UIEtips: In Which a Concept Model Makes Me Giddy

Jared Spool

March 4th, 2009

For almost ten years, the research team at UIE has been searching to uncover the secrets behind great designs. As we talk to team after team, a key truth continues to emerge: The best teams communicate internally really well, while those teams that struggle also struggle at their internal communication.

When we think of a team that communicates, the first things that comes to mind are hallway conversations, meetings, and emails. But, as our research continues to show, are only a part of the communication puzzle.

It turns out that one of the differences between the successful teams and the struggling teams is their use of diagrams and maps. Struggling teams almost always try to communicate important design ideas through talking or word-based documents, while the successful teams put a heavy emphasis on diagrams.

Often times, these diagrams become living documents — things the team revisits and updates frequently. And it’s the process of discussing and modifying that makes the inherent design concepts clear.

In today’s article, In Which a Concept Model Makes Me Giddy, Dan Brown shares with us one of his favorite diagramming tools: The Concept Map. Dan, who wrote the now classic book, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning, recommends concept maps to help team members visualize the relationships between a design’s components and the people who use it. Whether you are new to concept maps or have been using them in your work for a while, I think you’ll find Dan’s thinking behind them as fascinating as I do.

I’m really excited about Dan’s full-day seminar at the UIE Web App Summit. His session, Communicating Design: Essential Deliverables for Highly Effective Design Teams, is sure to be one of the audience favorites. You don’t want to miss this hit session.

Have you tried concept maps for your team? Have you discovered ways to communicate through diagrams? Share your experiences with us below.

6 Responses to “UIEtips: In Which a Concept Model Makes Me Giddy”

  1. Mike Brockington Says:

    Well, I can see why it made you giddy – I spent five minutes trying to find the ‘Starting Point’ before I gave up and began to try and understand the content.

    Maybe that is just me though – are non-techies happier to live with non-linear diagrams?

  2. Arjan`s World » LINKBLOG for March 4, 2009 Says:

    [...] UIEtips: In Which a Concept Model Makes Me Giddy – Jared Spool ‘ It turns out that one of the differences between the successful teams and the struggling teams is their use of diagrams and maps ‘ [...]

  3. Dan B Says:

    I’m with you. Like I said, not my best model. Good models don’t necessarily have a starting point, but they should have a “nucleus” that makes it clear what the core concepts are. (I’ll have some better examples to share in the workshop.)

    One of the reasons concept models are so important is that they help designers try to bridge the gap between reality (messy, chaotic, reactive) and a system which tries to model reality in an orderly way. Concept models, with their inherent flexibility, allow us to visualize domains which don’t necessarily have starting points and ending points. (Compare this to flow charts which, I would argue, *must* have a beginning and end.)

    Perhaps the fun of a concept model is that you can start on any node and see how it relates to other concepts in the domain. Or perhaps I’m just weird that I find that fun.

  4. Joe Grant Says:

    Single-threaded decision-making drives me crazy… really! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left meetings where people just slam their opinions through without decent consideration of alternatives. I don’t know yet if mind mapping is the same thing (need to read Dan’s article!), but it’s very refreshing to hear this advice… AND to hear it apparently makes a key difference between success and failure. Thanks! Joe Grant

  5. Dynamic Diagrams : Information Design Watch : Successful teams don’t communicate only with words Says:

    [...] interesting excerpt from Jared Spool’s blog, on successful design teams and diagrams: For almost ten years, the research team at UIE has been [...]

  6. Chris Cavallucci Says:

    We’ve recently started using MindManager from http://mindjet.com/ for several different projects. Our time spent on site mapping and concept mapping is much, much less than what it used to be while dealing with Illustrator and Visio. So far, it feels like a natural extension of our traditional creative, IA, and UX work.

    I created a concept map of two applications for a financial services client — it has two main branches, each one representing an application. The nodes in the map represent navigation options/menus,features, or components within a page. I quickly tagged 86 of the 139 nodes in the map and easily linked to annotated screens to illustrate where I found usability issues. Of course it would be better to show you the map :) Sorry I can’t do it at this time.

    We printed and laminated the map so that it’s about 4 feet wide. Now we can collaborate with our client using dry erase markers, sketches, etc. The map will help us discuss the applications and fuse the best qualities of each app into a new prototype.

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