The Age of Information Architecture

In a new issue of Digital Web Magazine and a brand new column entitled IAnything Goes, Jeff Lash takes an in-depth look at just what is the big deal with IA: what it is, why it's needed, who should do it, and how it came about. The Age of Information Architecture. Also in this issue David Wertheimer writes about going Beyond the IA Guy: Defining information architecture in his Wide Open column.

Quick Visio Tips

Boxes and Arrows is running Three Visio Tips: Special Deliverables #4 from our favorite deliverables ninja Dan Brown. Quick, but good.

Thomas Vander Wal grooves on Maslow and information needs

Springing from Lou's post on splitting IA and IT, Thomas Vander Wal has an interesting piece on "Information Needs" reflecting Maslow's famed hierarchy.

Blogs as disruptive technology in the CMS industry

Was looking at News Blogging Software Roundup on the Microcontent News site. The article breaks weblogging applications into categories based on the type of publishing environment (weblog publishing or weblog community) and based on installation requirements. The page led to the Web Crimson white paper, Blogs as Disruptive Tech, which is an interesting piece that calls weblog publishing systems as disruptive to commercial content management systems as the PC was disruptive to the mainframe computer. Makes some interesting insights based on the ideas in Clayton Christensen book, "The Innovator's Dilemma".

The dilemma is this. Should CMS companies look at the current state of weblogging applications as a threat? It appears that the feedback from consumers is that weblogging applications are viable for many smaller publishing needs and are getting better at also meeting middle-range publishing and community communication needs. So much better that they may someday nip at the heels of mid-level CMS vendors and drive them out of business because of the free (or GPL) to really cheap pricing model that most follow. The improvement of simple web publishing CMSes and community tools such as the one used here has been very impressive considering the short life-time for this breed of software. I would think that CMS vendors make the same kind of calculations in their heads that mainframe salespersons made when they hear that there is a seemingly trivial application that customers are considering as alternatives to their large and very expensive systems. But is there an opportunity to generate revenue, however small, by offering lighter and much cheaper sytems as a reaction to the use of blogging tools in place of CMSes? I guess that's the innovators dilemma, do you heed or ignore the warning foretold in some consumer behavior.

Thanks Tom for the link to the Roundup article.

Whitepaper: The Importance of Information Architecture

Found over at Christina's, this whitepaper promises "Answers to the 10 most critical questions". Here's the blurb from the NavigationArts site

With the overwhelming quantity and demand for information, organizations are starting to think about the nature of their business's institutional knowledge, content and information and its increased burden on today's organization to find an effective means of collection and distribution. To best meet this need, information architecture helps to organize, prioritize and manage the generation, capture and distribution of information. This white paper addresses the ten most critical questions about information architecture in respect to its value in today's evolving business environment.

There's a rumor that dan wrote it, but I'm not sure which dan that exactly is. but I'll guess this Dan...if I'm wrong, let me know in the comments.

IA, usability, controlled vocabularies, findability and more.

Digital Web Magazine interviews Jeffrey Veen and Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path and Christina Wodtke writes about using controlled vocabularies to improve findability in Mind your phraseology!

Deliverables that Clarify, Focus, and Improve Design

From the 2002 UPA Conference comes Deliverables that Clarify, Focus, and Improve Design, a presentation and examples by Richard Fulcher, Bryce Glass and Matt Leacock.

The representations we choose for UI design affect both how we think about the design and how others understand it. Concept maps, wireframes, storyboards, and flow-maps speak to different audiences at different stages of the development cycle. This presentation provides examples of these documents and a toolkit for producing them.

There are a number of good downloads, but I especially liked the Key Relationships Between Design Deliverables (PDF), which is quite worthy of hanging up by your workstation. (Thanks to this article on Boxes and Arrows for the conference summary and link.)

Why Web Standards Matter

Carrie Bickner, web developer for the New York Public Libraries, has an article in Library Journal, Summer2002 Net Connect, that discusses how using W3C XHTML and CSS standards will ensure the accessibility of your data and may possibly save your organization time and money in future development and redesign.

