This last week brought some interesting challenges, in the form of an intensive 5-day, 40 hour class (plus many hours reading before and homework during) on information architecture. I’ve come to accept that the architecture metaphor goes well beyond the structural considerations on which I had focused before. I had wanted to think of it as the semantic framework constructed of labels & meanings to give shape to users’ experience of a site. (And yes, the class did focus on websites, so I can safely draw that domain boundary — for current purposes, anyway.) Job ads clearly consider the discipline of IA to span the whole range of design from programming, as the building architects use the term — to define functions & uses of spaces — through complete visual elements, down to the fonts & colors. My preference for the taxonomic focus is clearly just something I’ll have to get over.
But hey, my group ‘won’ the class competition, which was an exercise to develop a proposal for consulting work to redesign a website. It feels weird to be bragging about winning a class (to be bragging at all, actually, but that’s another issue), but that’s how it was structured. And another thing I have to accept, as much as I prefer not to, is the reality that such competition is how things are done in the big wide world. I don’t know that I’ll be looking for consulting work with REI’s e-commerce operation anytime soon, but even applying for an in-house job at a library works that way.
So in addition to bragging for the group, I can gloat a little for myself. The feature of our presentation called out as the highlight was our taxonomy, and specifically the way its function and benefits were described and explained. And yes, that was my part of the project. So go me!
Interesting question that came up in the process: Child items in a menu clearly inherit meaning from the parent item — that choice of label affects how users think about choices offered beneath it. But can those child labels also affect the meaning users ascribe to the parent label? I’m thinking maybe it’s an iterative process of considering what might be in the menu, choosing it and seeing its options, reconsidering the semantic boundaries that define this collection of choices, and creating a sense of meaning for the whole. I hypothesize that this isn’t the linear process typically described, but something people consider and reconsider in a sort of continuous approximation model. May need to dig up some journal papers and see what researchers have found on the question.