Week 5



Information Arch. Ch. 10 &11: These next several chapters explore in detail the processes and methodology used by information architects in the planning and implementation of information architecture.


IA Chapter 10: “Research”-in this chapter Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) explore the research part of the whole development process of information architecture.  The overall process includes:


  1. Research
  2. Strategy
  3. Design
  4. Implementation
  5. Administration


The first 4 are part of the development of the project and the 5th, administration, is part of the overall program and ensures the information architecture will be maintained and kept working over time.

Again, the three areas of IA (context, content, and users) are important when considering research:


  • Context-business goals, funding, politics, culture, technology, and human resources.
  • Content-document/data types, content objects, metadata, volume, and existing structure.
  • Users-audiences, tasks, needs, information seeking behavior, experience, and vocabularies.


There are a number of different research techniques which can be used for each area of understanding.


Context: investigating the business context is a good starting point since you need to understand an organizations goals, budget, schedule and internal politics before the project begins.


  • Background research-short/long term goals, business plan, budget, intended audience, etc.
  • Presentations & meetings-get authors, software developers, graphic designers, marketing, and managers on the same page with strategy team meetings, content management meetings, information technology meetings, etc.
  • Stakeholder interviews-senior executives and managers from many departments and business units bring new perspectives, and ideas. Ask open ended questions about their role and what their team does, challenges of the existing system, positive items of existing system, top priorities, how they use or want to use the system, etc.
  • Technology assessment-since it is usually not possible to have software developers design the infrastructure and tools to support the new vision of a website or intranet, you need to work within the existing tools and infrastructure. Find out from IT people what is in place and what is being developed and who is available to help.


Content: The stuff in the website (documents, data, images, audio, applications, etc.).


  • Heuristic evaluation-learn what the existing site offers (don’t throw away everything). This is “an expert critique that tests a web site against a formal or informal set of design guidelines” (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2006, p. 240). This can be done by one person, or even better by several outside individuals from different backgrounds. General guidelines to look for are: multiple ways to access the same information, indices/ sitemaps, navigation system provides a sense of context, language used is appropriate to audience, search/ browsing complement each other and are integrated.
  • Metadata & content analysis-for content analysis, gather samples of the content from different formats, document types, sources, and subjects. This teaches you what is in the site and you need to analyze it to figure out how to help users find it. Look at metadata (structural, descriptive, and administrative).
  • Content mapping-this is a “visual representation of the existing information environment” (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2006, p. 244). Maps out content sources, content models, content types, content templates, etc.
  • Benchmarking-“systematic identification, evaluation, and comparison of information architecture features of web sites and intranets” (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2006, p. 244). Competitive benchmarking is comparing your site with those of competitors, friends, etc. See what they do that is good and what doesn’t work. Before-and-after benchmarking is comparing your site over time (before making improvements and after changes were made).  This is helpful for ROI (return on investment) questions (did the changes reduce the time it took employees to find document?, Which parts of the redesign have a negative impact on user efficiency?, etc.).


Users: These are the ultimate web designers. If the users aren’t satisfied they will go somewhere else. This is how the internet evolves.


  • Search log & clickstream analysis-usage statistics can be very useful in designing or redesigning a web site. The clickstream is the path users take through a website but requires special software to analyze. Search logs will let you know what terms are being entered (most frequently searched for) and which terms yielded no results. This information can help fix findability problems, aid in developing controlled vocabularies, and navigation labels.
  • Use cases & personas-surveys given to users can aid in finding what content and tasks users most value, what aspects of a web site most frustrate your users, and ideas they have for improvement.
  • Contextual inquiry-this type of research involves watching the user interact with the system. Often the researcher will sit to the side and have the user think out loud as they navigate the site. This way they can tell you what they are actually looking for and why they entered the terms they did, or looked in the categories they looked under.
  • User interviews & user testing-user interviews can be combined with contextual inquiry and/or card sorting to get the most out of the time and money this type of research costs. Interviews usually ask about the user’s role in the organization and background.  They seek answers to what the user feels is the hardest thing to find, and what type of information they need to access to do their job. Card sorting is a technique that is one of the most powerful IA research tools.  You label lots of index cards with headings from categories, sub-categories, and content from the web site and have the user sort the cards into piles that make sense to him or her. In an open sort users can write their own card and category labels and in a closed sort users can only use the provided cards and labels. There are also mixtures (set content cards but users can make up their own category labels, etc.). User testing can be a lot like contextual inquiry-the user sits in front of a computer, goes to the web site, and tries to find information or complete a specific task while the researcher takes notes.


Research resistance: Many organizations want to skip the research and get on with the “real” work. However, the research is a vital part of the work and the information architect may have to struggle to make the importance clear. If you don’t do the investigation and experimentation you may be basing your project strategy on faulty assumptions.


  • Research can save time and money-if you go directly to the design phase the efficiency and effectiveness of the final product may be much lower and in worst case scenarios may have to be redone immediately costing lots more money.
  • Managers don’t know what the users want-user centered design is what information architects aim for. However many business managers don’t think like that, they think about what they and their bosses want, not what their users want. To convert these folks, get them involves with user testing and let them watch users try to use their web site.
  • We need to do IA research-managers and companies often say they have already done the research, but market research and general purpose research don’t ask the same questions that IA research does. You want the people doing the design to be involved in the testing.



