Taking a break from development and Agile activities, I have started reading “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” by Peter Morville & Louis Rosenfeld. This is part of my attempt to increase the user-oriented side of my skills in addition to more technical web development skills.
The book begins by using an analogy of physical building architecture, which builds nicely on the mental model I started to build up from Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”. Different building architectural styles serve different user purposes, labeling and classification enable users to navigate effectively, and the importance of search. While there are also similarities with physical libraries, the multi-dimensionalities associated with the web present a different set of problems.
What I found interesting is their discussion on Information Needs and Information Seeking Behaviors. They discussed four types of Information Needs:
- The Perfect Catch. You know exactly what you are looking for – someone’s telephone number, a fact about the population of the state of Louisiana, etc. Basically, you are looking for “the right answer”
- Information Exploration. You might looking for the best apartment swapping services in Paris, or different investment options in your online 401K service (as I was recently). There are multiple good matches.
- Exhaustive Research. You might be doing research for your thesis, or conducting medical research about a disease a friend may have acquired. You want to leave no stone unturned.
- Refinding. This is where services like del.icio.us come in handy, or the “Favorites” link in YouTube
The point is, how you design search capability and organize your site is going to differ vastly for these purposes, and an understanding of how your users will want to use your site will play a major role in your information architecture. How you organize search, links, content and navigation will either enable or befuddle your users in their goals. In other words, you want to set things up in such a way that your users do not need to think.
Another thing I found interesting (I am only through Part 1) is the Berry Picking Model by Dr. Marcia Bates of USC:
- Start with an information need
- Formulate an information request (query)
- Move through the site(s) in different ways
- Pick up important bits of information (berries)
- Refine your query based upon what you already found and repeat
This stuck out because I was just doing this this morning before reading this:
- Searching for help on using a particular technique
- Finding some helpful articles (and either adding to del.icio.us or Evernote) while browsing then rejecting unhelpful ones
- Altering the search query in the hopes that it would offer more links that better fit my need
Finally, even though the product I work on a web-based application as opposed to a site, an understanding of Information Architecture can also be helpful in terms of how we present information and work with user requests.