My Yahoo! years

· Design, long story short, Patterns, Social Design, Teamwork, User Experience, Web Gossip, Yahoo!

This post has turned out to be a lot more difficult to write than I expected. Last Tuesday was my final day at Yahoo! I wrote a valedictory post for the YDN blog as my official signoff.

It wasn’t easy resigning from Yahoo! I started working there more than three years ago and had a splendid time throughout. I met a slew of incredibly talented, brilliant people. I learned a lot about the pros and cons of large companies (and what can happen after a startup experiences hypergrowth). I expanded my network and became a much more visible member of the global user experience (aka “UX,” although I’m leaning toward describing it as “digital design” these days) community.

I’m leaving a lot of friend behind there and I expect to keep in touch with all of them. These days with the twitters and such, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Beyond my work on the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, and the social design patterns project, I’m most proud of my involvement with Yahoo!’s Open Strategy, from the earliest days of formulating and fleshing out the strategy, to the difficult, slow, but fruitful efforts to rewire Yahoo! and expose more and more of the underpinnings and utility features to the large web developer community. If you haven’t checked out YQL, for example, you really should.

Right now, I’m on a very brief hiatus between jobs. I just got back from a long overdue return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, today I’m speaking in Minneapolis on the UIE Web App Masters Tour, and on Friday I start my new job. More about that in my next post.

Tags as collecting behavior

· Design, Information Architecture, Patterns, Searching and Finding, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

When I first started curating the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, I put “tags” near the top of my list of user interaction patterns to investigate. By that time, Yahoo! had already acquired several pioneers in the tagging realm, Flickr and Delicious, and there were some subtle distinctions in how they implemented the experience.

We got down in the weeds on these and did a lot of research, ultimately settled on offering high-level guidance, and finished the patterns in the course of writing the social patterns book, where we filed tagging under the group of patterns known as Collecting, under Social Objects.

Tagging and other forms of collecting are also an example of social design patterns that mimic game dynamics. Collecting objects is a core “easy fun” activity in many games, and similarly these extremely lightweight social interactions around gathering or tagging objects enable a form of self-interested behavior that creates aggregate value and potentially richer forms of engagement.

Our three new tagging patterns are Tag an Object, Find with Tags, and the somewhat controversial Tag Cloud, which some people view as an “anti-pattern.” Drop by, check them out, and let us know if we can make them any better.

Reposted from Patterns: Tag Collection (Yahoo! Developer Network Blog).

New navbar patterns in the Yahoo! library

· Design, Patterns, User Experience, Yahoo!

topnav barOver the past few months I conducted an audit of the patterns in Yahoo!’s internal design pattern library, with an eye toward publishing as many of them as possible in the open library at YDN. Why? Well, for one thing, to get more eyeballs on them, to gather more feedback and keep improving the patterns. Also, since very few patterns in the library contain Yahoo!-specific information, and an alternative process is now in place for vetting requirements specific to the Yahoo! network and brand components, the design pattern collection can now more easily focus on (relatively) universal design principles for web implementations.

I completed the audit before the end of last year and expect to release new patterns in batches over the next few months. Some patterns will be mature and provide a solid foundation for site design. A few will be published as beta patterns which may undergo significant changes in subsequent updates based on feedback received. Regardless of their status, we hope you’ll get involved and review and provide feedback on the patterns provided.

The first batch of patterns to come out from the audit relates to navigation bars. There are three patterns so far in this grouping: Top Navigation, Left Navigation, and Progress Bar. One legitimate question is whether top and left nav bars are still the best or most current way to navigate a site and find content? We still find many examples of them across the web and in use at Yahoo! so for now I’ll say yes, but it’s worth thinking about.

Wherever possible I try to link patterns back to the YUI Library and, where appropriate, to other code and implementation solutions. YUI has great support for navbars and menu examples. Probably the best place to start is the menu widget.

One interesting nomenclature issue we studied was the distinction between a stepwise progress indicator (which is what the pattern is about) and a continuous progress bar (for which there’s a great YUI example). These two things are often referred to with similar names, but perform different functions. Suggestions for more appropriate terminology are welcome.

Please check out these new patterns and let us know what you think!

Reposted from Three new navigation design patterns » Yahoo! User Interface Blog (YUIBlog).

