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How Does the Genealogy Community View Design?

Friday, 21 Dec 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Ideas. Design. Experience. Innovation. It seems that those words are continually bouncing around in my head. I am fascinated by them. They motivate me. Sometimes they frustrate me.

Two books that I have been reading lately help bring order to the words swarming in my mind. These books are “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design” by Bill Buxton and “About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design” by Alan Cooper, et al.

The first diagram in Chapter 1 of “About Face 3” shows the four evolutionary levels of the software development process:

 

Level 1

Software Development Process - Level 1

This first level is how many software companies start out. It’s the “two guys in the garage” scenario. The programmers see an opportunity or have an idea that is within their real of knowledge. They spend hours developing it and do some testing as they go along. When it is “good enough”, they ship it.

Level 2

Software Development Process - Level 2

The next level adds one or more managers that likely have knowledge of a particular market. It is their job to understand the opportunities and define software requirements which the programmers then build.

Level 3

Software Development Process - Level 3

As things progress, a more formalized Quality Assurance process is defined. When bugs are found, they are sent back to development to fix. When the application passes QA, then a Graphic Designer gives feedback on UI elements, icons, colors. But this design approach is more of an afterthought.

Level 4

Software Development Process - Level 4

The final level shows user input early in the process before development begins. Interaction Designers or User Experience Designers work with users to understand needs and goals. Programmers provide feedback to Designers as to technical feasibility. The design is provided to the programmers to build the software. Part of passing QA is meeting these design specs. Users play a key role at both ends of the development process.

In my career, I have seen these four levels. In thinking about the organizations that ship genealogy software, I wonder which level most closely matches where they are. I would be very interested in surveying all these organizations (even anonymously) to better understand the current state of genealogy software.

Over the last year, I have come across at least two organizations that have advertised job openings for Interaction Designers: MyFamily.com (part of The Generations Network) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If they are seeking Interaction Designers, does that mean they are practicing at level 4?

How are other genealogy software organizations doing? What are they doing about design? Do we really need designers anyway?

Continued on next post

The Future of Genealogy Software is not “Hard to See”

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Many years ago I was (incorrectly) singing the words to the song, “Que, Sera, Sera” and my wife pointed out my humorous mistake.

Instead of singing:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

I sang:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not hard to see

This personal joke has been used many times since then and has never failed to deliver a cheerful effect.

I think that the author and design leader, Bill Buxton, would agree that the “future’s not hard to see.” In his book, “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design,” Bill stresses the importance of looking at least 5 years down the road when designing user experiences and adds:

Now most people say that you cannot predict the future, much less five years out. They use this as an excuse for not making the effort, or even contemplating it. I believe that this reflects a lack of training, technique, or responsibility on the part of design or management. (page 209)

He then goes on to quote William Gibson from an NPR interview on 30 November 1999:

… the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.

Buxton gives two examples. The first computer mouse was built in 1964 but didn’t reach widespread use until about 1995 – 30 years later. The idea for the CD came around 1965 but it wasn’t until 25 years later in 1990 that the industry reached $1 billion. From idea, to design, to prototype, to first production, to ubiquity takes time.

Bill then makes this statement that I would like us to consider:

If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old. (page 215)

Innovation Future Timeline

 This made me wonder if this could be applied to genealogy software. What has happened over the last 10 years that could affect the design and innovation of genealogy software over the next 10 years?

At first nothing came to mind, but then I thought of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, “Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian” which was published in 1997. In 2007, the much expanded “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace” was released. We are now beginning to see specific examples of Elizabeth’s work showing up in genealogy software. In a podcast interview by Dick Eastman, Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens indicated that the software Clooz version 2.x was influenced by handouts she received from Elizabeth Shown Mills. Another example is from a podcast by DearMYRTLE where she interviews Geoff Rasmussen about Legacy version 7. In this interview, Geoff gives a sneak peek of one of the major new features which is source citation following the standard set by Elizabeth Shown Mills. There is still much work that needs to be done in this area such as online databases providing better source citations. I talk about this in my previous post about Jumping Curves. So you see, the future is not so hard to see.

Another area that I want to point out is the Genealogical Proof Standard which was also created in 1997 by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Other than its use in the certification process, you don’t hear much about it. But this standard is useful to researchers of all levels to help them get as close to the truth as possible. At some point genealogy software designers and developers will realize this and incorporate it into future genealogy software.

There are probably many more examples of ideas, technology, and methodology that exists today that will help us better see the future of genealogy software.

What things should be added to this list?

As a genealogy community, I hope we aren’t thinking:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

Share your thoughts as the future is ours to see.  I hope that is not hard to see.

Innovations in Family.Show: Family Tree Diagram

Monday, 6 Aug 2007 | by Mark Tucker

In July, I introduced the Family.Show genealogy sample application.  One of the first things that you notice when you start Family.Show is that it doesn’t look like other genealogy applications.  The black gradient background and rollovers show that a graphic designer has been at work here.  After creating or opening a file you notice the main window with its clear graphics and animation.  Selecting a person on the family tree marks them as the active person and the diagram updates to show spouses, children, siblings, parents as well as additional ancestors and descendants.

Family.Show Family Tree diagram

The selected person is marked with a star and includes name, birth year, death year, and age.  Any spouse is marked blue and is joined with a solid green line that shows the marriage year.  If the couple is divorced then the line is dashed and includes the divorce date.  This image shows that Charles and Diana were married in 1981 and divorced in 1992 with Charles’ marriage to Camilla occuring in 2005. 

 fshow2.jpg

 I like how this family tree contains a lot of information but is still easy to understand.  If the person is deceased, then the figure is outlined instead of solid.  If a person has one or more children entered then an arc with small figures indicates this.  Following the lines from a person shows ancestors and descendants.  All direct-line ancestors and descendents are shown in red while siblings and collateral lines show in yellow.  You can move the diagram around with the mouse and use the zoom slider in the bottom right to change the diagram’s size. 

One of the most innovative features is the Time Explorer. This simple slider controls the year that the diagram uses to show the family tree.  Moving the slider changes the age of people and dims marriages and births that haven’t yet occurred.

fshow3.jpg fshow4.jpg

These are the main features of the family tree included in Family.Show.  There are still more innovations in the application to explore.

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