Category Archives: Website Design

Stuff about building websites.

Goodbye IMDb, hello…

kilbo-logo…independent consulting practice & stealth startup!

I’m incredibly excited to announce that I am now a freelance consultant specializing in customer & user experience analysis, and information & content architecture for mobile applications and the web.

For the past eleven years, I’ve had the privilege of working at two of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies in the world, Amazon (IMDb) and Microsoft. Combined, the products I’ve worked on have over 100MM downloads for Android and iOS, and over 300MM website visitors a month. It’s been exhilarating and humbling to work on properties at that scale with some wicked smart people.

But for a few years now I’ve been wanting to get back to working for myself and have the flexibility to be around more for my kids. After a year working with my IMDb colleagues to set a new information architecture, apply a new Material design, and get the wheels turning on development, (launching soon-ish!) it’s now time to strike out on my own.

So, if you know anyone that needs help tuning up or launching an app or website, I’d really appreciate a referral! The best way to contact me is through my LinkedIn profile at

And, because I also miss my startup roots, I’m also incubating a new company. Over the winter I’ll be working on the business plan and expect to be ready to scale and launch the new idea in the first quarter of 2017.

Stay tuned!

My team @IMDb is hiring!

The team I’m on at IMDb is hiring for two positions; the first is a Technical Program Manager and the second is for a Product Manager, (that job hasn’t yet been posted.)

Both are out of our South Lake Union Seattle office and Amazon helps cover relocation expenses if hired.

If you’re interested in working on a property that over 250 million people interact with every month, let me know and I’ll connect you with the respective hiring managers for more details!

The Office Developer Center Redesign

My team, in conjunction with partners across Microsoft, shipped a new Office Developer Center experience at this morning.

The New Office Developer Center

The New Office Developer Center

I’m incredibly proud of the work we all did. This was a hugely complex project that saw us combine six different developer centers into one, consolidate a little over 200 pages down to 24, re-write every single page, and simultaneously reset the global experience across 11 languages.

This was arguably the most challenging project I’ve worked on here at Microsoft and presented the thorniest information architecture problem I’ve ever encountered.

The Office family of products spans multiple products with their own hierarchies of brands and tasks for developers. At the top level, there is Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync. Within Office alone there is Access, Excel, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, Publisher, Visio, and Word. Microsoft is also asking developers to write apps for Office and for SharePoint, and the development details are a bit different between Office and SharePoint. Add in Office 365 service content, and you have many different pivots you could apply.

Then we had to consider that we’re always balancing between the past, present, and future when we’re talking about development. There is a huge audience of developers who have written code to older versions of Office, a smaller set that’s targeting the current version, and then Microsoft is trying to guide developers to be set up for the future evolution of the platform.

The challenge here boiled down to: what information architecture would expose the breadth and depth of the product offerings, feature current and future development options, and not alienate developers targeting previous versions?

We had many, long discussions around the right pivots here, and in the end we decided to stick with the top-level product names as the main pivots for the navigation, and placed app development messaging on pages where it was product-relevant.

How’d we do?

Websites as Performance Art

My team is currently hard at work on re-architecting the Office Developer Center on MSDN and in preparation, we dug through reams of data to help inform decisions around pages and links we’d retain in the new site. Now that we’re down to the brass tacks of creating pages and starting to see the overall site experience start to jell, we’re at the natural part of the project where the anxiety level is starting to creep up.

The anxiety manifests as questions.

Did me make the correct decisions? Were we looking at the right telemetry data? Did we interpret it correctly? Is there any other customer feedback we can get our hands on? Did we overlook any internal stakeholder input? What have we missed? What should a download graphic look like? Am I going to lose my job if we ship this? Who is going to most pissed off that we moved their cheese?

But then I take a deep breath and remind myself that web sites are like performance art. You practice and practice your art in private, and then finally reveal yourself in public. Sometimes you have the right art, in the right place, with the right audience, at the right time, and everything is magical. Or you just bomb, and you head back to the drawing board.

In any event, you adapt and change, hoping for the magic to occur as often as possible.

I still worry about bombing though.

I’m coming to realize that when you’re operating at scale like Microsoft does, and applying the 80/20 rule of targeting the needs of the 80%, that the sheer size of the 20% is a dauntingly large audience.

So we take more deep breaths, and practice, and practice some more. We’re sure you’ll tell us what we did right and what we screwed up.

The Redesigned Visual Studio Developer Center

If you’re a frequent visitor to the Visual Studio Developer Center on MSDN, you’ll notice that we just switched things around a bit. Okay, quite a lot, actually!