IA Chapter 11: “Strategy”-in this chapter Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) break down the elements of IA strategy.  IA strategy is “a high-level conceptual framework for structuring and organizing a web site or intranet” (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2006, p. 265). Strategy is important as it bridges the gap between the research phase and the design and implementation phases which are more expensive.


Research              Strategy             Design            Implementation               Administration


During the strategy phase the strategy plan must be developed and products (deliverables) must be produced.


Strategy development process:


  • Think-convert research data to creative ideas
  • Articulate-diagrams, metaphors, stories, scenarios, blueprints, wireframes, etc.
  • Communicate-present, react, brainstorm.
  • Test-closed card sorts, prototypes.


Strategy phase deliverables:


  • IA strategy report-detailed strategy, direction, scope.
  • IA strategy presentation-high-level strategy, direction, scope.
  • Project plan for design-teams, deliverables, schedule, budget.


A lot of the deliverables are used to articulate and communicate the ideas for the project to various teams and client departments. The use of metaphors can be helpful when introducing a new concept to folks.


  • Organizational metaphors-uses familiarity with one system’s organization to create understanding of a new system’s organization. People have an understanding of how a car dealership is organized (new, used, repairs, parts, etc.) and many car dealer web sites use this same organization since their users will understand it.
  • Functional metaphors-focus on the tasks performed in a traditional environment and transfer those to a new environment. In a traditional museum one can go to different areas (medieval art, modern painting, sculpture, architecture, museum shop, etc) and these same areas are sometimes used in a museum’s web site. Libraries use this metaphor on their websites (you can browse for books, look up books in a catalog, ask a librarian for help, etc. in the traditional library, and these are usually options on a library website).
  • Visual metaphors-use familiar visual elements such as images or icons to make connections between old familiar elements and new ones. Online phone books often use a yellow background and telephone icons to make a connection from the familiar paper yellow pages and the new online versions.


Scenarios and case studies can be useful when explaining to clients why a certain design point is important or why a feature the managers want may not be the best. Blueprints and wireframes help convert the chaos of brainstorming in to ordered ideas which can be shared. Blueprints show the relationships between web pages and the content components. Wireframes are quick and rough visuals that help show content and links of the web site’s major pages.


Strategy report: this document combines all previous results, ideas, and analysis in a written form to communicate and explain all the big ideas. It requires a unified vision and ideas must be explained in a way that non-information architects can understand. These reports often go along with a presentation where items can be verbally explained.


Executive summary: this is a high-level summary of goals and methodology. It provides an overview of major problems and major recommendations for solutions.


Lessons learned: this is a bridge between research, analysis, and recommendations for a web site. By demonstrating that a recommendation is based on user interviews, or content analysis, your ideas will be viewed with more confidence and can be seen as credible and valid. A chart showing the observation and the corresponding conclusion and recommendation for the web site can visually validate those recommendations.


Websites reviewed:


Boxes and Arrows http://www.boxesandarrows.com/

NewsMap http://www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap/newsmap.cfm 
Does the structure and organization of this site help or hurt the search and navigation process?
Review for their navigation, search, and controlled vocabulary systems:
Amazon http://amazon.com/
Yahoo http://www.yahoo.com/
Google http://www.google.com/
Ebay http://www.ebay.com/



Boxes and Arrows http://www.boxesandarrows.com/

This is a peer-written journal which is devoted to several aspects of design (practice and innovation) including graphic design, interactive design, business design, and information architecture.  It is designed to promote discussion and insight into these fields. Topics include stories (case studies etc.), innovative ideas, things which have worked and failures to learn from.


It took me a moment to realize this was a journal because the title Boxes and arrows doesn’t mean much to me. I thought it might be some type of online periodical since under the title it said “September Issue, 2008” but I wasn’t sure until I went to the about page. It is almost like having a magazine which has no cover and opens with stories on the first page; it works but takes a moment to situate one’s self.


The global navigation is at the top and fairly clear and the local navigation is along the left side. Some of the categories are not very clear to me such as “forerunners” or “professionalism”, but that is most likely due to the fact that I am just starting to learn about IA and not working with it and the jargon all the time. The prime content is in the center “above the fold” and consists of four different articles. There was one on IA for audio and one on usability testing.



NewsMap http://www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap/newsmap.cfm


This is almost the opposite of Boxes and Arrows in its organization -at least when you first look at it. At first glance one sees news headlines in various sizes on various colored backgrounds. Given a closer look however one sees that the colors correspond with the news categories: world, nation, business, technology, sports, entertainment, and health. The default is to show all categories and the boxes are all checked but one can eliminate categories by un-checking the boxes.


At the top of the page there are global options where you can select different countries (the default is US presumably because my ISP is in the US). There are also options for today’s news (default) or selecting a different day of the week. The default layout is “squarified” but there is an option for standard which puts the categories in horizontal stripes. This is a neat way of looking at the news although some of the smaller headlines are unreadable as the font is too small and one needs to eliminate some of the other categories to see them clearly.


