Yahoo redesign driven by data

· Design

Mark noticed this Businessweek article on how Yahoo! mined their user-click data to inform the redesign of their home page (How Yahoo! Gave Itself A Face-Lift):

To avoid design by committee, Yahoo deferred almost every decision to an impartial judge: data generated by users’ clicks. “We have this culture of data,” Bhat explains. “It is the biggest enforcer of honesty.” If sales wanted an ad smack dab in the front page’s prime real estate, the company would whip up a page to those specifications, serve it to actual users, and record their clicks. If traffic increased, great. If not, it was back to the drawing board. The refreshed home page went live in September. Now, with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to promote the redesign under way, the company is keen to see whether it has truly created a page based on what users like rather than what Yahoo wants.

Yahoo made a commitment to harnessing its trove of user clicks in 2004 when it acquired DMX Group, a data mining consultancy founded by former Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) researchers. Now called Strategic Data Solutions (SDS), the department has a daunting task: combing through the 10 terabytes of data that Yahoo users generate daily by clicking links (the equivalent of all the text in the Library of Congress), plucking out the relevant bits, compressing it, and storing it. So far, Yahoo has enough user data to fill more than 1,000 Libraries of Congress.
Of course, all that information would be useless without a way to make sense of them. Before Yahoo bought DMX Group, a simple test of how users interact with a page required help from technologists and a month of preparation. Now nearly all employees have access to easy-to-use software tools that can run tests over a few hours or days. Along with providing the tools, the SDS department has worked to spread the gospel of data. “We say: Use data to make decisions. Don’t make decisions based on a fad or what your competitors are doing,'” says Bassel Ojjeh, vice-president for SDS.

To be clear, Yahoo! didn’t rely entirely on data alone to make all of their crucial design decisions:

What Yahoo learned often belied initial impressions. Throughout the redesign, the company used a blend of focus groups, one-on-one interviews, test pages, and data mining. “What people say they want isn’t always what they actually click on,” Bhat says. In focus groups, users consistently said they wanted serious world news. “I don’t want Britney Spears anywhere on my page,” Bhat recalls one user saying. “What if my boss came by and saw?” But when Bhat’s team studied users’ clicks, world news got little attention, while Britney Spears stories ranked among the most heavily trafficked.
The mixed messages led to important insights. In the end, Yahoo kept world news prominent on the front page because users feel secure knowing that it’s easily accessible, even if they don’t often click it. Conspicuous placement also went to entertainment, which draws heavy traffic from people seeking a diversion at work. By contrast, seemingly work-related content such as finance gets ample use in the evening when people pay bills and manage personal portfolios.
Another gem unearthed through data mining: Small changes can make a big difference. The redesign team was excited about a new feature called Personal Assistant, which lets users hover their pointers over icons to see preview boxes of content such as e-mail. “We knew this was going to be the wow’ element of the page,” Bhat says. But the data showed that users were less than wowed. Turns out the preview boxes opened too quickly, an unusual peeve in this caffeinated, wired world. So the team began fiddling with the speed at which the preview boxes appeared and introduced a slight delay. Bingo.
Although Yahoo’s front-page redesign is finished, the testing is not. “There’s always some test running,” Bhat says. “It’s part of our DNA.” Now if only Yahoo could collect as much data about its advertisers’ spending habits.

Design Comments are off for this post.

Hammers vs. saws

· Design

Over at Juxtaprose (just added to our blogroll), Jay Fienberg recently wrote about the danger of making a fetish of any one particular tool in your toolkit:

But, no matter how magical a saw, it’s not so great for the people who need to drive nails. And, it’s not like hammers work and saws don’t – they

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IAI website redesign documents

· Teamwork

I wrote a little blurb for the IAI Newsletter this month introducing the information architecture deliverables we’re using to guide the relaunch of the Institute website:

We’ve all heard the cop out about the cobbler’s children having the worst shoes. Most of us have probably made that excuse about our own neglected personal websites as we spend all our time working for clients or doing paying work. But everyone agrees that the website for the IA Institute needs to be exemplary. It should exhibit solid IA fundamentals, a great user experience, and seamless usability.
We all know that the current site falls short of these targets in several respects. There has been a site redesign project underway as long as I’ve been a member of the Institute. When I joined the board of directors this fall I expressed some interest in the progress of the website relaunch and was rewarded with the role of IT/Web director. I began reviewing the documents associated with the redesign project and was impressed by the depth and thoroughness of the process and deliverables. I suppose that shouldn’t have surprised me, given the core capabilities of so many of our members. (The site relaunch, just like the original site, relies entirely on the volunteer efforts of our members.)
So, in the interests of transparency and as a way of sharing with our stakeholders some insight into the redesign process, we’re including a link to our IA concept documents for the site redesign in this newsletter (and we plan to continue posting our documentation as the project continues to give our membership some visibility into the progress we’re making.)
View the concept map on the IAI website.
Note that these are final deliverables and we are not circulating them to seek amendments or suggestions. The project is well on its way based on these IA documents. We are close to selecting a final design approach and volunteers are busily implementing some of the new technical features and grooming the old site content.
In fact, we are seeking a volunteer to help review and revise the content in the Education section of the site, so if you are interested, please contact Melissa Weaver at volunteer AT iainstitute DOT org to volunteer.
Christian Crumlish,
IAI Board of Directors
Information Technology/Web

The deliverable includes some conceptual maps, some use cases, a navigation map and a set of wireframes. Hat’s off to Wolf Noeding, who created the documents based on research, surveys, and input from the members and board of the Institute.

Teamwork Comments are off for this post.

Polar Bear the third out now

· Information Architecture

Congratulations to Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville on the release of the third edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web!
At a time when people who do information architecture (please don’t call them information architects!) are having yet another one of their many identity crises, questioning the value or the future of their chosen discipline, it’s nice to see the classic Polar Bear book chugging along and updated for the post-millennial, post-dotcom-bust, post-Web 2.0 world.

Selling information architecture

· Information Architecture

A recent discussion on the IA Institute mailing list revolved around selling the value of IA to executives. One reason why we address IA and other user experience concerns within the context of web strategy here at Extractable is because it helps communicate the value of the planning process in terms of aligning with business strategy and goals, something an executive can understand without having to keep up with the latest changes in Internet jargon (user interface design, content strategy, usability, information architecture, user experience, interaction design, customer experience, experience planning, and so on).

This led IAI board member Stacy Surla to point to an article by IAI board member Samantha Starmer on the topic Selling Information Architecture: Getting Executives to Say “Yes”. The whole article is worth reading, of course, but here are Samantha’s top five recommendations to sell IA:

  1. Show the problem (and how you can help fix it): This point seems obvious, but lots of people forget to do it. Instead they go on and on about why information architecture is a good thing….
  2. Benefit the bottom line: You won’t be able to define hard core ROI (return on investment) for every project, but it is important to employ the rigor to think about the benefits of IA or any user focused work from a financial perspective….
  3. Play the politics: Managing politics in an organization is often critical to getting any work accomplished successfully. You will want to figure out how the politics game is played in your organization and how you can enjoy playing it. In many ways, politics is simply thinking about the best ways to get along with different types of people. A few tips:
    1. Pay attention to organizational culture and how decisions are made.
    2. Pick the most important battles.
    3. Talk to the right people at the right time in the right order.
    4. Accept help.
    5. Listen, listen, listen – what you say will be a lot more valuable if you have made a sincere effort to understand other points of view.
  4. Don’t promise a silver bullet:
  5. Pay attention to style: Tailor your style, language and presentation towards the audience you are trying to persuade…. Some people want numbers and data and facts, others prefer verbatim quotes from users, while others respond best to inspirational big-picture vision. Think about who you most need to sell in each pitch and adapt accordingly. This may mean extra preparation, but considering your audience and their needs will be well worth it.

Happy Thanksgiving!