My Favourite Podcasts

RSS feed sign with headphonesI have become a firm fan of podcasts over the last couple of years, and listen to a lot in the area of software and web development. So in the manner of blog posts that list things, here is my list of favourite podcasts (in no particular order).

You will see that many of them are focused on User Experience (UX) or Design rather than being straight BA podcasts.  This is because the BA podcasts I have tried have not been nearly as engaging, interesting, or thought-provoking as the UX/Design ones.  Also there aren’t nearly as many of them.  I find the UX side of web development really fascinating.  The intersection between  psychology and user interaction is such an evolving field, and I find that a lot of the concepts I learn from these podcasts are very applicable to my BA’s work and how I approach a project for a client. Anyway, enough waffle, here’s the list:

UIE Brain Sparks – Jared Spool

  • SpoolCast – My favourite podcast.  Jared Spool is a godfather of web usability and user research and he interviews various UX and Usability professionals.
  • Userability – Jared and Robert Hoekman answer questions from listeners.
  • Revealing Design Treasures from the Amazon.   This is one of the best of the bunch, Jared gives a conference talk on the design secrets of Amazon. Genius, and funny.

I.A. Podcast – Jeff Parks

  • Primarily about Information Architecture (IA), but a wide variety of guests from different backgrounds and different specialties and perspectives.
  • See this episode on Agile and the User Experience.

Boxes and Arrows

  • Again an IA focus, but very design centric also.  The best part of this podcast series is they post all the talks and sessions from the IA Summit that happens every year, and there are some really fascinating speakers.
  • Check out the key-note speaker Dan Roam from the 2010 IA Summit, I really enjoyed this one –

Boagworld Web Design – Paul Boag & Marcus Lillington

  • I may just like this because it is English and I get to top up my accent, but it is also very relaxed and engaging and I love the split between web news and interviews. It’s also funny.

The Big Web ShowDan Benjamin and Jeffrey Zeldman

  • They have very interesting guests, and it is live streamed.  I think Dan Benjamin is a very natural presenter and has great questions, I listen to his other show also, The Pipeline (see below).  The co-host, Jeffrey Zeldman, is not so natural, however he is a powerful presence in the industry as he started A List Apart and works for Happy Cog and often has poignant things to say, although he doesn’t always say it at the right time, and it can interrupt the flow of the conversation.

The PipelineDan Benjamin

  • An interview show typically with web entrpreneurs who are always really intelligent, well spoken, well read, and basically interesting and succesful people.
  • Try out this show with Jeffrey Veen (who started Adaptive Path as we ll as a myriad of other successful ventures).

37 Signals Podcast – Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

  • An awesome Chicago company responsible for products such as Basecamp. They are passionate about creating usable products, and have firm opinions on entrepreneurs and start-up web companies who actually have a business model and can make money. Dare to dream 🙂
  • It’s not a podcast but check out the “Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud” series starting with the interview with the guys from Campaign Monitor

Think VitaminKeir Whitaker, Ryan Carson, Mike Kus

  • I’ve only listened to a couple of these but I enjoyed them. They do get in to more codey speak occassionally, but they are also great designers.

You Look Nice TodayAdam Lisagor, Scott Simpson, Merlin Mann

  • Just hilarious. Not web, or design, or in fact focused on anything at all. Three friends shooting the shit.
  • Merlin Mann started 43 Folders which is one of the original productivity sites.

TED Talks

  • Just because they’re awesome. Podcast

  • The only BA focussed podcast that I still occasionally listen to, worth checking out.

Agile Toolkit – Bob Payne

  • This looked really promising when I first found it, but after listening to a few, it always seemed like Bob was interviewing success stories for his Agile coaching, and the discussion was too specific to one company or situation.  It was kind of like listening to a really long in-joke you would never get unless you were there at the time.  However some of the new episodes look interesting so I may try it again.

dConstruct 2009 – Various

  • A conference run every year by the Clearleft web design agency in the UK.  They have posted all the talks from the 2009 conference as podcasts and they are really fascinating.

I hope you enjoy these as much as me. I’d love to hear your comments.


My Favourite Podcasts

Great slide shows from Pathfinder

I came across these two great presentations about Agile on the Pathfinder blog, which is something I check from time to time being an Agile development shop in Chicago.

