Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Information Architecture, part 1

Defining the definition.

What is information architecture?

Building a web site is more than decorating a web page with some words and pictures. Information architecture (sometimes called just IA) defines a site's content and organization:
  • What a web site shows.
  • How the site is laid out.
  • How the site can be navigated.
Think of information architecture as a blueprint for a web site. Information architecture is the foundation for building a high quality, usable site. Information architecture:
  • Delivers plans for design and development.
  • Provides an understanding of function.
  • Defines user interfaces.
Content, visual design, interaction design, usability, and functionality are also important, but the plan has to be there first. You need a good foundation. That's where information architecture comes in.

Why bother creating an information architecture?

Why? To meet business needs. Information architecture is a discipline geared toward meeting business needs. It's a way of creating plans to meet those business needs.

Information architecture goes beyond deciding what the content should be and where it should go. Instead of simply arranging pictures and blocks of copy, somehow, information architecture delivers concrete answers about how to help visitors find what they need and understand it when they find it.

Helping visitors is vital. No doubt about that. But the ultimate goal is to serve the business. Good information architecture results in a partnership between user needs and business needs. The point is to meet everyone's needs.

Information architecture is more than just blindly accepting everything site visitors or site users say, and more than just making a single business client happy. An information architect has to understand a project's variables and create a balance that helps people find and manage information. Those people are both inside the business and outside the business. But the ultimate goal is to serve that business.

Deliverables to expect from an information architecture.

An information architect helps to create some or all of the following deliverables.
  • Personas. These define types of visitors expected -- who might use the site and what they might be after.

  • A content matrix. This lists each page in the site and identifies its content. It's like a site outline.

  • A site map, a diagram giving an overview of the web site's structure. How to navigate a site is a separate issue, but it does depend on the site's structure.

  • Page layouts. These describe types of content, placement of content, and what functional elements a page might have. They also describe navigation within a single web page. Diagrams are easy to grasp, but written notes add depth and critical details useful for designers and developers.

  • Page templates. These are required for medium to large sites but optional for many smaller sites. Page templates define boilerplate, the layout of recurring page elements such as site-wide and local navigation schemes, sidebars, and standard blocks of text. Page templates also help in building a content management system.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Personal, Personal, Personal

Communication. It's an art. It's necessary. It's easy. It's hard. It depends.

You can't escape communication, and you don't want to. You need it, I need it, every business needs it. It's really all we have. But it can kill you if you turn your back on it.

One thing you can do is to keep it personal. Make all conversations unique. Own them. Act as though you mean it, and do. In fact, this is what you have to do. Otherwise you lose people.

It always takes at least two to talk, and to talk you need something to say, and you need trust, and a common goal. And you need to work at it.

Bad communication is easy. Just don't try. Mumble. Treat people like you don't care, which you don't, if bad communication is your goal.

Bad communication is avoidable communication. It's avoidable contact. It's avoidance in every way possible. Don't talk, don't write, don't answer the phone. Skip eye contact. Drone. Never smile. Join the undead. Escape reality. Escape involvement. Escape context. Escape business. Be vague. Be forgettable.

Bad communication is pointless communication. It never stands its ground, or gains any. Say something today and something else tomorrow. Forget. Make random noises with your mouth, put random words into your ads, build a random web site. It doesn't matter. Whatever.

Make no sense. Equivocate. Break promises. Represent nothing. Claim you didn't mean it. Concede the high ground. Keep at it until you are all alone. That's your measure of success.

Bad communication is simple communication. It's so simple that you don't need to think about it at all, ever. It's really that simple. You never need to worry about what you say or do because it doesn't matter. You can do anything. Or do nothing. OK either way.

If you want to communicate poorly then you don't work at it. Who wants work? Not you. You want to keep it simple. As simple as possible. Simpler.

No need to make sure you're being understood. Or make sure that you have understood. Or that you're making sense. Sounds like a plan, which may be a sign of too much work. Why bother? Try less, less hard, less often. Give up.

Bad communication fits all sizes. No tailoring a message to the audience. Stock phrases work great. After all, who cares anyway? Too much like work. Didn't we already cover that work thing?

Remember that you're going for the steady state of zero communication, zero contact, zero activity, zero complexity, zero gain. So don't bother checking who you're talking to or about what. Make something up. Anything. It will do.

Then, once you've learned this easy technique, keep it handy. Pull it out for any and all occasions. Why worry about who you're talking to? They're only people, and people are people. All the same. Numbers. If they don't like you they can go somewhere else.

It's not as though you want to have a relationship with anyone. Or like, care. Any place, any time, any people -- doesn't matter. Bad communication works on all of them.

On the other hand you might consider another point of view.

  • That no matter what you do, you are communicating something. You can't avoid it.
  • That whomever you are dealing with will remember what you said and expect you to stand by it.
  • That communicating takes work, and thought, and perseverance, and integrity.
  • That if you want customers, you have to treat them with respect, as unique individuals with unique problems to solve.

So then, do you expect your web site to communicate well or not?

If not, then why have a web site?

But if you have a web site, why not have a great web site?

Remember, you can throw a few dollars at a wall and get nothing more than flying shadows. A good site doesn't cost much more than a bad one, and you get a relationship at no extra cost. A solid communicating relationship with someone you can trust, who does good work, and who will help you gain and hold business rather than losing it.

Because the downside of bad communication isn't simply gaining less. It's losing what you already have.

Or was that what you wanted?