Week 6

Information Arch. Ch. 12 &13:

IA Chapter 12: “Design and documentation”-Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) focus on the need to and techniques for producing visual documents of an IA project. At some point in the design process those design ideas must be shared so they can be discussed, enhanced, changed, and adopted.  Since IA is abstract and conceptual, it can be difficult to put in to simple visual aids. Some general guidelines are:

  • Create several views of and IA since it is generally too complex to show in one diagram. It is best to use different techniques to show a variety of the IA’s aspects.
  • Think of a specific audience when creating the visualizations and develop the output to their specific needs.
  • Be there in person to deliver and discuss the documentation. If you can’t be there try to be available on the phone.

Diagrams: These are used to communicate the information system’s content components (what makes up a unit of content and how they are grouped) and the connections between the content components (how one navigates between them). The goal of a diagram is to explain to others what the content components are and how they are connected.

Blueprints: These are visual representations of site pages and content components which can help portray navigation, organization, and labeling systems. Sometimes they are also called site maps. For more examples of blueprints, site maps, and wire frames Doss (2002) has some examples on his blog gdoss.com IA deliverables and diagrams (http://www.gdoss.com/web_info/information_architecture_deliverables.php).

High-level blueprints can be fancier (color, bound, etc.) for presentation to clients and upper level managers. It is a top down approach which shows the main page and immediate sub-pages. It can also focus on a particular feature or section. Detailed blueprints are used to communicate the more detailed organization, labeling, and navigation systems to colleagues who will be developing the site. These are therefore rougher sketches which can be quickly printed, written on and updated at short notice.

Wireframes: are designed to depict how a web page should look from an IA point of view. Wireframes boarder the field of IA and graphic/ information design. They force information architects to think about where on the page the navigation should be, or consider that once the wireframe is done, it may become apparent that there are too many ways to navigate. All of these are ideas done on paper which can be easily changed and fixed before the expensive task of building or modifying the web site starts.

Content mapping: research and strategy focuses on top level or top-down approaches as do blueprints. Content mapping requires you to break down the content into content chunks. These are the smallest amount of content that needs to be treated (it could be a page, a paragraph, or even a whole website, depending on the system). To help determine what should define the content chunks, Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) offer the following questions to consider:

  • Should this content be divided into smaller chunks that users might want to access separately?
  • What is the smallest section of content that needs to be individually indexed?
  • Will this content need to be repurposed across multiple documents or as part of multiple processes?

Content models: are mini IAs made up of small content chunks. They help ensure that contextual navigation works into the deep regions of the site and not just at the higher levels. Content models can help you determine which metadata attributes are most useful and thus should be invested in. Content models are deliverables which explain and map the contextual navigation at deep levels but they are also exercises which help determine which the most important content is and help you decide which metadata attributes are most needed to make the content module work.

Controlled vocabularies: You need to determine how the vocabulary will be prioritized and metadata matrixes will help. A matrix may include the vocabulary, a description, an example, and how hard or easy it is to maintain.

Vocabulary Description Examples Maintenance
Subject Terms that describe networking Home networking; servers difficult

Once you select the vocabularies, you must build them and that usually requires some type of database to manage them.

Design collaboration: after all the blueprints, wireframes, content modules, and vocabularies are built, then all the different teams need to collaborate to start on building the information system. This requires the teams to sit down together and create design sketches, which are often based on wireframes, of what the site will look like.

IA Chapter 13: “Education”-many different groups of people are interested in taking classes on or about IA. Since it is a fairly new field, many are having trouble finding guidance in what classes and where to take them. Schools don’t know what to teach and students don’t know what they should be learning. There are many different types of resources for learning such as:

  • Apprenticeship-work with an expert
  • Experience-learn by doing
  • Formal education-more formal education will be available as the field grows and employers may prefer to see some type of education along with experience.
  • Conferences & seminars-offer courses and workshops such as ASIS&T Summit
  • Literature-more books are being written on the subject as well as research reports
  • Communities-online communities and professional organizations can help you network and offer best practices
  • News and opinions-blogs on IA and user experience offer a wealth of information

All of these forms can help someone learn more about the field of IA. As of Morville and Rosenfeld’s book (2006) one did not need a specific degree to become an information architect but many choose either a degree in Library and information sciences (LIS) or in human-computer interaction (HCI). There are a few schools that do offer IA degrees (U of Baltimore, Illinois Institute of Technology, Kent State).

Websites reviewed:

Jjg.net http://www.jjg.net/ia/ – Review 3 content items of your choice.

Information Architecture Research (Peter Morville, Semantic Studios) http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000030.php – read Peter’s summary of important IA research topics. Review at least one link from each research topic.