We’ve fundamentally changed the information architecture of the site, implemented a regular page pattern for non-Library pages and significantly shrunk the number of non-Library pages on the site.

Information Architecture Changes

Over the past six months, my team and I have been looking closely at site metrics around page views, clicks on pages, survey and other site feedback, and other data available to us around how developers use the site. What emerged from that noise of data were some clear signals about how the site was being used and we’ve tried our best to respond with updated site navigation and content organization.

The most obvious change is in the site navigation:

The Old Visual Studio Developer Center Header Navigation

The New Visual Studio Developer Center Header Navigation

The Old Visual Studio Developer Center Footer Navigation

The New Visual Studio Developer Center Footer Navigation

The biggest change is moving from eight items to six and the addition of sub-navigation links.

What went away were top-level links to Support and Downloads.

The Support link was rarely clicked and the page itself did not receive that much traffic, so that was an easy choice. On the other hand, the Downloads navigation link was consistently the most-clicked link in the header navigation and surfaced as a top task on the site as a whole.

So why remove Downloads from the site navigation? It seems counter-intuitive to do so. In the old model we had a dedicated downloads page that aggregated links to most of the popular or key downloads and these links spanned Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server. Finding the download you were looking for involved skimming a few dozen links and if you didn’t find it, you were pretty much stuck performing a site search or going back to your favorite Internet search engine.

In the new model, downloads are now part of the page-level information architecture as a regular link block, appear on every page, are scoped to the topic of the page they appear on, and usually provide an “all downloads” link that takes you to the Microsoft Download Center. I’m very curious what you think of this change, since it’s a big one.

Other visible changes of note are changing Library to Documentation, Learn to Languages, and the addition of sub-navigation links.

Library, as a term, has specific connotations for developers in general and Microsoft developers in particular. To avoid potential confusion for non-Microsoft developers and in the interest of clarity, changing to Documentation more accurately reflects what you can expect to find behind that link.

When we looked at the data around Learn, it was clear that developers were looking for language-specific learning resources more than anything. In fact, wherever we had a language learning link, it often was the most-clicked link on the page. By elevating Languages to the top-level navigation, we’re hoping that when you come in to the site via search, which many of you do, you’re now only a click away from those language learning resources.

The reasons behind the addition of sub-navigation items were twofold: more clearly represent the lower-level structure of the reorganized site in the header and provide a sitemap like experience in the footer. Hopefully this will help with the, “Where the heck is ‘foo’?”

Under the hood and not so obviously, the navigation now reflects the underlying content information architecture that pivots around products, samples, languages, extensions, documentation and community. Each one of these “buckets” now only contains content aligned with it, whereas before we had all sorts of stuff spread across the entire site.

Regular Page Pattern

I’m a strong believer that regularized page patterns assist repeat site visitors and that placing things in standard spots reduces the cognitive burden of analyzing a page for the task you are trying to complete. Prior to today, we had pages that more or less followed a handful of page patterns, and several that were freeform designs. If you had picked five pages at random from the site and examined their functional layout, chances are none of them would have matched.

As much as possible, (there are always exceptions,) we have a single page pattern across the site:

The New Page Pattern

As much as possible, we have contextualized the links in the right-hand column to provide the most-requested downloads and link you to places that make the most sense when coming from this page.

I’m hoping that if you’re a frequent visitor of the site, you’ll be able to more quickly find what you’re looking for, because now things will always be in the same place on the page.

Page Reduction

How many web pages does a website need? It depends.

In the case of Visual Studio, we had around 323, give or take a handful. The traffic graph yielded a curve like this, with the long tail being very flat when you looked out to the end:

When I see something like this across hundreds of pages, I naturally ask, “What are those pages that aren’t getting much traffic and do we need them?” As we clicked through each page of the site, what we discovered was that most of them were very out of date or had been shimmed into the site to solve some short-term need and then forgotten. Others were important to internal, company stakeholders but uninteresting to customers.

After careful deliberation, we’ve removed and redirected hundreds of pages. The site is now about 80 pages, which we’re going to be continually working on driving down to under 50. The core site, which you directly access via the navigation and sub-navigation elements, is 11 pages.

By doing this, we’re hoping that your search experience just become a whole lot better. Fewer pages with completely re-written, focused content limited to a single topic should provide better search engine results than many diffuse pages that span multiple topics.

Please let me know what you think about this new experience in the comments, as I’d love to have more input as we consider the future evolution of the site.