education, and it demands that attendees take more responsibility for getting value from the experience than should be necessary.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2003). Academic>Conferences>Collaboration


How to Get the Most Out of Conferences

Conferences are what you make of them. If you’re not sure why you’re going, or what you want to get out of the experience, you’re unlikely to get it. This essay gives one perspective on conferences, and how to make them more valuable and engaging experiences. I think in general professional conferences take a very conservative approach to training and education, and it demands that attendees take more responsibility for getting value from the experience than should be necessary.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2003). Articles>Collaboration


How to Give and Receive Criticism

Good feedback is rare. It can take a long time to find people who know how to provide useful criticism, instead of simply telling you all the things they think are “wrong” with you or whatever you've made. A good critic spends as much energy describing what something is, as well as what it isn’t. Good criticism serves one purpose: to give the creator of the work more perspective and help them make their next set of choices. Bad criticism uses the opportunity provided by someone else’s work to make the critic feel smart, superior or better about themselves: things that have nothing to do with helping the recipient of the critique.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Collaboration


How to Interview and Hire People

Before you worry about interviewing, consider this: good interviewing does not make a good candidate out of a bad one. The higher the quality of the people coming in to your interviewing process, the higher the quality of those that will come out of it. Do not rely on HR or some other person to decide who enters the process. The more energy you, as a hiring manager, invest in recruiting, the better your results will be.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Careers>Interviewing>Management


How to Manage Smart People

What follows is some advice for managers on how to manager people, especially talented people. I worked for nine years at Microsoft, sometimes managing projects, sometimes managing people, but always with a manager above me. I think I’m smart, but many of the people who have worked for me definitely were. Over the years I’ve experienced many mistakes and successes in both how I was managed, and how I managed others. There's no one way to manage people, but there are some approaches that I think most good managers share.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Careers>Management>Collaboration


How to Pitch an Idea

Coming up with good ideas is hard enough, but convincing others to do something with them is even harder. In many fields the task of bringing an idea to someone with the power to do something with it is called a pitch: software feature ideas, implementation strategies, movie screenplays, organizational changes, and business plans, are all pitched from one person to another.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Collaboration


How to Run a Brainstorming Meeting

The most important thing about a brainstorming session is what happens after it ends. No matter how poorly you run a brainstorming meeting, some decent ideas will surface. But depending on what happens after the session, those ideas may or may not impact anything. So while you can read books and take courses on better brainstorming techniques, the most important thing is figuring out how the brainstorming session fits into the larger decisionmaking process you or your team has.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Collaboration


How to Run a Design Critique

In the early and middle phases of a project, teams need a way to understand and explore the current direction of the design. The challenge is to create the openness needed for good ideas to surface, while simultaneously cultivating the feedback and criticism necessary to resolve open issues. Unlike a brainstorming meeting, where the exclusive goal is to come up with new ideas, a critique meeting is focused on evaluating a set of existing ideas, and possibly identify future directions or changes. Instead of hoping that hallway and email discussions will lead the team in a good direction, it’s generally worth investing time to set up critique meetings to drive the design forward.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2003). Design>Collaboration


The Importance of Simplicity

Web sites and software often compete with each other based on the features they provide. The popular assumption is that the more features a product has, the better it will be. The truth is that features improve a product only if they are actually used by the customer. In most cases the proliferation of features in products creates more complexity than value. Each feature gets an icon or a link on a Web site or toolbar, and is yet another item that the user needs to wade through before they can find the one that they need. Web sites are still young, but many Mac and Microsoft® Windows applications show the carnage of years of feature wars with competing products. Over the years I've learned a few things about how to keep interfaces simple, and simultaneously keep the power intact for more sophisticated users.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>Usability>User Centered Design


INTERACTIONARY: Sports for Design Training and Team Building

This is an experiment in design education. The idea is to explode the process of design by forcing insane time constraints, and asking teams of designers to work together in front of a live audience. From what we've seen, it forces the discussion of design process, teamwork, and organization, and asks important questions about how designers do what they do. Below are summaries of previous events, and information about how to organize your own Interactionary.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Articles>Management>Collaboration


Leadership in Collaboration: Film Making and Interaction Design

There are useful parallels between making films and making web sites or software products. We'd be wise to study how they manage creativity, and how our divisions of effort, and means of collaberation, compare and contrast.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Collaboration>Interactive>Multimedia



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