Thursday, February 17, 2005

IA Lite?

Hmmm... While I surely appreciate the sentiments behind Joshua Kaufman's Information Architecture as an Extension of Web Design at Digital Web Magazine, I think he oversimplifies the complexity of IA in an effort to win over designers.

First, Joshua is right when he addresses the "misunderstanding" that "information architecture and Web design are often considered mutually exclusive." I vividly remember the resistance of gifted designers and engineers to IA as it began to make its presence felt around the turn of the millennium. And who would blame them? Web design had been their baby—and then interlopers appeared with fancy talk of taxonomies, insisting on injecting wireframes into the design process.

But in Web years, that's a long time ago. Not only has IA since evolved significantly as a discipline, but most designers I work with welcome me onto project teams, recognizing that I relieve them of tasks they perceive as drudgery. Even so, there are some remaining holdouts who would find Joshua's article enlightening.

Where I differ from Joshua is here:
While it's true that everything in Information Architecture for the World Wide Web cannot be learned in a day, there are several information architecture techniques that Web designers can easily learn and apply to all of their projects.
If only it were so! Yes, designers can "easily learn" the concepts of IA, but the actual application of those concepts is a different matter altogether.

For example, Joshua summarizes card sorting like so:
After you know what content your site will contain, do a card sort with at least several potential users of the site. Afterwards, you'll have what information architects call a taxonomy, a hierarchical classification scheme. This taxonomy will prove extremely valuable when deciding on your navigation labels and the site maps for your site.
This is a misleading oversimplification of a complex tool; just refer to the IAwiki's entry on card sorting to see how.

Joshua makes a similar oversimplification about wireframes:
Before you start designing a layout in Photoshop, create a wireframe using software such as Visio or OmniGraffle. Youll find that it will help you to think more analytically about the content before deciding what color it should be.
The act of wireframing alone does not inherently assist in content organization and structure. Instead, wireframing is the culmination of extensive and even arduous research into users, the Client, heuristics, classification and much more. In my seminars on IA, I tell Clients that creating wireframes is the reward for doing the vital drudge work that precedes and informs them.

Again, I wholly appreciate Joshua's efforts to build bridges between IAs, designers and engineers. Our disciplines overlap greatly. We all share the same goal of building the best possible sites for our Clients, customers and end-users. But oversimplifying IA (or design or coding) does no one a favor—and could inadvertently deepen the few rifts that remain between practitioners.

1 Comments:

Blogger beep said...

I propose to call this Guerrilla IA, in parallel with Jakob Nielsen's Guerrilla Usability.

By acknowledging the overlap between IA and webdesign in what I call "shallow subjects" and promoting best practices in those areas, we can open up the road to "deep" subjects that for now are the territory of "little" IA's.

10:58 PM  

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