July 11th, 2006
"Visio for Information Architecture and User Interface Design: Beyond Boxes and Arrows"

Minutes of the 7-11-06 meeting of the Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group (RMIUG):
"Visio for Information Architecture and User Interface Design: Beyond Boxes and Arrows"


Microstaff (www.microstaff.com) provides refreshments

Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment

NCAR (www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility

ONEWARE (www.ONEWARE.com) sponsors these minutes.




Upcoming Meetings (2nd Tuesday of every other month)

September 12: The future of online mapping: MapQuest VP will be the speaker.
November 14: Chris Locke (sp?) Cluetrain Manifesto Revisited


Laurie Lamar announced the following:
* Edward Tufte will be offering a seminar July 21 which has sold out.
* HFES (www.rmhfes.org) has a meeting in August on human factors of south Pole expeditions
* AIGA is having Summertoast on August 3.

Job announcements:
* New Media One needs a PHP expert; based in Erie; also SQL Server 2000 administrator.
* Creation Chamber has several positions available: www.creationchamber.com.
* Mapbuzz, a startup near Denver, is looking for an interaction designer for their website. Contract position for 2 months, maybe longer: Contact Charlie Savage cfis@mapbuzz.com.
* TextureMedia is looking for Information Architects. To find out more information, go to www.texturemedia.com
* Architeketure is looking for Java Developers. For more information contact Allen.Ellison@architekture.com
* McKesson looking for an HF/UI design engineer. Keri Nightingale keri.nightingale@mckesson.com
* Whitney Broach, co-manager of the CICSIG (Consulting and Independent Contracting Special Interest Group) of the STC, invited everyone who is independent, to join.
Introduction (Josh Zapin)

Josh turned the meeting over to Laurie Lamar, a consulting information architect and interaction designer. Her projects include search engines, portals, complex web applications, e-commerce websites, and content management systems. Laurie is the chair of the Rocky Mountain CHI.
Laurie Lamar

Visio, Microsoft's ubiquitous diagramming program, enables artistically-challenged people to map complex processes, systems, or interfaces so that they are easy to understand. In the website, web application, and software design world, this could mean things like o Site maps o Storyboards o Interaction diagrams and flow maps o Network topology diagrams o Business Process diagrams

Visio comes with thousands of pre-supplied shapes that we can drag and drop to create meaningful diagrams in seconds.

But, with its open architecture, Visio can do a whole lot more including more productive rapid-prototyping and detailed interface diagramming.

Tonight, Laurie said, we will dig into Visio and learned about how it can do even more for us, as we spec the information architecture and user interface design for websites and web apps.

She suggested that new learners start with the basics and move to more complex features of Visio. She covered the basics quickly. She mentioned that Axure is another tool, but of course, it costs money. She asked audience members to share their knowledge as well, because she acknowledged that she's not a Visio expert. Half the audience does user experience work as their primary work.

Laurie demonstrated Visio professional:
1. Shapes and stencils (if just getting started in user experience, use Jesse James Garrett's diagrams). Find them and others at www.nickfinck.com (Visio shapes available). Elvisioso is another place to find shapes. Using shapes like these is good for mocking up page designs. You can move stuff around without having to redraw it. If you find a shape you like, right click; add it to "My Shapes" and "My Favorites." Visio is excellent for flowcharting and storyboarding, not to use as actual web pages. Laurie recommends Visio as a good means of communicating interaction design or any kind of prototyping.
2. Problems with Visio:
a. She did mention trouble with printing and recommended using a standalone Acrobat to create a PDF and then print.
b. Another drawback is that the page set up only works on the tab you are on.
c. Macros can be turned off through Tools/Options/Security/Macro Security/Button. Macros are usually embedded in the document. You can save them as text. They have the ability to do damage to an open document but probably also can affect other files.
d. Reviewers may not have updated versions of Visio.
e. Sometimes cannot get connectors to work the way you want them to. An audience member demonstrated Viewing connector points (View/Connection Points) and then creating a connection point to glue your arrow to.
3. Laurie demonstrated how to embed files in Visio (based on the work of Nathan Curtis at www.boxesandarrows.com). Create a separate diagram to be embedded in other Visio files. Put your created diagram in a separate Visio document file, and then Insert/Object and link to it. Then you can change the original Visio file and have the changes cascade into all the diagrams as Visio updates the links. You could also create a page with a background with an object in a fixed place. Or you can open the document stencil (Alt V D), go to Masters, go to document stencil, and create an object. You can edit that object and update every instance of it.
4. You can also embed a part of a file (a cropped diagram). Insert/Object/Create from file/Link to it. Then crop what you want; select pointer tool and drag it where you want.
5. Layers 101 (handout to be posted): Suppose you are specing an interaction. Put all annotations in a separate layer. Then through the view menu, you can turn those layers on and off, depending upon who is looking at it; they will still print.
6. Layers 102 (handout to be posted): Bill Scott made a control panel that will automatically show or hide layers when you click on them. This is good for showing a rich Internet interaction. Laurie said to go to www.boxesandarrows.com to look for an article on this (she warned that it is not explained well; she had to reduce the article to steps). Make a chart of every interface element, and give them all a name (like yellow highlight on hover). Then you'll know what step they're in. Then you'll know what layer they should appear on and map out what the layers are. (Audience suggested doing this in PowerPoint(r) as a build.) (Note: Laurie's documents will be posted online at a later date)

