It’s time to look at Lou’s post, and if we are going to talk about future directions of IA, we need to finalize what IA is.
After doing my big survey on definitions, I started to formulate this model of information architecture that consist
of three parts
- content architecture (polar bear style) that has a concentration on the organization of information for easy retrieval.
- interaction design (about face) which as all about architecting for use, to accomplish tasks, much more application oriented.
- information design (wurman’s information architects) What concentrates on both organizing information for comprehension but also concerns itself with gui design.
For information architecture for the web, this makes the greatest amount of sense. One can then organize information, design systems for retrieval and use, and create ways to access and comprehend. Almost all websites are combination of these elements, so I feel that with these three concentrations of skills, IA’s are well equipped. I’m going to assume many IA’s will be stronger in one concentration than another, much like a graphic designer might be a better illustrator, or a specialist in type. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few IA’s specialize in only one of the three, and come in at key junctions of a project to lend their skilled hand to crafting a small but vital part of the site. But I think all websites will need an IA that has some skills in all three. Or some human who plays that role.
Some of you may be asking where the user is in this model? Well I would say that user-centered is an approach, not a unique skill, and one can do user-centered IA, user-centered design, user-centered anything… one is a layer that fits over the other. Whether this requires two people (a usability specialist and an ia) or one (a user-centered ia) is up to the organization of the company. I personally prefer the first, for a number of reasons I’ve articulated in the past. And since this is an approach, that means there can be other approaches
So, to turn my attention to the Lou post, August 23, 2001: Future Directions for IA—
There is this French phrase my hubby uses all the time “et alors?”. It means “and then?” When I read Lou’s post, I thought “and then?” — these were all things I thought IA’s were doing already. Then I realized if we are, we aren’t talking in public about it. We need to spend more time articulating problems we have solved and the methodology we used in hopes of growing our knowledge as a profession. Lou’s post revealed to me that we spend too much time dealing with either the “big” questions of IA (what does it all mean? What is IA) or the “tiny” questions (what software do you use to make a sitemap) and we rarely talk about the meat and potatoes of our work. I think Lou’s post illuminates some key areas that –if you are innovating– are worth writing up some white papers, or speaking about at the next summit.
- Distinguishing users’ information needsIf one is practicing user-centered IA, and you are doing content architecture, you are very likely doing this. Who is the user, and what are their needs in retrieving the information on a given site is core to the work of any content-rich site’s IA, be it IHT or epicurious. Carbon IQ is doing a lot of this for our clients, I’m going to guess we are not that unique.
- Determining content granularity and
- Understanding and using metadataThere is a reason XML talks keep showing up at the IA summits.. Hopefully someone is making the connection right now…. Controlled vocabularies are key to search, especially search/browse cross use such as yahoo has been doing for years.
- Developing hybrid architecturesThe nature of the web is almost all architectures are hybrid. Take egreetings: one had to design 1st and information retrieval system that allowed a user to successfully find a desirable card from one of multiple mental models of seeking (occasion, recipient, mood) then *send* it, track it, reply to it… from content architecture to interaction design with a fine veneer of information design on top we have a fine hybrid. I can point to everyone’s favorite example Amazon, which mixes browse architecture, recommendation engines, search and susceptible moments… We’re doing it.
(mini-topic drift: does Amazon have IA’s? How much great IA is being done by non-IA’s?)
- Presenting search results betterIs Avi in the house? And does this belong to IA’s in their information design role, or does this belong to designers?
- Rolling out enterprise-wide architectures
And now we are back to what some folks call big IA….
I don’t always agree with this idea that we need a CIA, but I do believe we need a CUXO– we need one person who holds the vision and assures a consistent user experience across the company’s properties in order to protect the brand.
A CIA (Chief Information Architect) might be necessary in a company that was highly information based, or catered to content seekers. Though personally I doubt it. However, a Chief User Experience Officer would be a welcome addition. The user experience is heavily influenced by information architecture, but it is made up of many elements including
- identity design
- product feature set
- product design
- product integrity
- product packaging
- shared peer experience
- employee-product perception
- customer service
A CUXO would be responsible for standardizing and assuring consistency of the brand throughout all these elements. Of course not all aspects of the brand can be controlled, but the bulk can be and those aspects that cannot be controlled can be influenced. A CUXO’s team includes marketing, customer
service, design (graphic) and IA, product development and a CUXO must work closely with the CEO, CTO and the COO in their areas of overlap. Any company that has a user (or customer) should have a CUXO.
An IA only belongs to those companies whose products can be helped by the their unique skillsets: content architecture, interaction design and information design. The short list this would include would be
- web sites
- hybrid physical products (cellphones, palms, blackberries, etc) where the physical and virtual interfaces are highly interdependent
A long time ago Don Norman posted a long email to the CHI-WEB list explaining three different types of models. They make a good template for how an IA works in the organization as well.
Mental Model: How a user perceives how a system works. Here is where a usability expert can be of great use, determining the user’s model of a given domain before anything is designed, then verifying they are able to deal with the item after it is created.
Design Model: “mental model held by the designer of the artifact” in other words, that held by the system architect who knows how the dang thing really works.
Conceptual model: “the conceptual model refers to a description of the workings of a device.” This is the realm of the IA, who hides the messy complexity of the design model from the user, and makes it simple to comprehend and use the product.
The IA perches between the technologist and the user, helping makes the creations of one palatable to the other.
time to run to work. more later, most likely…