Media 7 http://www.net.vg/media7/index.html – This is a real world example of an Information Architecture focused design studio. Nice to know IA’s are employable? Take a look around there site, see anything familiar? Anything unusual?

Jjg.net http://www.jjg.net/ia/:

This is the website of Jesse James Garrett who started in web interface development but now focuses on experience design projects (web and non-web). On his site he has compiled lots of resources (all his published work) that deal with experience design and information architecture. I’ll take a look at three:

  1. Elements of user experience-here Garrett offers his book for sale, but also gives access to the diagram that started all his research.  He is basically trying to help define terms that user experience practitioners have tried to develop to explain the duel nature of the web -a hypertext system and a software interface.
    • Visual design-graphic nature of interface elements (the look), also the visual treatment of text and navigation components.
    • Interface design-facilitates the user interaction.
    • Information design-design the presentation of information so it facilitates user understanding.
    • Navigation design-interface elements are designed to facilitate the user’s movement through the site.
    • Interaction design-development of application flows to aide user tasks.
    • Information architecture-structural design of the information space to allow user intuitive access to content.
    • Functional specifications-detailed description of functionality the site must have to meet user needs.
    • Content requirements-content elements required in the site to meet user needs.
    • User needs-externally derived goals for the site identified through user research, etc.
    • Site objectives-business, creative, or other internally derived goals for the site.
  2. Nine pillars of successful web teams-this essay gives an example of what competencies must be covered by various members of a web team. They include tactical and strategic elements and groups that focus on project management and others geared toward user research.
    • Project management-the hub which holds all the tactical components together and drives the whole project forward.
    • Concrete design-before the abstract design can be realized, the specifics of interfaces, navigation, information design, and visual design must be determined.
    • Technology implementation-specialized knowledge to build a technical system including: languages and protocols, coding and debugging, testing, etc.
    • Content production-need to know how you will produce the content, gather raw data, writing, editing, defining the editorial workflow is important.
    • Abstract design-IA and interaction design help go from strategic objectives to conceptual framework for the user experience.
    • Technology strategy-identify the platforms, standards, technologies and how they interrelate.
    • Content strategy-what content will meet users’ needs, how much content, what form, what tone or style, etc.
    • Site strategy-define goals for the site and have a common understanding of purpose.
    • User research-understand what your users need.
  3. Visual vocabulary for Information Architecture-this is Garrett’s system for diagramming IA and interaction design solutions. These are sets of symbols that can be used to describe and diagram the high-level structure of a web site. He shows symbols for pages and files and also for page stacks and file stacks. There are tree structures which use arrows and lines to show relationships and the hierarchical organization of an information system. He offers stencil and library files for Visio, Adobe InDesign, FreeHand, and iGrafx Flowcharter.

Information Architecture Research (Peter Morville, Semantic Studios) http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000030.php

In this essay Morville summarizes his review of research in the IA field. He wanted to know what we know about IA, and if information architects know what works. Are IA designs defendable and is there improvement in the field? He provides a list of accessible research papers grouped into four broader topics: information seeking behavior, structure & organization, navigation, and search.

Information seeking behavior: Tripp (2001) wrote an article on cognitive navigation.  He argues that “learning is like navigation in space” and there is a spatial basis to our learning navigation. Studies on rats and other animals have led to the idea that we develop cognitive maps as we learn just as rats trained on a maze have a map in their head. This can be applied to online learning which is spatial. The hippocampus is cited as very important for humans in spatial learning experiences. London taxi drivers showed an enlarged posterior part of the hippocampus which grew during their employment as a driver.

There are 5 navigation strategies mentioned which can apply both to animals (rats in this case) or human navigation.

  1. Random navigation.  The animal has no information and must search randomly.
  2. Taxon navigation.  The animal can find a cue toward which it can move.
  3. Praxic navigation.  The animal can execute a fixed motor program.
  4. Route navigation.  The animal can learn to associate direction with each sensory view. Route navigation can be thought of as chaining sequences of taxon and praxic substrategies.
  5. Locale navigation.  The animal can learn a map on which the location of the goal is represented.  If it knows both its own location and the location of the goal in the same coordinate system, then it can plan a path from one to the other.  (Tripp, 2001).

The Polynesian peoples used complex path navigation to sail and did not have maps and could not reverse their paths. Atlantic navigation in the era of Columbus was costal or path navigation. Later, astronomy, maths, and clocks allowed for map navigation.

Many people navigate the web in the same way they navigate the physical world. People remember only a few sites they visit (hence the popularity of del.icio.us) but will remember landmarks and anchor points (keywords or portals to start the search from). Just like humans navigating to work through the physical world, internet users used personal routines to find information.