    You've just launched your library's new web site when the calls start: "I just downloaded the latest version of Netscape, and your whole top navigation is invisible"; "I am using a screen reader, and your site reads like gibberish. I can't find a thing"; "I am calling on behalf of the board of tri-county library consortium; we appreciate all the hard work that you have done, but we have a few questions about the design of the new site."

    The site--despite months of work, the best software, and exhaustive quality assurance testing--has problems. What went wrong? How do you remedy the situation while insuring you don't make the same mistakes again? The key may be found in adhering to a set of well-established, internationally recognized web standards.

Internet Librarian 2002

The preliminary program is set for Internet Librarian 2002 (“The Internet Conference and Exhibition for Librarians and Information Managers”), being held November 4-6 in Palm Springs, CA. It looks like there are a lot of good sessions, with tracks and presentations on Intranets, weblogs, UCD, DRM, web writing, e-learning, searching, and the wireless web among other things.

Of particular interest was the description of The IA Divide: Issues Worth Fighting About, which features our very own Peter Morville and Peter Merholz:

Sometimes, it's the things we can't agree on that make life most interesting. In this spirited debate, the two Peters shine the spotlight on the most controversial and critical issues faced by information architects today. While they've got the same first names, these two experts have no problem finding differences. Come watch the battle, as Good Peter faces off against Bad Peter. And be prepared to pick sides. Audience participation and a sense of humor are required.

I'm picturing a cage match complete with folding chairs, easily-breakable tables, and concealed chokers...

XHTML 2.0 and the nl element

XHTML working draft 2.0 is here.

Hmmm. Am curious to see how w3c envisions the new navigation list (nl, same family as ul) element to work. Perhaps browsers will make the nl element collapsible/expandable like aqtree.

Semantic CMS

Victor Lombardi, of Noise Between Stations fame, gives us “Smarter Content Publishing: Building a semantic website to increase the efficiency and usability of publishing systems” in this month's IA-themed Digital Web Magazine.

Victor makes two great points. (Actually, he makes more than two, but there were two main ones that rung true with me.) What I got out of the article -- in my words, not Victor's:

  1. Content management / publishing systems should be efficient and usable. Working on several roll-your-own CMSs, I've tried to focus just as much on having the public-facing design be usable as I have on making the publishing interface/process be usable. The easier it is to publish content, the more likely it is that the content will grow and be up-to-date and accurate.
  2. Content management is as much a process issue as it is a technology issue. So often we see CMS focus on the technology and assorted wiz-bang features, but really, without an appropriate and accepted publishing and approval process, even the best CMS will fail. Usually it's the case where the process is made to conform to the technology, rather than the existing business process being examined and then an appropriate solution being chosen which will require as little change in the business process as possible.
IA and urban design

Lately I've been interested in the connection between information architecture and urban planning, city culture and design, and related areas. Not the connection between IA and (traditional) architecture, but city structures and urban development. (“Information architecture is to the Web what urban planning is to cities.”) I'm obviously not the first one to make this connection, what with things like How Buildings Learn and A Pattern Language popping up on mailing lists and IA book surveys. I recently came across a handful of new (to me) links and thought I'd share:

  • An Information Architecture Approach to Understanding Cities: “Cities are systems of information architecture. Here, "architecture" refers not to the design of buildings, but to how the components of a complex system interact. ... This paper argues that a city works less like a commercial electronic system, and more like the human brain. ... An effective city will be one with a system architecture that can respond to changing conditions. This analysis shifts the focus of understanding cities from their physical structure to the flow of information.”
  • Legibility Enhancement for Information Visualisation (PDF): “Navigation in computer generated information spaces may be difficult, resulting in users getting ‘lost in hyperspace.’ This work aims to build on research from the area of city planning to try to solve this problem.” (1995)
  • Enterprise Architecture: Infrastructure and Integration: “Enterprise Architecture in large organizations is more like City Planning than constructing a building.” (Link is to a page with an abstract and a downloadable ZIPped PPT.) This talks more about enterprise (read: IT) architecture than IA as we know it, but it touches on IA and information management as well. There are some interesting urban design metaphors and correlations.
Know of any more?

