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SIGIA-L Mail Archives: Re: SIGIA-L: future directions for IA

Re: SIGIA-L: future directions for IA

From: christina wodtke (
Date: Fri Aug 24 2001 - 21:05:50 EDT

> > it often seems to me that what we talk about on the email list isn't the
> as Lou's IA book
> > and insofar as that is true, it seems to me that we still have not well
understood the concepts.

When Peter Morville joined the SF cocktail hour, I was teasing him that the
IA in San Francisco was radically different from the Argus IA, and that
there was west coast IA and Midwest IA (like east coast and west coast

West coast IA (or maybe it's just san francisco agency IA) is very focused
on interaction design and user experience. Midwest IA is very focused on
information organization for retrieval purposes.

Thus you get conversations that stray into metadata and xml on one side, and
conversations that stray into usability testing and GUI standards on the
other. Mostly we overlap a lot, but the focus seems quite different to me.

I plan to write this up eventually, but after doing my big survey on
I started to formulate this model of information architecture that consist
of three parts

1) content architecture (polar bear style) that has a concentration on the
organization of information for easy retrieval.
2) interaction design (about face) which as all about architecting for use,
to accomplish tasks, much more application oriented.
3) information design (wurman's information architects) What concentrates on
both organizing information for comprehension but also concerns itself with
gui design.

For information architecture for the web, this makes the greatest amount of
sense. One can then organize information, design systems for retrieval and
use, and create ways to access and comprehend. Almost all websites are
combination of these elements, so I feel that with these three
concentrations of skills, IA's are well equipped.

Some of you may be asking where the user is in this model? Well I would say
that user-centered is an approach, not a unique skill, and one can do
user-centered IA, user-centered design, user-centered anything... one is a
layer that fits over the other. Whether this requires two people (a
usability specialist and an ia) or one (a user-centered ia) is up to the
organization of the company. I personally prefer the first, for a number of
reasons I've articulated in the past.

And since this is an approach, that means there can be other approaches

So, to turn my attention to the Lou post--

Lou and I been bantering off list on his blog entry. My feeling is that his
list included a lot of the meat of what we are doing already, but not
talking about on the list for whatever reasons.

*Distinguishing users' information needs
If one is practicing user-centered IA, and you are doing content
architecture, you are practicing this. Who is the user, and what are their
needs in retrieving the information on a given site is core to the work of
any content-rich site's IA, be it IHT or epicurious. Carbon IQ is doing a
lot of this for our clients, I'm going to guess we are not that unique.

*Determining content granularity and
*Understanding and using metadata
There is a reason XML talks keep showing up at the IA summits.. Hopefully
someone is making the connection right now.... Controlled vocabularies are
key to search, especially search/browse cross use such as yahoo has been
doing for years.

*Developing hybrid architectures
The nature of the web is almost all architectures are hybrid. Take
egreetings: one had to design 1st and information retrieval system that
allowed a user to successfully find a desirable card from one of multiple
mental models of seeking (occasion, recipient, mood) then *send* it, track
it, reply to it... from content architecture to interaction design with a
fine veneer of information design on top we have a fine hybrid. I can point
to everyone's favorite example Amazon, which mixes browse architecture,
recommendation engines, search and susceptible moments... We're doing it.

(mini-topic drift: does Amazon have IA's? How much great IA is being done by

*Presenting search results better
Is Avi in the house? And does this belong to AI's in their information
design role, or does this belong to designers?

*Rolling out enterprise-wide architectures
And now we are back to what some folks call big IA....

I don't always agree with this idea that we need a CIAO, but I do believe we
need a CUXO-- we need one person who holds the vision and assures a
consistent user experience across the company's properties in order to
protect the brand. And this is so much bigger than our little slice of the

but we might be a cherry in that pie.

Gotta go,


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