IA Summit 2007 – Where does IA fit in the design process?

IA Summit Logo

One of the great things about being in this hemisphere is that it makes it all the more easy for me to get to some of the conferences I’ve been dying to get to for ages. March this year is going to be very exciting because I’m going to both SXSW and the IA Summit.

Anyone else heading in that direction? I’m looking forward to putting some faces to some names!

I’m also very excited to be participating in a panel at the IA Summit. Chaired (and organised) by Peter Boersma, and featuring amazing people like Peter Merholz, Livia Labate, Larisa Warnke and Josh Seiden (and me!), we’re going to be discussing where in the design process information architecture fits.

Some of the questions that Peter says he’s going to ask include:

  • When should IAs be part of a design team?
  • How do IAs work together with other design team members?
  • How do you communicate your design process to clients?
  • How do you measure improvements in your design process?

 I have a few opinions… but I’d be really interested to hear how you’d field these ones!


Inaugural IA Bookclub [London]

Persuasive Technology
Finally! a place to go and talk about nerdy books that IAs love in safe, non-eyerolling company!

Yay to David Carruthers for kicking off the IA Bookclub which will meet for the first time in February to talk about BJ Fogg’s Persuasive Technology.

I read this book in the first year I was doing my Masters when I first ever heard of captology, and it really changed the way that I thought about design. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and hearing what everyone’s got to say about it! (And to see how my reading of it has changed over the past few years).

I’ll get onto it just as soon as I finish re-reading Inmates Are Running the Asylum. The first time I read that one was before the first dot com boom. The anecdotes and examples serve as massive flashbacks to that innocent time, but the guts of what Cooper has to say is just as inspiring as it ever was. Have you read it yet? It’s compulsary reading for anyone who’s anywhere *near* designing the way that people interact with technology.

Anyways, back to the book club. Here are the details:

what: London IA Bookclub
where: twentysix London, 1 Dorset street, London, W1U 4EG
(more directions)

when: 7 Feb @ 7pm
UPDATE: moved to 8 Feb @ 7pm
and back to 7 Feb again! (still 7pm)
UPDATE: Book Club is SOLD OUT! I think there might be a waiting list, but apparently we have 17 IA Geeks getting together to talk next week. Excellent!

twentysix are putting on some drinks and snacks, all you have to do is RSVP, read the book and come along!

Vodafone UK redesign – clean and simple on the surface, but it ain’t necessarily so.

New Vodafone DesignNew Vodafone Website design

Vodafone were certainly well over due for a redesign of their website, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I went to look up some contact details and found that redesigned they had…. and what a nice change. Compared to previous design (you can see more or less what it was like here), this design is calm and controlled and much less frantic. The old design used to make me feel stressed even before I started trying to negotiate it. My starting point with this new design is much more positive.

How have they achieved this? Dramatically cutting down the complexity and busyness of the old design and taking a much simpler and more cleanly structured approach. The clear division of the personal and business section certainly helps this, but even within the sections, significant work has been done with the information architecture to achieve this apparent simplicity.

But does the new design work better?

The thing that *really* aggravated me on the old website was the web interface for buying new ‘Pay As You Go’ credit, or Topping Up. I could find the functionality very quickly, but ended up caught in an endless cycle of error messages that never resulted in a sale.

So, I tried to perform this task on the new website and I found:

  1. it was much harder to find where I was supposed to go to ‘top up’. Perhaps this is low down on the Vodafone priority list (although I’d be surprised at this… a whole lot of Vodafone customers PAYG customers). The information scent around this functionality is much weaker than on the previous website. I assume, although I’m not entirely certain, that I would find it somewhere in the ‘Manage Your Account Online‘ section…. I tried this after I tried Shop and My Vodafone without success.
  2. it looks to me as though this design just re-skins the horrid software that I’ve battled with in the past to ‘top up’ my PAYG account (it certainly has the same look about it). I gave up when I struggled with the log in. Given that there is virtually no information provided as to what exactly I can ‘manage’ in this section, there is little incentive go through the registration process and maintain patience with the system.