Royksopp infographics eyecandy

You've probably already seen the link to the Royksopp video "You remind me" (Real Video) from Matt's site. I just got the Real Player for OS X so I could finally see it and all I can say is "Holy shit!" It's an infographics bonanza that fans of Wurman* will salivate over. Really. If you're so inclined, you won't be disappointed by it.

* I originally incorrectly said Tufte here, but Christina called me on it, because I should have said Wurman.

Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

HBS Working Knowledge interviewed Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School who has been researching the effect of time pressure on creativity in project work. Amabile has been studying the effect of various environmental and internal pressures on the ability to be creative. Her research subjects in the past have included artists and writers. At Harvard her subjects have been organizational employees -- 238 individuals on 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 industries -- who have been filling out project journals.

Amabile's research has been consistently finding that time pressure does not help creativity, but research subjects have consistenly believed that they have been more creative when faced with pressures including time pressure. In fact, subjects have often been producing less creative work. This is fascinating to me. I'm sure the majority of IA's who read this blog are consultants who are faced with constraints of time on an everyday basis. I have heard that designers in some agencies (perhaps more in the web heyday) sometimes take time off away from a design problem in order to allow other solutions to manifest. In the last place I worked, I heard of a case where a few designers took a long drive when they got a particularly interesting project in order to get away from their desks and talk about the design problem a while before considering solutions. Amabile suggests that this is one very good way to develop creative thinking. After working on a problem for some time, take a break and put that work aside for a few days to allow your original ideas and problems to incubate. She suggests that solutions or ideas often appear during this period. While giving yourself some buffer time for creative work may not seem allowable in your present situation, it seems very worthwhile to allow for this incubation period. Surely you can track your time creatively to allow for it :)

OWL Web Ontology Language Working Drafts Published

From W3C news releases:

    The Web Ontology Working Group has released three first Working Drafts. The Feature Synopsis, Abstract Syntax and Language Reference describe the OWL Web Ontology Language 1.0 and its subset OWL Lite. Automated tools can use common sets of terms called ontologies to power services such as more accurate Web search, intelligent software agents, and knowledge management. OWL is used to publish and share ontologies on the Web. Read about the W3C Semantic Web Activity.
Was Jakob an IA?

Speaking of books, I stumbled upon this book cover. (It's a bit small, but if you look close it says Designing Exceptional Web Sites: Secrets of an Information Architect.)

A google search on the title attribltes it to one Mr. Jakob Nielsen, and following the Amazon link takes you to the page for Designing Web Usability.

Was I the only one who didn't know about this? Could Jakob have made IA a household name rather than usability? Things to think about this weekend...

Mysterious book titles revealed!

OK, maybe the rest of the world knows already - but I just found out that Christina's new book will be called Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. Way to go Christina!

Also on the mysterious side: Mike Kuniavsky's preorder page exists too, kind of (you can't order the book). Practical User Testing for the World Wide Web (previously known as "Mike's user research book") is something I've been hoping to add to my collection for a long time - hope O'Reilly publishes it soon.

Not so mysterious, Jesse's Amazon preorder page is also up for Elements of User Experience, as is the page for Polar Bear 2


Peter Morville's Semantic Studios announces the launch of a redesigned version 2.0 web site. Most interesting (to me, at least) are the quotes about the 2nd edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, including John Rhodes' recommendation: “If you own nothing but the shirt on your back, sell your shirt and get this book.”

Net culture in Korea, and how the real killer app is people.

In its latest issue, Wired magazine has a great article about Korea and how they use the Internet as groups. It draws some interesting conclusions, but I wish it would go further in discussing how the US isn't really that different: we're just going at it from a different angle.

For information architects, this is an important issue: if the Internet is at its heart a place for people to interact with one another, perhaps we need to consider that in our discipline. Maybe it's not mainly about data retrieval and shopping? Maybe those things are peripheral, red herrings for our fiercely individualistic culture?

Rather than spamming iaslash, if you want to see my other thoughts about it, check it out at memekitchen.

Can log files help fix your IA?

The issue of using log files to assess the success of the information architecture and usability of a web site came up on a mailing list recently, and two great white papers were uncovered:

Know of any others?