Friday, January 25, 2013

Context is king in signage

I have started a new project recently. It is a very lkarge one - about 30 work packages, lots of people and significant complexity. As with all endeavors, we have to learn the landscape and learn it fast. After all we are paid to be productive, not to learn. Similarly when we get to a new city, we have the objectives (conflicting at times) of finding the hotel and learning the city.
The big aha observation is that all sign posts are created by people who know where they are. They are not necessarily created for those who want to find things. That's (perhaps) why we have maps and why navigation using something like Google maps works so well. But I digress.

On this project, the work packages are imaginatively numbered wp101, wp102.. up to wp120 for the first release. And then wp201... for the second. Work packages have calendar based deadlines. And of course we have times of day to worry about too. Especially during the work day/early afternoon.

So when there is a conversation in WP116 saying we need to move "that" to 220 what do we mean? Is it move it to wp220? Is it to move the due date out to Februaray the twentieth? Or should it be discussed at the 2:20pm status meeting?

Of course when you have the context, you have enough metadata to figure it out. But when you are a stranger in project land, it requires considerable mental energy to figure it out. The signposts (220 in this case) are used by the people who know, and those of us trying to use them for direction scramble to keep up.

On projects like these, it is not so much of an issue. But in the "real" world, putting yourself in the mind of all of the user constituencies is important. Is this sign put there because the law says we have to have signs? Is it to help natives who need to find quick alternate routes? Is it to embrace strangers/visitors? All of the above?

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