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Jan 09, 2003: Questions Information Architects Ask (New York, 11/02)

Margaret Hanley and I taught yet another round of IA seminars for the Nielsen Norman Group in November, these in New York City and London. As usual, we asked attendees to write down their burning IA questions on index cards. And as usual, we're sharing them with you below. These might be helpful if you're preparing an IA seminar yourself, or, if nothing else, they're an interesting snapshot of what folks were interested in during late 2002. I'll put up the London questions in a few days.

Questions on methodology

  • Is IA primarily an analytical process or primarily a creative process? What is the role of creativity in developing on IA?
  • Suggestions on how to implement from a current state of IA to a desired state.
  • How do you deal with usability during IA work? Do you use usability as an inquiry tool? What's the impact of usability on IA?
  • How to manage items/pages that do not have a "natural home" (that donít fit any other category)?
  • What exactly is ethnography and how is this best applied to top-down IA?
  • Whether designing an IA from scratch or from existing architectures, what are the relative virtues of using the following methods of defining hierarchies: 1) using a general to specific method of analyzing data or 2) using a specific to general method?
  • What are the IA deliverables and what is their lifespan?
  • Are there pieces of software you can't live without for building dynamic, distributed content management and IA maintenance (especially for non-technical content managers)?
  • A question about the number of users to test: research by Nielsen determined that 8-10 users are the optimal number for testing. But that was nearly 10 years ago. Has any recent research been conducted on this subject? It would be useful to counter clients (influenced by HFEs) who claim that the research is outdated and therefore, invalid.
  • How do you organize information on one site for several different users with very different needs?
  • Can you suggest resources for finding site usage studies (regarding navigation, what causes users to stay, what causes them to leave)?

Content-related questions

  • How do you deal with a situation where different content owners within a big organization prefer to have their own topical categorization for their sub-sites? Is it a good approach to have a central taxonomy and do lots of mapping? If you allow different classification/categorization, how do you promote content flow among different sub-sites by UPU's or business units and the main site?
  • What are good techniques or tools used to create metadata-metatags?
  • If I wanted to fix a website that is an IA nightmare, is it better to redo the site from scratch, or are there other methods of fixing this site?
  • Could you talk more about using attributes of the content as metadata so that the item of content can be retrieved from multiple different ways? For example, allowing people to find the eggplant lasagna recipe under "Italian," "Vegetarian Main Dishes," "Winter Foods" or "Eggplant."
  • Explain the difference between keywords and metadata and how to develop them (methods).
  • How do you apply metadata to unstructured content, say one page introducing info to a welcome page, etc? Do you need to catalog every page of a site, sub-site, etc? Whatís the appropriate level of description/cataloging you recommend?
  • Please explain content modeling.
  • If you want to re-architect your website, would it be a good idea to look at your search web logs to help with your labeling (bottom up)?
  • What is a "chunk"?
  • Would the world's greatest search engine (specific to an individual web site) be a replacement for site architecture/navigation, assuming the search engine were to give users exactly the results they sought?

Context-related questions

  • We're looking to improve the IA of our corporate intranet (Fortune 500 Company with decentralized divisions). Would it be a mistake to "ignore" the division intranets, which are linked from the corporate intranet but hosted and maintained at the division level? (I would not ignore them forever, but my fear is we must take baby steps in order to make any progress.)
  • How does IA change per country? Do you have experience/research material on IA usage for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)? Is there a standard IA that is accepted among users worldwide? Is there a standard methodology? If yes, where can we find it?
  • How has IA changed by industry? Is there a specific industry (entertainment, financial services, technology, etc.) that has the best or worst IA overall?
  • We have 42 main BISAC categories (book categories). How do you recommend displaying all this info? Are there some standard layouts to organize information like that? Our clients are public and private libraries.
  • Do you have a recommendation for how to organize most intranets (that is different from a department focus)?
  • How do you envision bottom up architecture on a large financial institution website, especially given that the company and their products are organized in silos?
  • Library Website: We are expanding content development and it will result in many more pages. These pages represent "the place to go" to get started finding information on a specific topic. Iím struggling with the index and the interface. We will do a search box, but I am interested in a browsable list of common language terms. We will try to link it to our catalog, which has a controlled vocabulary very few people understand or use efficiently. How many terms are too many? We've experience the too few phenomenon.
  • Discuss ways to persuade/convince/bully/intimidated management to use IA techniques, especially on existing sites or products. How can the cost and effort be justified?
  • What's the difference between a duck?

Questions on relationship between IA and other fields

  • Explain the difference between user-centered design vs. information architecture.
  • Can one person do it all--research, design and implementation?
  • What is the relationship between content management, usability, information architecture and design?
  • Iím an IA consultant. It seems like many of my clients--particularly the big ones--really want a mix of UX disciplines when they hire me. Typically HCI, Interaction Design, IA, Information Design, Usability, etc. What trend do you see in the larger IA industry with respect to larger firms sourcing more discrete UX practices (i.e. Hiring a pure IA or pure Human Factors person)?
  • What is a good way to defend my territory as IA? IA is all I do--we have business analysts, designers, users who try to do my job.

Unclassified (but extremely interesting) question

  • How would you comment on Ted Nelson's statement that the Web turned out to be nothing more than "decorated directories" and not a true hypertext system--are taxonomies really the best way to organize information or are there ways of using "true" hypertext which might work better than that?

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Comment: Tracey (Dec 28, 2004)

If you don't mind if I could ask some question(s)..........

Do you think there is a need for just as-built floor plans out there?

Do you have to be a registered architect to do these? Be Licensed in certain states?

I have found a way to do this in a timely manner, with a smaller fee.
Do you think this would be helpful to the community?

I want to just do Floor plans, if they need anymore. I would refer them to a Architect, like you....
I don't believe it would effect anyone, competition that is.

Thank you for your support,

Tracey Evers

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