Digital is so fully integrated into everything that we do. Information Architecture grounds sites & systems in a more accurate real world context, to deliver a more relevant, timely and better curated experience.



Architecting systems

IA and UX evolved from usability, HCI and Librarianship - borrowing task analyses and card sorts to map content to user goals and classification techniques from taxonomies to synonym rings  to define order, reflect proposition or to improve search and findability. 

Whilst some groups became advocates of processes, standards, classification, heuristics and best practice others have leaned towards experimentation, play, sprint stories, innovation, iteration and disruptive change. A system can be architected and documented in either a holistic or iterative fashion - what matters is meaning - how context is understood and how consequences are documented. 


Traditionally, marketing strategy and planning begins with situation analysis - defining a baseline from which to plan. Digitally project kick off workshops, stakeholder interviews and research activities can draw together inputs that form an equivalent baseline, in other cases a magical short form brief. Digitally though, documentation and planning notes can be transformed into living documents that evolve with a project - updated using MI, adapted on the go based on new insights, new iterations or real time analytics input. 


Getting to the heart of the matter involves exploring subject domains, collaborative decision making and identifying the challenges. Cognitive and social sciences research skills come to play here, as well as collaborative games and visualisations that help people to see the bigger picture. 

  • Open card sorts to learn more about your audiences' mental models of a domain
  • Digital profiling to sketch out who's really visiting your website when they're using it for different reasons
  • Design personas to stimulate design thinking centred around real world motivations and goals
  • Matrix games for mapping out subject domains
  • Semi structured interviews to understand contexts to design for
  • Surface & prioritise workshops to understand and organise teams' tacit knowledge
  • Affinity mapping workshops  connecting concepts to understand the whole
  • Surveys, Grounded theory, Linguistic analyses


How does the Zeitgeist  influence the things we make and the systems we design - whether companies, digital services, websites or just words? A little bit of design history sheds light on successes of multi-disciplinary pairs and approaches to design - with engineering, architectural, editorial and visual experts sharing their different manifestos on the keys to good design. 

Antoine de St Exupery - Writer & Illustrator of Le Petit Prince

Antoine de St Exupery - Writer & Illustrator of Le Petit Prince

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
— Antoine de St Exupery

Create, edit, create edit down.  Creating a model is the first step. The next is to iterate and evaluate.


Ray Eames, co-curator of the famous Eames chair often said,

What works good is better than what looks good because what works good lasts
Iterative development of the Eames Chair

Iterative development of the Eames Chair

Ray was an artist, Antoine an author and illustrator. Ray's saying reminds me of CSS Zen Garden - what looks good changes with each designer who contributes whilst what works - the rationale and purpose of the site stays relatively constant over time.  A purposeful design layer that holds fast and a beautifully styled design layer that reflects personality, identity and culture. Different layers moving at different paces.

The less is more principle, evoked by Antoine's quote reminds me more of editorial process. Put thoughts to paper, re-read, review, cut, prioritise, edit, perfect or audit what you have, take stock, edit, re-shape, re-frame, improve sense making over time.

Antoine was both a writer and illustrator often drawing the words and the pictures together in his childrens' books to evoke a new concept or idea.

Charles Eames, Ray's partner on the other hand came from an architecture and engineering background and sometimes said critically of design that,

The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the design problem.

He meant that if you always said, "less is more" no matter the situation, you are not truly responding to the situation - you may some day find yourself in a place where "more is more," but you will still answer the same way with less.

The Eames workshop developed and innovated products through a process of rigorous iteration and testing but their place of work was also playful and unconventional - crossing disciplines from industrial and graphic design to fine art and film. 

In the film, The Architect and the Painter, the Eames' working life is portrayed as an extension of two distinct personalities focused on shaping products, advertising and instructional movies - creating opportunities to conjure up the unthinkable. The Eames' "design is context, design is iteration"  approach resounds with digital design and style today. Perhaps Modernism = responsive, Digital = iterative. The Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw claims that their unique breed of American creativity in fact anticipates the digital age.

Both information architecture and visual communication strategies can be used to bridge gaps or define paths in ambiguous or mixed up design contexts. Different disciplines can suit different kinds of problem or different entry points in the process. 

Design can be about the melding of different mindsets focused on different design layers and problems. It can equally be about applying the correct  lens in the diagnosis of system glitches. Is the problem at interface level or at system level? 

Design can feel right when it's about sculpting clarity out of chaos or when making something more expressive, more gestural. Information Architecture feels right when a team reaches mutual understanding of the model or when finding information feels easy. 

The Eames workshop outputs were first about tangible product designs then later about advertising ideas and communication designs. Today in digital marketing, communication designers are re-investigating the tangible - uses for i-beacons, scoping services and apps, not just banner ads and micro sites.  Good design changes the status quo, it disrupts or re-awakens. Good information architecture connects the dots, it might reframe the content, it might strengthen the core concept or clarify the proposition.  It can be simply about de-tangling and re-wiring digital connections, clearing paths for users.