The second speaker, Jason T. Williams, demonstrated Intuitect(tm), a Visio add-on to be released in September 2006. Intuitect(tm) offers seamless construction of navigation maps (sitemaps), wireframes, flowmaps, and high-fidelity prototypes.
Intuitect eliminates manual, repetitive "boxes and arrows" tasks, allowing information architects, user experience designers, interaction designers, and other website design professionals to focus on creativity.
o Use the Quick-Site Architect to quickly transform "white board" concepts into high-level navigation (sitemap) diagrams Updates in navigation view cascade through wireframes o Manage and export functional specifications to a variety of audience-appropriate formats including HTML, XML, Excel, or High-fidelity protototype o Save and re-use wireframes in the Wireframe Library.
o Export Intuitect projects to HTML, XML or Excel spreadsheet for validation, content inventories and cross-functional collaboration with your team.

Jason began by showing us the pre-release version of his software. Intuitect has created a visual vocabulary to manage data relations for interactions.
He showed how to define a top-down navigational hierarchy; all elements get automatically indexed.
This makes it easy to quickly define a site map and expose custom properties; the "shape sheet" associated with each object provides insight into the massive database nature of Visio. Every object has properties and events associated with it that you can now see and edit when you run his software in developer mode.

He showed an advanced layers technique. Highlight a node and move it, based on layers. All the layers are managed within the application. Visio is vector-based; this software is pixel-based. Masters are replicable objects that can be used over and over to create a wireframe of a website, and there is a wireframe editor in the software. You can see an inventory of the wireframes to which you can save wireframes.
There will be a library of wireframes in Intuitect.
The first version of Intuitect will be released for Information Architects (IAs); the next version will be more process-flow oriented. Each document can be saved as a template.

This software will support agile development. You will be able to export an Intuitect project file as a hi-fidelity, navigable prototype. He thinks prototypes are a very compelling reflection of client requirements. This becomes your living specification.
Users will be able to export project data to Excel, HTML, Visio, or XML.
Users can also create a project outline to hand off to team members.

Temporary pricing structure is in the $499 range.
There may be free viewers provided with the software (no modifications possible) so that team members without the software can view it.

He recommended an after-market resource: Visio Developers Survival Pack by Graham Wideman. There are also Google Groups; type in "Visio" and locate groups to join.

The IA Institute (http://iainstitute.org/) is probably the single best resource for IA related information because it provides links to other resources.

(Links to Jason's documents are at: www.intuitect.com/products/documents)

Links and resources

Microsoft's Visio website


Rocky Mountain CHI

Laurie Lamar






ACM SIGCHI (The Special Interest Group for Computer Human Interaction) has a free mailing list for anyone interest in usability, interaction design, user interface design, information architecture, and so on. E-mail Laurie Lamar, laurie@laurielamar.com.

RMIUG (www.rmiug.org/) appreciates the sponsorship of MicroStaff (www.microstaff.com), ONEWARE (www.ONEWARE.com) and Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com).

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