Turning mazes into labyrinths
“A true labyrinth is unicursal. There is one well defined path which leads to the centre and back out again.” Peter Moreville – Ambient findability.
Information architecture can and does have several meanings depending on where you are looking, Wikipedia has given it five.
- The structural design of shared information environments.
- The art and science of organizing and labelling web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support findability and usability.
- An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
- The combination of organization, labelling, search and navigation systems within websites and intranets.
- Extracting required parameters/data of Engineering Designs in the process of creating a knowledge-base linking different systems and standards.
From the reading I have done and my own research I have chosen to use “the art and science of organising and labelling websites, intranets, online communities, and software to support findability and usability.” This I feel covers much of the content in the other definitions in a general way while still being easily understood and used in terms of my own work.
In a paragraph however it is the overall design of the entire information system. This stretches across multiple channels and other disciplines (usability engineering, content management, content strategy, user experience (UX) design and interaction design) which have their roots firmly in information architecture or at least depend on this before they can begin their construction or design. Information architecture can be discussed in terms of the user, or entire system design. However the form I have chosen to look at is about the user, in keeping with the human cantered design theme of the project, so in this case it’s all about making sure the user will find what they need and understand the information when it is found by planning out and designing how the various elements will link and work together.
How does it work?
To begin IA consists of three concentric circles each representing a specific area, User, Context and content. Content consists of “packages” of information, such as a paragraph of text or video clip. Context is how it is displayed, this could be technology related, company or even time and date. The user is the target for the information contained by the package and being distributed in context. All of this is usually organised by its attributes whether physical or abstract.
The four key components used in IA to explore and design these areas are Organisation systems (where information is placed e.g., a T shirt type), labelling systems (is where the information is labelled so the user can view it), navigation systems (How it’s navigated) and searching systems (How the information is searched).
How will it affect the human centered design project?
Information architecture will act to immediately inform and act as the basis for any kind of design work for the human centred design project being undertaken. This is one of the key components since creating and properly planning where the information will need to be will provide the bones on to which the rest of the design work can be mounted.
This means that during the early phases of the create phase much emphasis will be given to the IA design over other aspects such as the aesthetics. By prototyping and creating many different types of IA designs I can quickly find and develop an overall concept which will work for the project, allowing the rest of the design to be much faster as various elements of the design will already be in place. To do this effectively wire frames and wire framing templates will be essential and allow me to quickly run through variations on themes and then change to completely different ones, using a camera to document them as well go and spend a little extra time on successful permutations to iterative effectively on designs.
IA is essentially a Building block for pretty much any site or web app. particularly any kind of site with large amounts of information to deliver. UX especially is dependent on excellent IA, while good user experience needs good information architecture, information architecture just needs itself to be good.
Although Information architecture may no longer be in “vogue” the same way user experience design is, the core principles are still the most important of an entire website or system. Without good information architecture people will get lost in the maze rather than explore the labyrinth.