Week 1

Information Arch. Ch. 1 &2:

IA Chapter 1: “Defining Information Architecture”-the architecture analogy is explained well in this chapter. Physical buildings are complex structures and architecture helps define what the building will be and how it will be used. In a similar way information architecture (IA) helps define what a website will be and how it will be used.

Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) define IA in the following manner:

  1. The structural design of shared information environments.
  2. The combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems within web sites and intranets.
  3. The art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability and findability.
  4. An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

“Information” covers a variety of items including: websites, documents, software applications, images, etc. One of IAs main concerns is structuring, organizing and labeling. Items must be grouped into meaningful and distinctive categories and they must be labeled, or called, something so they can be found.

Early IA has looked to libraries and librarians. Libraries are an excellent example of the structuring of information. There is clear organization which is logical and aids users in finding what they are looking for. Librarians add value to the printed material stored by using IA to provide usability and findability to the collection. Information architects for the internet provide the same value added service. They add value to web based material by placing it within a structured, systematic, organization system to promote usability and findability.

IA is different from graphic design, software development, or usability engineering, but they all overlap. Global navigation bars demonstrate the interconnections of these fields. The categories and choice of labels are within the realm of IA. However, the look, feel, color and font, text size, etc. all fall under the domains of graphic design, information design and interactive design.

Interconnections between people and context are the backbone of knowledge networks. These concepts can transform a static website into a complex adaptive system.

IA Chapter 2: ” Practicing Information Architecture”-IA is an art, science, and craft combined practices by folks from many different backgrounds and fields. IA is something that happens whether planned or not. Every website is littered with labels, taxonomies, vocabularies, metadata, sitemaps, and indexes. Some of these are good, but a lot aren’t. The information architecture of a site can be critiqued, improved, or left alone, but it exists whether it is planned or not. For the most part if the information architecture of a site is not given any thought, the results will reflect that (usually a poorly designed site which is not helpful to its users). Those who practice information architecture can have a variety of backgrounds (graphic design, library science, journalism, marketing, product management, architecture, etc.) and may have varying job titles. It is not important what the person is called; only that it is given thought. The more complex the website is, the more likely a company will seek out personnel to specifically take care of the information architecture of the site.

In the beginning information architects took on random jobs that fell between the cracks (structuring information, indexing, making things findable, etc.). The field of IA has since matured and is now better understood. There are now specialized niches within IA:

  • Thesaurus designer
  • Search schema content editor
  • Metadata specialist
  • Content manager
  • Etc.

Three concepts form the basis of effective information architecture design: users, content, and context. Websites are dynamic information systems with complex dependencies. We need to understand the goals behind a website and be aware of the resources available for design and implementation. We must be aware of the nature and amount of content that exists and how it may change over time. We also must understand the needs and information-seeking behavior of our major users. Good information architecture design can only happen when all of these concepts are considered.

Context

Users

Content

These concepts help in answering a variety of questions. Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) give the example: when asked what the most important qualities of an information architect, the answer involves all 3 ideas-some knowledge of user needs (human- computer interaction, library science information seeking behavior), content (technical communication and journalism), and context (organizational psychology).

Context: Each website exists within the context of its parent organization or business. These organizations have unique goals, missions, and strategy and thus the information architecture for each website will be unique. The information architecture of a website reflects the vision of the organization. In order to be successful one needs to know the context of the organization-where it is and where it is going or wants to go.

Content: This is the stuff users will be looking for on the website. It can include documents, computer applications, services, metadata, etc. There are different facets to consider when thinking about a site’s content: Ownership (who has legal rights to the content, self owned, licensed, etc.), format (MS Word, PDF, Oracle, Video clip, MP3, etc), structure (100 word vs. 1,000 page documents or XML/ SGML based structure), metadata (has metadata already been created to describe objects within website, is there tagging, is it manual or computer generated, etc.), volume (a large amount of content vs. smaller site), dynamism (rate of growth, how often will the website be changed, updated, etc.).

Users: Differences in customer/user preference and behaviors need to be considered when designing the information architecture of a website. One needs to know who is using the site and how they are using it and what they are looking for in order to design a system and architecture that will benefit them.

Week 1 references:

Morville, P., & Rosenfeld, L. (2006). Information architecture for the world wide web
(3rd ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

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