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Apr 22, 2013: The Benefits of a Train Wreck

Want to make an information architect squirm? Just ask this simple question: "Show me an example of good information architecture."

Chances are we'll stammer, mumble something about good IA being invisible IA, and slink away.

It doesn't have to be that way—if we're willing to turn the question on its head. Forget good IA—let's focus on bad IA. You know, the reason that information architecture got started as a practice in the first place.

Let's dig deep into the darkness of just how much life can suck at an absolutely fundamental level when people can't find and understand information.

Let's show—in a direct, visual, painful, and wildly engaging way—what happens when you blow off that IA stuff.

Let's tap the natural impulse to look—to stare!—at the horror of pileups on the information superhighway.

(There but for the grace of god go IA.)

These train wrecks will be quite instructive—in the same way as Jeff Johnson's GUI Bloopers, or as a mirror image to Peter Morville's far more constructive Search Patterns.

So I'd like to propose that some well-intentioned, communally-oriented, semi-organized group of information architects (like, say, the IAI) launch a new site devoted to examples of absolutely crappy, in-your-face, vomit-all-over-your-keyboard information architecture.

I suck at coming up with titles, so I'll offer this working name: The Journal of Fucked IA. (Crazy wild guess: domain's probably available.) Why not? The IAI already publishes the Journal of IA. What's one more publication?

Especially as this one wouldn't have to be peer-reviewed. Set it up as a community portfolio—a Dribble of what not to do. Anyone could submit their latest experience with frustrating findability follies and fuckups. The IAI could do some light curation. We could all tag examples by "search results," "contextual navigation," or whatever, and—voila—we'll have some useful IA anti-patterns. Better yet, tag by industry ("airlines") and organization name ("United") and then we'll start getting some great attention from outside our cocoon.

Yes, let's make those other bastards squirm for once.

Now wouldn't that be fun?

And wouldn't it be better to point people to train wrecks the next time they spring that godawful question?

PS: Maybe this would be a good use of the money that—hopefully—the IAI will start collecting. Soon. Right guys?

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Comment: Ben Henick (Apr 22, 2013)

While I approve of the proposal, I submit that Good IA offers three easy-to-qualify traits:

Good IA offers a clear demarcation - reflected in the overall organization of a site's intrapage links - between the site's business case and its use case.

Good IA always, *always*, ALWAYS concisely defines content scope from the get-go, and identifies it to the visitor as clearly as possible.

Good IA ultimately rewards the visitor at each step - if not with the object of their browsing, then with a clear "thattaway."

Of course, it's awfully difficult to accomplish these goals in the absence of both intent and ability.

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