So, from this quick evaluation, it seems to me that although the Vodafone redesign is, in some respects, an improvement on the previous site, particularly with regards to visual appeal, there are still plenty of opportunities for Vodafone to deliver a much more impressive customer experience online… perhaps focussing a little less on the flashy animations (yes, they’re still there, just on the lower level pages now), and more on supporting user tasks.

A step in the right direction though. I wonder if this design is now going to be implemented globally?

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Information Architecture is in the DNA of Design (On Evolving not Dying)

Rumours of the impending death of Information Architecture have been greatly exaggerated, but I think it is true that the Information Architect you were five years ago is very different to what you’ll be in five years time. (In fact, it’s probably very different already).

These rumours seem to have been kicked off by ‘important people in IA’ seemingly rejecting the IA community by moving onto other things – starting a new company, being interested in things that occur off the screen, finding themselves doing more Interaction Design than IA, or more strategic business thinking than sitemapping.

These are important symptoms, but they’re not fatal. It’s more about metamorphosis, adaptation, evolution. And that’s exciting (and just a little scary, sometimes).

As I see it, there are three important trends impacting on Information Architecture practice today – the content and categories we work with, our relationship with our ‘audience’, and our work practices.

Technological empowerment has meant that our audience are now active producers of content and rather than trying to ‘hide’ inactive content, our biggest challenge is often to manage the incoming surge of content in all it’s formats.

We’ve moved beyond just text and images – now audio and video are commonplace content formats for IAs to address.

The rise of search has meant that traditional site structures have become far less relevant to findability, and metadata (in its various forms) is more important than ever.

The semantic web is awakening and wondering what role we’ll play in it’s destiny.

Location, physical space, is becoming a key factor in understanding and defining content more and more often.

Our audiences are actively involved in IA, labelling, categorising, creating content.

Information Architecture is becoming more interactive and dynamic than ever before. Many of the more ‘static’ tools are no longer as useful as they were before. New and different tools are being borrowed from different disciplines, evolved from older tools and methods.

Teams are becoming more cross skilled and agile. A ‘pure’ IA project is becoming rarer. IAs are becoming more involved in strategic decision making, but they’re also getting more involved in interaction design as Rich Internet Applications become more and more prevalent.

The diagram above shows the range of tasks and ‘practices’ that people who identify as practitioners of Information Architecture can and will often cross into. With the exception of Visual Design (which I stay well clear of due to accute lack of talent), I frequently use methods which range across all of the disciplines in this diagram. Similarly, tasks and methods have to be included within multiple disciplines.

Where do Personas and Scenarios live? You can’t exclude them from IA, ID or Research, which all use them frequently. Design does not reside only with Visual Design, but in almost all of these categories in one form or another. Although Research is a discipline of it’s own, most of these disciplines will use research in one way or another to achieve their outcomes/outputs.

Information Architecture is not dying. On the contrary, it is evolving and becoming more enriched as it becomes more inclusive of the various disciplines from which it’s practitioners originate.

Certainly in five years time there may be fewer people with the job title ‘Information Architect’ (and rightly so, if we’re doing more than that), but given the vastness of content that joins the web every day now, and the opportunities and challenges of the semantic web, the need for the skills and understanding of skilled practitioners of Information Architecture are more needed now than ever.

We’ll be very different IAs in a few years time, but I for one think we’ll have a more interesting, challenging and varied role to play, and personally, I can’t wait.

What about you?

Related reading on IA’s Recent Growing Pains

Adam Greenfield: IA or not IA (Don’t miss the comments on this one!)
Christina Wodtke: Why am I so angry?
Peter Merholtz: Tribeless
Joshua Porter: Thoughts on the Impending Death of IA
David Armano: Will IA go MIA?