Tripp (2001) argues that any instructional design should provide for the progression from path navigation to map navigation. The dilemma for instructional designers is that the goal is often to provide an overall understanding of the content, but the most powerful memory experiences for humans are episodic (you remember specific trips, and specific routes in a new town before you form a cognitive map of the whole town). Path navigation is also easier to teach, but results in a shallower understanding. Tripp (2001) suggests that students be given a domain area they can explore that has “landmarks” and “boundaries” and “paths”.  Through exploration they can develop an overall cognitive map of that domain and truly understand it.

Structure & organization: Larson and Czerwinski (1998) presented a paper at CHI, Web page design: Implications of memory, structure and scent for information retrieval. They conducted an experiment to see if it is better to have large breadth and decreased depth for optimal scent throughout a website. They tested memory, response mapping, structure and scent and the effects these had on designing an effective site for information retrieval. They claimed that it was a danger to assume that broader, shallower websites were preferable. It was found that for a large, well-organized website a moderate level was better. This was because the category labels were more distinct at high levels (providing a better scent). Larson and Czerwinski (1998) conclude that “web designers need to balance the number of categorical decisions made for their information structure against the number of items needing to be visually searched on the web page”. The layout as well as the labeling of content needs to be considered by the designers.

Navigation: Bernard and Hamblin (2003) discuss the common ways menu items are presented: a hierarchy which cascades as the mouse is moved over it or placed in a categorical index. Cascading saves screen space, but difficulties arise from poor mouse control. Also menu items are hidden until the mouse is moved over the appropriate category. Indexed menus take up more space and if large can be overwhelming by presenting too much information at once. Bernard and Hamblin (2003) compared user performance and satisfaction using both types of menu layouts. The layouts were a page with an indexed menu, a page with a horizontal menu which cascaded down, and a page with a vertical menu which cascaded out to the side. Users were faster completing tasks using the indexed menu and from the survey, seemed to prefer it over the other options.

Search: Spink, Jansen, Wolfram and Saracevic (2002) wanted to explore whether information searching behaviors were evolving along with the Internet. They found that web searching is changing and that search topics have evolved from sex and entertainment to commerce and people. However, they saw no change in the lengths of the query or in frequency per user. In 2001 more than 50% of users only submit a one word query. From 1997 to 2001 they found that more users viewed only one page of query results (28.6 % viewed only one page in 1997 vs. 50.5% in 2001). As far as search topics were concerned, in 1997 one in 6 queries was about sex but in 2001 that was down to one in 12 (Spink et al., 2002).  More people were searching for commerce, travel, employment, and the economy in 2001 compared with 1997.

Media 7 http://www.net.vg/media7/index.html

This is a logo design company supposedly focused on information architecture. I was surprised not to find any obvious navigation. There did not appear to be an indexed menu or a global navigation bar at the top. There is no search box.  I couldn’t even find a logo for this company nor could I find the name of the company.  What appears to be a navigation bar with the company name Edelsbacher design group, is actually a Google advertisement for Edelsbacher.

There appears to be a large button with the label “our best logos”. However, it is not a button at all and one must scroll down the page to see any logos. The link “click here to view enlarged image” is broken. The link for “best logo design resources” works but seems to be a list of books and software and more Google ads. I must confess, I have no idea what this company is, I don’t know what it does other than supposedly designs logos, I don’t know its name or how to contact anyone if I wanted to use their services. They claim to have done many corporate image designs and ask users to call for a free logo appraisal, but again there is no contact information.

Week 6 references:

Bernard, M., & Hamblin, C. (2003). Cascading versus indexed menu design. In Usability News. Retrieved October 3, 2008, from Wichita State University Web site: http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/51/Ezprint.htm

Doss, G. (2002, December). Information architecture deliverables and diagrams. In gdoss.com. Retrieved September 29, 2008, from http://www.gdoss.com/web_info/information_architecture_deliverables.php

Larson, K., & Czerwinski, M. (1998, April). Web page design: Implications of memory, structure and scent for information retrieval. CHI 98 18-23 April. Retrieved October 3, 2008, from http://research.microsoft.com/~marycz/p25-larson.pdf

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

Spink, A., Jansen, B. J., Wolfram, D., & Saracevic, T. (2002). From e-sex to e-commerce: Web search changes. Web Technologies, 107-109. Retrieved October 3, 2008, from http://ist.psu.edu/faculty_pages/jjansen/academic/pubs/ieee_computer.pdf

Tripp, S. (2001). Cognitive navigation: Toward a biological basis for instructional design. Educational Technology & Society, 4(1). Retrieved October 3, 2008, from http://www.ifets.info/journals/4_1/tripp.html