The first slide show is about integrating design in to the Agile process.  Something that is not really addressed in the Agile Manifesto, and is something I have posted about before.  It is critical area for Agile BA’s to address because the dive in and deliver functional code approach of Agile is great, but can lead to a very haphazard design with no clear vision.

The second one on Writing User Driven Requirements just really helped bring me back again to always thinking about the user.  I am certainly prone to thinking about business needs, or developer/technology constraints only, but the user should always stay front and center.

Great slide shows from Pathfinder

Does the BA look at the user experience?

Website Prototype; you can't beat paper for starters
A paper website prototype

Just a quick follow up to my last post which aimed to gather comments clarifying a couple of points.  What are the key functional differences between the BA and Information Architect (IA) roles, and how the split falls between requirements gathering and user centered design (UCD).

I am an avid listener to the Spoolcast podcast from User Interface Enginerring (UIE).  It is really informative and Jared Spool always has some great guests discussing UCD and UX topics. One of the recent guests, Todd Zaki Warfel, was talking about prototyping experiences, and during this discussion he touched on the very same role definition issue. Jared at one point posed the question to Todd, does the BA in even look at the user experience? This brought up some interesting points I wanted to share.

Todd felt that the BA’s typical remit on a project was functionality.  What functional requirements does the product need to fulfil.  So although the BA is involved in the design of prototypes, he saw these as being on the wireframe, boxes and arrows, Visio end of the spectrum. A prototype designed to show that the functional requirements elicited from the users and stakeholders will be met, and visually how those functions will look, in their rawest form.

However an Information Architect or User Interface Designer will approach building the prototype by trying to take it that much closer to the final look and feel of the site will be.  Again the functionality will be there, but there would be more care and attention to the usability and user experience with the site.  He also felt that the designer would be more willing to take a risk and create something very new, whereas the BA may be more inclined to stick to existing structures.  He used the specific example of the designer adding AJAX type aspects to their prototypes.

I certainly think that makes sense and although every BA and IA role will vary from company to company and project to project, I can see this line holding true the majority of times.  It does also back up my contention that in fact there is a fine line between the BA role and the UCD process and that the two sides could easily be joined if necessary.  This provides excellent room for growth in a BA’s armory if they can bring in valuable usability and user design techniques and perspectives to the requirement’s gathering remit. Particularly when expressing those requirements visually, which always seems to be the best way to really engage the stakeholders in the requirement’s process as they start to see the result to all the questioning.

Does the BA look at the user experience?

Business Analyst or Information Architect?

Which way to go?
Information Architect or Business Analyst? Which way to go?

This post from Paul Culmsee at tapped in to something that has rattled around my head for a while.   My career aim is to work as a Business Analyst in software development.  I pursued this role whilst still in my old career as I understood that the BA role most closely fulfilled the idea I had of being a bridge between the business and technology.  Not that being the business-IT bridge was an original idea, but it was the basis from which my new career direction has sprung.  As my knowledge has grown and I have moved in to a semi-BA role (I say semi because half of my role falls under customer service and training), my horizons are expanding and so has my confusion about where the BA fits in to a project and the role they play. It seems the simple answer is that the BA role is however that particular company, or project, defines it.  There are common threads of course, the requirements gathering function being the key one, but other tasks and responsibilities float around the position, liable to be cherry picked from organization to organization, project to project.  These include PM responsibilities, testing, product strategy and many more.  The question I am throwing out to the blogging ether is does it stretch in to the usability and information architecture realm also?

For lack of a better description, this last month I have been gripped, reading and learning about usability, user centered design, user experience and information architecture.  As mentioned before, my Interaction Design course at DePaul has really kickstarted this frenzy, but also in working with my friend at, and some possible usability testing and website analytics work I will be doing for them.  I think the user focussed and user centered design (UCD) methods are intriguing and certainly something I would like to get involved with.   But how do Business Analysts fit in with these methods and roles?

