Information Architecture or Architecture in the Information Space?

Abel Lenz Insists That Information Architecture Really Is A Creative Pursuit is the link du jour, pointed to […]

Abel Lenz Insists That Information Architecture Really Is A Creative Pursuit is the link du jour, pointed to by the many link harvesting blogs on UX that now exist (remember when it was just tomalak?).

Reading through his article, I had to question the examples Abel gives… does a hut need an architect? A track house? The Royal Tenebaums is an extremely basic site that has been slathered with a lush flash interface and mystery meat navigation on top of mystery meat navigation (which might be fine for a movie site, as an extension of the movie’s entertainment. Though it leads me to question if it’s right for this particular movie. but I digress)

It’s the equivalent of the house up the hill from me– a concrete bunker of a building, a squat square one story thing that has been painted mysteriously with zebra stripes and leopard spots.

There are houses that don’t need architects– there are sites that don’t need them either. Or won’t need them, once we have prefab plans to hand out: here is your basic store. Here is your basic movie site. Here is your basic band site.

Yahoo is already capitalizing in this by building a strip mall of its own, and quite successfully as Jakob notes.

So to address his key assertion “IA is a creative act,” –well, yes it can be, but like design and real-word architecture it is the challenges and constraints that make it something great. A simple site, a problem that has been solved again and again– can this be a creative act? Can something wonderful come from trailer-cast-director-story?

Then again, people keep reinventing the spoon and fork…


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  1. 1

    “There are houses that don’t need architects– there are sites that don’t need them either.”

    all right, i’ll bite.

    last night i was talking houses with a chap who’s living in a Victorian house just outside of Montreal. he’s more-less just finished renovating, which is a ton of work on those. i used to be a renovation carpenter, so i understand. i summed up with “but they are magnificent. one lives inside a piece of generous wonder, and that changes you.”

    i don’t want to get all touchy-feely here, but prefab isn’t much fun to live in or to have in your neighbourhood. a good house gives back to both.

    without bible-thumping on a copy of A Pattern Language, we should acknowledge that architecture is *considered building*. IA’s need to communicate the value of their involvement [which building architects have failed to do]. and the web is about communication, right? you’re good at that, right?

    sure, there’s economic restrictions. that’s why you emphasize value. you know why we don’t have a generous porch on average houses any more? because it’s considered part of the footprint of a house in the eyes of the city, but not considered square footage in the eyes of the market. so there’s a quick ‘cost efficiency’ calculation done and suddenly all work above the foundation is interior space. which removed the middle ground between private and public, which had a big effect on our neighbourhoods being more anonymous, less neighbourly. because the only person educated in depth about how buildings effect living didn’t get in there and explain.

    …and that’s my water cooler rant for today. back to work. cheers.

  2. 2

    That thing about huts and Victorians…

    I agree that it is the challenges and constraints that make building interesting. It is also, in my opinion, the attention to each unique challenge and ability to break free of convention in order to serve the challenge appropriately that also makes built environments special.

    Living in Brooklyn, NY I find, largely, that there are unremarkable buildings — concrete blocks that don’t attempt to make the environment you live in elegant or interesting — and there are the nice turn of the century Brownstones/Townhouses with the moldings and details that are made to last. We opted for the latter when looking for a house because on the inside it felt like it was a place that a lot of care was given to. It felt like a place that was made with respect for our movement in it.
    The hut is the Jakob site. A cookie cutter made to match stencil. I like Liz Danzico’s discussion on this type of building recently. I think that making decisions about the things you build blindly because of standards is the message that might get communicated in some of Jakob’s evangelizing. That’s the kind of communication that leads to architectural attrocities like the modern buildings done wrong that you see in the projects in New York. These buildings don’t take the care of building a modern space the way SOM, Philip Johnson or Mies Van Der Rohe did. They just slap together a box that mimics the shape.

  3. 3

    There may be houses that don’t need architects, but they do need architecture — even if it’s pre-fab and basic.

    That’s where we, as a profession, need to recognize the difference between the need for our skills to be brought to play vs. actually needing to hire a practicioner.

    Our skills at a basic level aren’t necessarily unique — someone who’s a decent publication designer can probably build a reasonably organized simple site, just as a journeyman contractor could probably design a basic house. Back when desktop publishing sprang into existance there were plenty of graphic designers who were happy not to do phone book ads.

    Of course the challenge is that while acknowledging not every problem needs a specialists brings some credibility, it also increases the need to justify your value as a specialists. But this is doable. Graphic designers a decade ago were obsessed with DTPers (and considering certification to separate “designers” from the masses), but in the end after DTPers got in over their hands, clients did realized there were some problems that required more knowledge (albeit more expensive) help.

  4. 4

    If you find that the solutions that you’ve worked on lately seem pre-fab, then maybe it’s time to work on more complex systems. It’s no fun solving the same problem the same way over and over again.

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