the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Information (Architecture) == Power (Architecture) ?

in Design & Usability , Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I'm a little further down the "what am I doing here" road now. It involves a huge amount of reading and information ingestion, as well as feedback and valuable insights from friends and colleagues (like for example "enough talking, let's DO something" :-) ). But I'm still perplexed. I'm trying, essentially, to find a core concept which i'm happy with, which (IT) management is happy with, and which my colleagues are happy with, AND which expresses the basic idea of "a process which describes a design methodology focussed on making things easier for customers". In the field of User Centered Design, we can identify a whole legion of sub topics. For example, some common ones:
  • Information Architecture
  • Interaction Design
  • Interface Design
  • Usability Engineering
  • Functional Testing
and some I would add from my perspective:
  • Solution Architecture
  • Requirements Management
  • Functional Testing
But when you try to focus down on these they go all blurry and try to wriggle away. Each one tries to encompass the other, tries to be top dog (whilst desperately trying to appear not to). An exmple - in "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web" by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, surely a recognised reference, towards the end of the book they start to advocate all sorts of world domination schemes where Enterprise Information Architecture teams are implanted in major organisations. Earlier, they discuss deep IA topics such as taxonomies, classification and labelling without breaking out of the context they themselves define. But in Chapter 19 we find them tabulating proposed responsibilities for an EIA team such as Link checking, HTML validation, Content Development Poilcy alongside the more expected stuff. The idea of improving a company's products or services seems to be subsumed to the urgency to create a highly political guerilla unit. And whilst the IA undercover unit is secretly plotting to take over the world, the Usability team lurks in dark corridors pursuing their own secret mission, and the central commitee of the solution architects soviet is preparing the master plan they will unleash on an unsuspecting boardroom. Peter Van Dijck, in "Information Architecture for Designers", manages to create a highly visual book that by & large restricts itself to IA. References to other disciplines are clearly just that - references, not takeover bids. I don't have a problem with Morfeld & Rosenfeld's book - I'd be pretty stupid to not acknowledge that it practically defined IA, and is a thought provoking and enjoyable read. But I rather like this from Van Dijck's Final word: "There is a problem with the way websites are built. Succesful websites combine the best of visual design, business strategy, programming, content writing, marketing and branding, usability, and information architecture". This really helps to understand a concept of what IA is, what its boundaries are, and what it collaborates with. I know many, many people are fed up with this eternal requestioning of terminology, but finally if you can't explain what something is (as well as the much easier what it isn't), how can you even understand it, let alone persuade a company to adopt it as a core strategy ?