Information Architecture and the Sofa

Imagine you just moved into a new apartment. You have an amazing sofa and a big screen TV. You’ve envisioned exactly how you’re going to set up your living room. It will be awesome. Your friends and family will come over and be in awe at the beautiful way you’ve designed your new space.

But what happens next is anything but. You lug your sofa up 3 flights of stairs only to find it’s 6 inches too long for the space you planned and covers the sliding glass door to your patio.

You set up your TV above the fireplace only to find the cable and electrical plugins are located 10 feet away. You must run a length of unsightly cords across the room.

And where is that bookshelf going to go? There isn’t any space created for it. I guess it’s going to have to go to your crazy cousin who doesn’t even own a vehicle and needs you to deliver it. We’ve all been there.

red-sofa

Your UX designer may have experienced the same thing in a digital space with your information architecture.

You laid out the infrastructure of the site beautifully, but what they’re left to design around really stretches their creativity to its outer limits.

Information Architecture is not web design, in the same way architecture is not interior design. But they are fundamentally tied together.

Architects (information or otherwise) need to consider the role the designer plays in the final product. We need to understand what new technology the UX designer might want to employ or new design trend they may follow.

We need to work hand in hand with our designer to understand the vision of the final product. There will be compromise. You may get that new navigation menu you wanted, but have to concede the placement of certain buttons. Your designer is important in the process. They are not just there to slap color on you architecture. Your collaboration is integral to the final user experience.

Great architecture with horrible design is just as bad as confusing architecture beautifully designed.

The same is with IA. We may not pick the “wallpaper” or “furniture”, but we need to build a system with that arrangement in mind.

Another thing to keep in mind is which spaces rely on the placement of other spaces. A sofa placed perpendicular to the TV will not create a great user experience when binge watching Doctor Who. Or a TV placed near a window may create a glare that makes daytime TV watching out of the question (sorry, no more Judge Judy).

Once you think you’ve considered every possibility of sofa/TV combination and architected accordingly, you may think you’re done. But have you considered A/B testing post-architecture? What if during user testing you find out the acoustics in the room actually make the sofa/TV arrangement better in a different location? Does your architecture allow for such deviation?

These are important question every IA should be asking themselves before finalizing the architecture. It’s not as easy to re-architect your site as it is to redesign it.

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