Monday, July 03, 2006

STORAG - Information Architecture at Enterprise Level

(Week 3 - Organization Systems)

This week's readings are Jason Withrow's Cognitive Psychology & IA: From Theory to Practice and Chapter 5 of the Polar Bear book.

I must say that this week's topic hits very close to home, as I once again see the interlinkage between IA and HCI (Human Computer Interaction). I actually did a lecture wherein I cited Colin Ware's article Design as Applied Perception (published in HCI Theories, Models and Frameworks). And like the Jason Withrow's take on Cognitive Psychology, he also discussed Gestalt's Rules of Proximity and Continuity. In addition to the rules of Proximity and Continuity mentioned in the Withrow's readings, Ware cited some of Gestalt's other rules, which included Good Continuity, Symmetry, and Common Fate. To summarize, Cognitive Psychology, an important element of both IA and HCI, is fundamentally about how we perceive objects and commit them to memory.

To put it simply, let's look at these two sets of symbols.



The first one is a set of linked 3D solid-shaped primitives called Geon Primitives. The other one is the standard UML that many traditional information architects and systems analysts alike are fond of using.

Which one would you remember easily?

That would depend on how you process information and organize them into symbols in your head. Studies in HCI show that most people would easily identify Geon Primitives because of their surface properties. These properties have two levels:

(1) Primary Level - the process of taking in the geons' 3D shape and form
(2) Secondary Level - the process of taking in the texture and color


There's something that we call Information Psychophysics. By definition, the same perceptual mechanisms that lets us view the world are the same mechanisms that enables us to see information patterns in display screens. Here is where our inherent information organizational skills begin.

The book named a number of ways to organize information:

  1. Exact
    • Alphabetical
    • Chronological
    • Geographical



  2. Ambiguous
    • Topic
    • Task
    • Audience
    • Metaphor
    • Hybrid




And also a number of structures:

  1. Hierarchy: Top-Down
  2. Database: Bottom-Up
  3. Hypertext




When dealing with my users, I personally like to mix exact and ambiguous schemes though I lean towards a combination of [Ambiguous: Audience, Hybrid, Metaphor] in arranging the home page (or persistent navigation) elements, then [Exact: Alphabetical] in arranging the content of indices. I usually throw in a simple search box for instances when a new user may exhibit unpredictable surfing behavior. I think it's rather unattractive to pepper one's site with 3D objects and too many effects lest one loses sight of one's goals. While new technology and "pretty effects" can be very tempting to abuse, usability is still key.

This is why I rely heavily on Google Analytics for my content organization, as I have mentioned two entries ago. The way my users behave tell me which parts of my content should be highlighted and given ample exposure. I even went so far as to change how I name my sections. Like, for instance, the former name of my "Reviews" section was "Sneak Peeks," which was metaphorically ambiguous. Considering that many of my visitors come from different parts of the world, it's so easy to get lost. (Labelling, in detail, is another topic best saved for the next entry.) Of course, I constantly have to make adjustments. The book is right when it said that user testing is very essential to IA, so no website stops at version 1. There will always be newer versions based on your user testing results and statistical tools. Who are you making the site for anyway?



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