The main reason I ask is that Requirements Gathering is a key part of UCD, as it is for BA’s, so are there BA’s out there who are usability specialist BA’s?  Or does the requirements gathering neatly split between user requirements to the usability specialist and the business requirements to the BA?  I see how that may be possible with a consumer/public facing product but when the software is for internal use, the user is the business. Who takes the requirements then?  It also seems that the usability focused requirements gatherer takes those ideas further down the design path, creating conceptual designs and wireframes to encapsulate the requirements, rather than the BA method of perhaps mapping data flow, artifacts or business processes and documenting the requirements in a traditional style.  However use cases and stories are used on both sides……

Lets just say I am a little confused.

Which moves me on to the Information Architect role.  The idea of this position seems perfect based on my interests.  From the outside looking in, I see the role like the usability focussed BA .  It does not fall directly under the creative or graphic design umbrella of software development, so I do not need engage my non-existent artistic side, but looks instead at getting more involved in the layout and structure of the site, mapping the user requirements to software functionality.  In that way it seems like a more fulfilling, engaging and strategic position that enables you to put in to action the requirements gathering and understanding work you have done, and structuring the sites information. I particularly like this quote from The Information Architecture Institute(IAI) website:

Jeffrey Veen, Adaptive Path and author, The Art And Science Of Web Design
“I’ve found information architecture serves business as a development process as much as a discipline for structuring content. IA demands a clear understanding of how content can connect customer goals with business objectives. And regardless of medium, that’s the definition of success.”

I love this idea, but as I said I am on the outside looking in, and as Paul Culmsee’s post says, the name of a role can be little more than group of people getting together and forming a club.  So is what I described anywhere close to what an Information Architect does?

My research will continue, the Information Architecture book from Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville seems like a good place to start and there is a good reading list on the IAI website, but any suggestions and input will be gladly accepted.

Help me if you can.

Thanks for reading.

Business Analyst or Information Architect?

Mobile User Experience Design


Last night we had a guest lecturer, Alfred Lui, in the HCI: Interaction Design course I am taking at DePaul University as part of my Masters in Business & Information Technology program and it was FASCINATING.  Alfred is a Sr. User Experience Designer at Motorola in the Mobile Phone area, and worked on the Cliq you see in the picture.  It was really great to see someone who has built a career focussed on creating innovative and exciting user experiences with consumer products.  Particularly mobile products which is such a buzzing area, with a lot of innovation as everyone scrambles to be the iPhone destroyer!

His lecture was on Emotions in UX Design, and I will not re-hash his presentation and devalue the message.  However I was intrigued by his discussion of work from Ravi Chitturi’s research about Hedonostic and Utilitarian trade-offs when purchasing a product.  He discussed how, if you buy a product because it is cool but only quite usable, but definitely very cool, it results in happy, joyful emotions.  You may even brag to your friends or blog about the experience.  If it turns out that it is NOT cool the emotions are more likely guilt or anxiety at having spent money unwisely, or because you were tricked in to an incorrect purchase by superficial bells and whistles.  Whereas with the utilitarian product with a usability focus, if that does not live up to these high expectations of usability and utility, the emotion-meter can swing quickly to anger and displeasure.  It just did not do what it said on the tin (you need to be from the UK to get that link reference 🙂 If the product is usable and satisfies it’s utility objectives, then you will be pleased no doubt.  However will you brag or blog about that experience?  Will that product command brand loyalty in an economy brimming with new products and ideas?

This is what fascinates me. We need designers and innovative people to push a product or consumer space forward in to a new realm.  But a basic usability study, or a Business Analyst speaking to users and stakeholders, gathering requirements, will be naturally blinkered by the users own blinkered view on the product space.  To create passionate and engaging products, be they physical or digital, you must be prepared to risk usability and requirement requests, in pursuit of something beyond what could possibly be achieved by sticking to the obvious.

What an awfully tricky, but exciting line to be on!!

This course has really opened my eyes to the world of usability, user centered and user experience design, and I have to say I am hooked.  It feels like an area I am already passionate about and I am only just scraping the surface.  A novice looking in to a new world.  I am now looking at how the Business Analyst role ties in with usability teams. Do they work together, or can a Business Analyst be directly involved in this area?  Particularly in small companies where the budget does not stretch to a BA and UCD expert.

I have been talking with my good friend Jan Booy over at web design agency Booyant and I will be getting involved with some basic web usability tests, so more blogging to come on that soon.

Thanks Alfred!

Mobile User Experience Design