This unique view works well for news for people who are just browsing and want to glance at headlines since it visually tells you what type of news story it is. However, it is not good for people who are searching for a particular news story or a story on a topic. There was no noticeable search box and the stories do not appear to be indexed by keywords or subjects.



Review for their navigation, search, and controlled vocabulary systems:


Amazon http://amazon.com/:


There is a lot going on at the Amazon web site. Because there is so much information presented, they have done well to stick to standard placement of navigation bars. They offer sign in links at the top and have a prominently featured search bar. The default is to search “amazon.com” but the drop down box allows the user to choose different areas/ or departments to search (apparel, books, etc.). This is followed by the search box and a button labeled “go”.


For those who want to browse, the left hand navigation box provides a list of departments (books, movies, home& garden, apparel, etc.) for the user to explore. By hovering over the department categories, the user will see a fly-out box with sub categories. This helps the user narrow down to what they want and helps with the information scent as they can see what the sub-categories are before clicking. The content is displayed in the center with other added features like suggestions for other items of interest.


I tried a search for “tv” in all amazon.com and unlike in the ebay site, the first 14 hits were actual television sets. The suggested search as I typed was “tvs” plural. This created a different hit list but most of the top hits were television sets. There were also suggestions for related searches (LCD tvs etc.).

Yahoo http://www.yahoo.com/:


Yahoo has a similar set up and uses standard placement for navigation options. Their global navigation is at the top (web, images, video, local, shopping, etc.) and underneath is a search box. This time the button is labeled “web search”. Along the left side are a variety of categories for people to explore (autos, finance, games, maps, personals, shopping, etc.). Some of the categories are slightly confusing – what content is in the “OMG” category? In the main content area there are several different boxes which divide up the area into different sections (area for yahoo email users to login and check email, area for featured news, videos etc., and advertisement areas). There is a lot of stuff going on for browsers but also a clear search box for those looking for something specific.


I tried the same search for “tv” on Yahoo but of course this site is searching the whole web so I didn’t expect to get listings of televisions for sale. The sponsored results at the top all happened to be for stores that might possibly sell televisions (Walmart, Bestbuy, and Dell). All the other hits on the page were for websites of TV listings, or TV news not for actual television sets to buy.

Google http://www.google.com/:


Compared with the other sites, Google is bare – the minimalist look works for it. Global navigation options are on the top (images, maps, news, shopping, Gmail, and more). These allow users to narrow down their search a bit. The search box is THE feature of the page and is situation at the middle top location right under the large Google trademark. To the right of the search box are small hyperlinks to advanced search, preference, and language tools. The main buttons are “Google search” and “I’m feeling lucky”. I am not sure what “I’m feeling lucky” does. Perhaps this doesn’t use the Google page ranking algorithm.


Google is not a place to browse; it is a massive search engine. There are no categories for exploration, no content (like the news stories on Yahoo) that is automatically there. The user must enter at least one term into the search box. This is a simple and fast way for users who have at least a slight idea of what they are looking for, but it does force them to think of what they are interested in. Sometimes just seeing a category will spark an interest or remind a user of some task they meant to do but haven’t yet. Google lacks all of that, but it does search extremely well.


Again I searched for “tv” and since google is a massive internet search engine I expected results similar to Yahoo-no actual television sets for sale but hopefully links to companies. The search results were similar to Yahoo results. The main hits were not for companies selling television sets, but for TV news, TV guides, etc. Most of the sponsored links were for companies selling televisions.

Ebay http://www.ebay.com/:


Ebay  is similar to Amazon and even Yahoo in that it has a lot of information on its site and uses fairly standard placement for navigation. There is a search box at the top with a drop down box to select specific categories (all categories is the default). In the top right corner are the global navigation choices: buy, sell, my ebay, community, and help. The separate buy and sell make sense because those are two separate groups of users who will have different needs and those needs can be better met by separating the hierarchies for those groups.


The left hand side offers deals that are ending and below that is the category box for those who want to browse. The center content area is filled with unique featured items until a search is made or a user clicks one of the category links. A search for “tv” under all categories doesn’t result in television sets; it starts with a laptop VGA to TV RCA component cable video out.  Next is listed a television set but the third item is “new as seen on TV kitchen magic chopper plus” – it is a chopper which has been advertised on TV. The fourth item is a vintage salt and pepper shaker in the form of a toaster and TV.  If this were it and the user had to scroll through 68,000 results just to find television sets Ebay would not be doing as well as it is. Fortunately, after the search there is a category list in the left side bar which lists electronics and then televisions (7,531). This helps a lot, but still the first item is not a television set but a 1946 Polovtsian Tribesman Robert Riggs Farnsworth TV ad! Again there is help to refine the search on the left side where the user can choose the type of television (flat-panel, portable, etc.) or the screen size or brand.


A search for “television set” brought up no televisions on the first page! Most of the items were DVD boxed sets of television shows! On Ebay, it is almost better to browse or at least after the initial search you must use their browsing features to find what you are looking for.


Week 5 references:


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