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Feb 07, 2007: The No-Knead Approach to Information Architecture (#1 of 5)

Right now, a bowl of flour, water, salt, and yeast is sitting in my kitchen. I tossed these ingredients together last night—it took about three minutes—and when I get home tonight, I'll throw the blob into our Dutch oven. About 45 minutes later, we'll feast on a fantastic round loaf, chewy on the inside with a lovely cracked crust you'd normally expect to see in a Gourmet Magazine photo spread. No kneading necessary—after all, it's called no-knead bread—and all for about $.50, far less than the $6 we'd normally pay at our local high-end bakery.

photo of yummy no-knead loaf from NotMartha
NotMartha baked this no-knead loaf; hope mine looks as good

The process of kneading, proofing, rising, kneading again and baking can be enjoyable, but most of us have better things to do with our lives. We try shortcuts, like bread machines, but we know that these silver bullet solutions eventually make their way into basement corners or, finally, to yard sales. None of this is surprising: after all, the ultimate goal is to eat and eat well.

Why can't information architecture be as simple and straightforward? And even as enjoyable?

This may seem an odd question from me, but remember, I just finished revising a 500+ page book on the subject. You don't want to know how many pages were left on the cutting room floor. IA has become so complex in terms of methodology, types of expertise required, and in so many other ways... There just seem to be too many moving parts. It makes my head swim.

IA's increasing complexity is partly a response to the market's ever greater demands. Organizations still seek to redesign their web sites and intranets. Throw the whole damned thing out and start over. I can't say that I blame them—most large sites still suck, and site owners' frustration is beginning to match that of users. I've tried to address this problem with my seminars, but my Powerpoint deck has crept up into the danger zone—266 slides at last count. Talk about making things too complex.

So I've decided to take a simpler approach. Grappling with a large, intimidating information architecture challenge? Here's my new thinking—boiled down to four easy, no-knead steps. I'll be posting them serially in the coming weeks, and I hope you'll find these steps useful:

Step #1: Ban the word "redesign" from your meetings.
Step #2: Determine who your most important audiences are.
Step #3: Determine each primary audience's 3-5 major needs.
Step #4: Make damned sure your site addresses each of those needs.

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Comment: Scott T. (Feb 19, 2007)

Ha! I have my first ball o' dough sitting on the counter, as well. The NY Times article suggested the recipe works well with flours other than bread flour (which is reportedly the best), so I'm trying it first with rye flour. I expect to post the result to Flickr (sstrudeau) tomorrow night...

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