UIEtips Article: Discovering Web App Structure: A Discussion with Hagan Rivers

Jared Spool

November 10th, 2006

UIEtips 11/10/06: Discovering Web App Structure: A Discussion with Hagan Rivers

It seems like yesterday, but I first met Hagan Rivers ten years ago, in Vancouver, BC at the annual SIGCHI Conference. (She was Hagan Heller then, but the same bubbly personality she is today.) We were both tutorial instructors for that program and she (and a colleague from Apple) had put together an amazing session, comparing the construction techniques of dozens of web sites. She’d attracted a huge audience who, like me, thought the session had rocked.

At the time, Hagan was working for Netscape. Web-based applications of any complexity were rare — most of the sites of the time were information repositories with the occasional shopping cart and checkout application. So, she focused her interests in juxtaposing one design alternative against another, looking at how real sites tackled real problems.

This was a huge influence in our work at UIE, as we were just starting to look at the web at that time. It was shortly after hearing Hagan’s presentation that we started doing usability tests of different sites, looking for behavioral patterns and spawning most of the research efforts you see from us today.

Since then, Hagan married her tutorial co-instructor, David Rivers, started a family, and founded Two Rivers Consulting. She’s kept her interest in web design, but has focused primarily on web-based applications. Now, she’s using her keen eye to collect and contrast the different design alternatives for web apps.

Hagan is a walking encyclopedia of web app design ideas. We were lucky enough to convince her to start putting some of her thoughts in report form, the first of which we’ve just released: The Designer’s Guide to Web Applications, Part I: Structure and Flows. This is the first of many reports you can expect from Hagan over the next few months, each one looking at a different aspect of web app design, tapping into her incredible knowledge and insight. These will be must-have reports for anyone creating applications over the internet.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Hagan about her first report. It was a fun discussion, talking about how she’s come up with the concepts in the report, such as hubs, interviews, and her technique for diagramming the structure of web apps. We recorded the conversation and created a transcript. Both are now available at the UIE Brain Sparks Audio Library.

For today’s UIEtips, we have the transcription of my discussion with Hagan. To keep true to the original discussion, we’ve only made minor edits

Read today’s UIEtips article.

Are you having problems with the structural design of your web application? Have you come up with a way to diagram the elements of your web application? Share your thoughts and experiences with us and join the conversation in the comments below.

[Overcoming the challenges of web-based applications is exactly why we've put together the UIE Web App Summit, in Monterey, CA on January 21-23, 2007. We've assembled an amazing team of speakers, all of whom have overcome some significant challenges in some very creative ways. You don't want to miss out. See the summit website for more details.]

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