reflection and responses
Been reading Peter’s reflections on the ASIS&T 2001 Summit. A few thoughts:
1. “The word “modularity” recurs in people’s discussions” Peter notes. Noticed this too, and the only thing about that that surprised me was that it took so long for folks to jump on the modularity bandwagon. One of the main goals of the rational rose process is achieving modularity and reusable pieces. The rational process was sweeping the web development community, what a year and a half ago? longer? Information Architects need to get better at stealing and adapting. Software developers are frequently solving the same sort of problems we are: speedy scalable solutions to complex unique problems. While it may be true that “if you ask a engineer a question you’ll get code for an answer,” I think its time for us to look at their solutions and see how many can be adapted to our problems.
2. “It’s the content, stupid” Duh on an epic level. Why do people come to a website? Because there is something there for them. Most often that something is that mysterious thing called content. Our jobs as IA’s are to find the best way to get people to that thing they are seeking. We may get excited about adaptive architectures, bottom-up hierarchies or limited vocabularies– but these are nothing but systems to connect point A (user) with point B (thing user wants.) It’s that simple. I can’t figure out why people are continually surprised that content is important.
The most beautiful hand-crafted raku ceramic cup in the world is useless if it leaks. It’s an object of beauty, people may pay a large sum for it but then it sits on the shelf. A simple porcelain coffee cup will be held every day if it holds a good amount of coffee, keeps it warm, is comfortable in the hand and most importantly, deliver the coffee to the user’s mouth. However, that cup is not used if there is no coffee in the house. You can make a beautiful site, you can make a highly usable site, but if there is no content there, it has no purpose.
No coffee in cup=cup is paperweight.
No content in site=site is useless.
(there are obviously exceptions for certain types of web applications)
3. “We’re seeing the beginnings of a movement in the importance of developing conceptual models in design.”
I remember Peter asking the CHI-WEB list about them the same time I was trying to develop one for a project I was working on at Hot. His post saved me. I agree 100% with Mr. Me’s insight that they are invaluable to creating a usable system. When you have a clear idea of how you are going to express the workings of a system to the user, you know better what elements of the architecture to surface. I think a conceptual model should be a key deliverable of any architecture. Be sure to read Don Norman’s post on conceptual models.
4. “Working With Clients, Not At Them” Well, I wish this was a duh. But too many agencies treat their clients as if they were misguided fools whose first coherent thought was being smart enough to hire the agency.
It ain’t so.
They know the business better than you do. You can try to catch up by reading all their materials and books on the field your client works in– but what project gives you time to do that? better to listen to your client educate you on their area of expertise. Sure, as an outsider you may come up with something they haven’t thought of. You may also come up with something they have thought of, and discarded as impractical. By collaborating with the client, you can figure out which are which before you go down the long path of creating a presentation to sell something they knew wouldn’t work six months ago.
Collaborating with the client insures a higher chance of your ideas gaining acceptance and getting implemented. I’ve heard too many agency folks say “Gosh, we created a great design for them, I wonder why it never went live.” Perhaps if they had worked with their clients, they might know what worked and what didn’t. At the least, they’d feel comfortable enough to call up and ask what happened…
Victor over at Noise Between Stations offers some advice on how to collaborate with clients effectively.
Trends Peter Missed
1. It’s a Small World. IA is not only no longer a Californian profession, it is no longer an American profession. We were graced with European representatives at the conference, and I’ve been lucky enough to get emails from IAs in France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Perhaps it’s time for an international professional organization? Or at least a conference abroad, to bring together our fellows?
2. Open Source IA. More and more IAs are clamoring to see each other’s diagrams and deliverables. What I find interesting is that we can finally see some examples of documentation online– because the market has gone sour and IA’s have to put their portfolios online. Well, wrong reasons, right results.
There is also a growing frustration in the multiplicity of terms for the same things. How long can we keep calling our page architectures wireframes and schematics and page requirements? Until we can talk to each other, this profession can’t go anywhere. Please read the glossary and unless you simply cannot stand a term, adopt it.
3. IA is getting into bed with HCI. Keith Instone’s joining Argus and the influx of IA’s onto the CHI-WEB list were the early signs. User-centered design has become such a byword in our profession Peter Morville referred to it as jargon in his talk. Companies from Inverse Ratio to Carbon IQ are so convinced of the connection they specialize in it (disclosure moment: I am part of CIQ.) Jared Spool, usability guru, was the keynote speaker at the ASIS&T conference. It’s all coming together.
4. IAs want out of their little box. Andrea Gallagher gave a talk on connected devices, pointing out the need for information architecture in varied devices from cell phones to exercise machines. I heard more than one voice expressing the desire to attack product design, from chairs to airplane interiors. One IA waxed rhapsodical over voicemail systems and longed to design call centers. More and more IAs are working on software, wireless and wayfinding systems. The web is a nice big sandbox, but I think most IA’s will only be satisfied with the whole Sahara.
5. We are tired of talking about what an Information Architect is. We aren’t tired of talking about what an Information Architect does. Andrew Dillon and Andrea Gallagher both admitted they are no longer concerned where to draw the line between IA, interaction design, information design and the like. That they used to worry over the definition of the role, and now those concerns have vanished. I guess we are IAs and we know IA when we see it. Nice to see we are getting over our adolescent identity crises.