Daniel Brown | Plot the Web course

Web site development documentation might not seem the most exciting of topics, but it is one that developers keep returning to, says consultant Daniel Brown. He may have a point.

Web site development documentation might not seem the most exciting of topics, but it is one that developers keep returning to, says consultant Daniel Brown. He may have a point. Although only released in September, his book, , (New Riders Press) already is generating buzz in the federal Web development community. The book outlines 10 forms of documentation every Web developer should be aware of, from site maps to wireframes (basic drafts of Web pages). In addition to his consulting duties, Brown also helped start the Information Architecture Institute and is involved in chapter meetings in the Washington area. We spoke with Brown about government, Web usability, information architecture and his new book.Brown: I was a federal employee for about two years at the Transportation Security Administration, and then I was contractor for the Postal Service for about a year and then I worked as a contractor for the Federal Communications Commission for little more than a year.When I was a fed, I was more of a project manager. I was responsible for helping stand up the agency's content management system. For the Postal Service and FCC, I was doing more generalized information architecture and user-experience work.Brown: In my mind, old-school usability is something that we are still doing today, and it is only more recent advances in Web technology that allow us to rethink how usability is done. When I say old-school usability, what I mean is putting a bunch of users in front of a prototype in a lab, then cataloging the observations and making recommendations based on those observations.Brown: I think the hard part is that it takes time. I think what we're seeing these days is Web site [managers] trying to be much more incremental in their changes.They try to change [their sites] a little bit each day. They are trying to respond to the user community by actively soliciting feedback. You see this probably most explicitly in this notion of perpetual beta'a Web site that is constantly undergoing changes and keeps forums open to allow people to post comments.I think we can take this a step further. Technologies [that allow us] to follow our users' behaviors online explicitly, and hopefully do real-time testing are becoming more and more inexpensive. [With these approaches] we can test two or three or four different variations on a page.Right now, you see this only on massive Web sites, such as Amazon. You go to the site and suddenly the product page looks different. It is clear that they are testing a new product page. They get enough users where they can make strategic decisions based on data from simple traffic.Brown: For me, the most interesting thing to think about is the government contracting process. At its fundamental level, government contracting is about which budget is money coming from to pay for an endeavor. Modern Web sites try to break down organizational silos, and yet at the very fundamental level in the government contracting process, we see these silos in effect.This is something that happened to me at TSA. I was building systems that served the entire agency and yet it came out of my budget. So I was working with limited resources. It seemed like a system that was fundamentally set up to not encourage that level of collaboration.In the commercial sector, you can say this is coming out of my budget, but it basically serves the bottom line. It is a lot easier to build momentum that way.Brown: What I wanted to do with the book is fill a niche that I didn't see filled. We see a lot of books about the Web design process, project management and creative management, but what I have not seen is a book about the artifacts that emerge out of that process. Whenever you do some shop talk, the first questions are, what kind of deliverables are you working on, what your site maps and wire frames look like?Brown: I think there are a couple of things that happen. [The biggest mistake might be] moving too quickly to design. [You're moving too quickly if] if you don't have a common understanding of who the users are and if you don't have common understanding of the purpose of the Web site. It is very tempting to start documenting Web pages on a white board, but if you haven't thought through the foundation stuff yet, there is really no point to doing it.Another mistake people make is they go in very emotionally attached to their designs. I think everyone in the meeting needs to bring a certain emotional detachment to it, because there is something valuable about the collaborative process. Good ideas emerge when people work together. What will happen is the designer will walk in and be so married to work [already] done [that he or she would be] unwilling to hear new ideas from a documentation point of view.And from a documentation point of view, we see designers are more attached to the documentation than to the overall purpose of the project.Brown: The best way to think about it is that IA is the underlying structure of the Web site. It lays a lot of work for Web design. There's always a need to look at how the content is organized. There is [always] more and more content out there. If you take a snapshot of an information architecture, it will never be able to accommodate the months and years of content that is going to come.

I think what we're seeing these days is Web sites [managers] trying to be much more incremental in their changes.'

Rick Steele

Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning

GCN: Tell us about your government experience.





GCN: In your blog, you talk about how you still see 'old-school usability' in government. What is that?



GCN: It sounds awfully expensive and time-consuming. ...








GCN: So is there a fundamental difference between working on a government site and working on a corporate site?







GCN: Why write a book about documentation?



GCN: What are the biggest mistakes people make in Web site design meetings?







GCN: What is information architecture?

NEXT STORY: Supply on the fly

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.