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Mar 14, 2005: The Journal of IA Failures

Something I'd like to see: reporting on IA failures, and what was learned from the carnage. Failure stories are a literary genre in and of themselves; even the most dispassionate, technical ones are hard to put down. That's what makes them such great learning tools.

For example, it's enjoyable in a really sick way to read books like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a chronicle the May 1996 Everest climbing disaster which claimed twelve lives. Another morbidly fun read: Deaths in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park. Chances are if you're a mountaineer, you've read Krakauer's book; if you stumbled on the latter at the Yellowstone gift shop, it'd be hard to put down Deaths in Yellowstone. And both books would surely teach you something.

"Deaths..." catalogs its mishaps in two categories: 1) Death by Nature (e.g., geysers, bears, poisonous plants, avalanches); and 2) Death by Man (e.g., Indian battles, stagecoach incidents, suicides, structural fires). Is your interest piqued?

It's fun to imagine how we might do this in the IA world:

  • Death by Deliverable (e.g., client interprets a black and white line art wireframe to be the final deliverable)
  • Death by Technology (e.g., managers believes Autonomy's marketing hype and lay off their IAs)
  • Death by Metric (e.g., IA gets caught not knowing Jakob's simple but handy ROI justification formula)
  • Death by Branding (e.g., field of IA allows itself to be continually mistaken for usability, for knowledge management, etc. until it fades away)

...and so on.

Hey, IAI, Boxes and Arrows, and Digital Web: how about it? The Journal of Information Architecture Failures; what do you think? I'd be glad to personally contribute some first-hand accounts of content carnage, stakeholder strife, consulting collapse, and other breakdowns along the IA road.

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Comment: Livia Labate (Mar 14, 2005)

I think that is a GREAT idea. I can volunteer a couple of stories. These horror stories are tremendously helpful in creating better IA solutions.

Speaking of this my all-time favourite IA Summit presentation was Samantha Bailey's in 2003 when she talked about what DIDN'T go well in a redesign effort. It sure makes me think three times before I consider anything like a Wizard again...

Comment: Eric Scheid (Mar 14, 2005)

My tale of woe is at http://IAwiki.net/HorrorStories

B&A also published an article by Adam Greenfield of the tale of how an IA project in Japan went awry: http://www.boxesandarrows.com/archives/how_to_architect_sites_across_cultures_without_losing_your_mind.php

Comment: Nick Finck (Mar 17, 2005)

Lou, I'd be more than happy to publish something along these lines. Bring it on!

Comment: Dave Linabury (Mar 21, 2005)

*client interprets a black and white line art wireframe to be the final deliverable*
This one happened to me today, in fact.

Comment: Lou (Mar 21, 2005)

...and I'll bet there were disclaimers, verbal and on the diagram itself, to no avail...

Comment: Jim O'Brien (Sep 23, 2005)

Talking about the horror stories are great. I have definitely had my share.

That's all well and good. However, what is important but more generally lacking are solutions to the problems.

So, if you post a problem or "death," be sure to post your resolution or a suggested resolution for the problem.

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