Putting the social in the mobile

· Design, Mobile, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

calder mobile - satelitesMy continuing series of blog posts linking to essays published in our book, well, continues now with Billie Mandel’s Designing Social Interfaces for Mobile, in which she writes:

Contextually speaking, mobile phones are by definition social networking devices. Breaking out of the classic phone/phone book mental model and transforming that experience to include 21st century-style social networking, though – that’s where the fun challenge is for designers. Asking ourselves some mobile-specific questions can lead us as a community to create some exciting, disruptive social interfaces for mobile.

See also her essential list of do’s and don’ts.

(Bit by bit we are making sure all the essays are available online, either hosted on their authors’ blogs or personal websites or in some cases included in the project’s wiki, where we’re maintaining a list of essays.)

Talking social patterns with thriving UX communities in London and Berlin

· Design, Events, Patterns, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

xian in londonA week or so ago I undertook a whirlwind visit to the UK and the Continent, giving two presentations about design patterns and social design, one in London on Tuesday, and another in Berlin on Thursday, each event sponsored by YDN (and the one in Germany co-sponsored by the local IxDA group).

The London event was in a wonderful gallery/cafe venue called Wallacespace filled with a standing-room only crowd. I was pleased to see a couple of friends from the international UX community there and the audience as a whole was wonderful, attentive, and ready with interesting, challenging questions for me when I was done.

Afterward we ate some snacks and drank some beers courtesy of YDN, before heading over to a nearby pub for more beers and conversation. This was my first time back in London in fourteen years and I was impressed by the vibrancy of the web-design community in what may be the “capital” of the Web in Europe.

The next day I headed to Berlin, where a pal picked me up at the airport and helped me get settled in my hotel in Alexanderplatz. It’s actually been 20 years since I was in Berlin! Back then, the Wall had only recently been dismantled and the east was frozen in a sort of time capsule due to economic stagnation. A lot has happened since Berlin reunited and resumed its role as the capital of Germany and arts mecca of Mitteleuropa. In fact, there was a fashion convention going on during my visit, so the airport and hotel were full of people who made me feel, in comparison, more like a geek than a designer.

East Berlin is now full of trendy gentrified neighborhoods. I had lunch at a burrito place (!) called Dolores that’s decorated with maps of the Mission in San Francisco. Clearly the internet-savvy crowd in Berlin feels a kinship with our own community in the Bay Area.

Berlin is also the home of a thriving local Interaction Design Association (IxDA) group, which helped secure the venue for my talk–(Newthinking Store) and helped promote and publicize my talk. I had a chance to meet some longtime virtual acquaintances from the IxD and IA communities in Berlin, such as Jan Jursa, of IATV and the Berlin IA Cocktail Hour.

The Berlin talk was also full, and again I was blessed with a generous and attentive crowd. More great questions. (We did the whole evening in English. Try as I might to speak slowly, I still probably spoke a bit too fast at times but just about all the German I know is noch ein Bier, bitte so it’s just as well.)

One interesting difference between the two groups is that the folks in Berlin asked me more process questions: How was the social design project organized? How did the wiki figure into the writing of the book? What’s an unbook? and so on. The questions in London tended to be more about the efficacy of design patterns in general and the application of social design patterns.

At both sessions, certain attendees had reached out to me in advance over Twitter and proposed questions that they had a chance to ask at the events. In London and again in Berlin I was asked the perennial question about whether the use of design patterns stifles innovation. My traditional answer, “No. Now shut up and do your wireframes!” got a laugh in both settings as well. (My real answer: “Not if they are applied as guidelines and with sensitivity to context.”)

One other curious difference between the two events was that the audience in London had nearly perfect gender balance, whereas the one in Berlin was, by my estimate, about 90% male. I’d like to learn more about what the differences are between the web design and development communities in the two cities that might account for that variance.

I’d like to thank YDN for sponsoring the trip, and O’Reilly Media for providing logistical support (and some copies of the book to give away as rewards for great questions). Interested folks can see my slides on Slideshare:

Several attendees in London took great notes of my talk and published them on their blogs or personal websites, including Jeff Van Campen, Suw Charman-Anderson, Michael Mahemoff, and O’Reilly’s Craig Smith.

Image credit: Jeff Van Campen

via First we take London: The Social Pattern Detective in Europe (Yahoo! Developer Network Blog).