LSC 610 Information Architecture

First assignment, January 18, 2014

Dan Brown’s article, Eight Principles of Information Architecture, does a fairly thorough job of laying out the definitions, assumptions and principles of information architecture (Brown, 2010). He also provides a useful framework for how one might use the principles in an actual information setting.

I will come back to the Brown article in a moment.

Morville and Rosenfeld provide a crisp, clean set of definitions for information architecture, before proceeding to deconstruct it, thereby revealing its true “architecture.” Information architecture, according to Morville and Rosenfeld, is four “things.” It is structural design of shared information spaces, it is the aggregation of several functions (organization, identification, search, navigation and possibly many others) inside websites and intranets, it is the “art and science” of designing elements for usability and findability, and it is the developing discipline and community of practice for utilizing design and architectural principles to understand and use digital space (Morville&Rosenfeld, 2007). And, they counter, information architecture is NOT graphic design, software development, usability engineering, and a number of specific areas/disciplines related to internet and web technology and design. Glad we cleared that up!

Information architecture is necessary because, as alluded to by Morville&Rosenfeld, by Brown, by Parandjuk, and by our class notes, we live in an information environment, one that requires order and harmony, with dwelling units that are well-constructed, consistently and uniformly arranged, with proper navigation so we can move around from place to place with ease, comfort, confidence, trust, and a sense of well-being. That, in a word explains why we need information architecture.

Now, getting back to Brown’s article, I sensed an immediate connection between Brown’s eight principles of information architecture and Ranganathan’s five laws of Library Science that we covered in LSC 557, a correspondence between the eight and the five. I will have to save the full exposition of another occasion.

Comment: I also sensed Morville&Rosenfeld’s sort of deconstruction with reference to the IA profesionals at a conference. And I found a slight contradiction in Parandjuk’s top-down use of controlled vocabularies (taxonomy) and bottom-up user-generated metadata to ensure multiple findability. In a way it is sort of post-modern, I guess, a sort of simultaneous effort to dismantle the elements of modern librarianship and information hierarchy coupled with the celebration of counter-principles of networked, gap management facing a constant process of information expansion and transformation.

Comment: One may even argue that having lots of options is often problematic across the board, as alluded to by Brown’s mention of Schwartz’ paradox of choice. There is, on the one hand, analysis paralysis from actually attempting to choose between too many options, unsuccessfully, and, on the other hand, inaction inertia (I think that is how Schwartz describes it) as the inclination to avoid regret from the wrong choice results in no action at all. But that sort of takes us off the subject… Sorry.

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2 thoughts on “LSC 610 Information Architecture

  1. week 5 discussion on labeling and navigation systems in website design.

    When deciding to include or exclude labeling or navigation systems, one must consider first and foremost the requirements of the site’s unique content, the special needs of the audience it serves (and is being targeted), and the business objectives of the website (Morville and Rosenfeld, 2007, pp. 113-114).
    For labeling, the choice from among the varieties of labels, whether contextual links, headings, navigation system choices, or index terms, all address the aforementioned three criteria. One should consider the following four categories for label choice (Morville and Rosenfeld, 2007): 1) Labels should be representative of the content they connect to, and they should differentiate between related but dissimilar items.
    2) Labels should be precise in meaning and that meaning should be familiar tot eh intended audience;
    3) Labels should be efficient and economical is word usage and should avoid cognitive traps and ambiguousness;
    4) Labels should make a positive impression for the content they represent and for the website where they appear.
    The site I have chosen, one I read almost every day is the Drudge Report. The Drudge Report is a news aggregation site created by Matt Drudge that started as a weekly e-mail gossip sheet, but that spread when it broke the Monica Lewinsky story in the late 90’s.
    Above the fold, the Drudge Report has a series of links to top news stories of the day, either in the upper left or the upright corner (or both, depending on the volume of breaking news stories) one major headline and an accompanying photo, and two or three smaller photos with accompanying stories labeled and hyperlinked. Labels are representative, precise, grammatically efficient, normally appearing in three vertical columns. Really important stories have italicized labels, and stories of secondary importance appear in all caps. Sensational stories may appear in red labels, all caps. There are no headers, and aside from the aforementioned distinctions, no navigational system choices, so reading through them is tedious and time consuming.
    Below the fold, left to right, there are links to news services and other news aggregation sites in the far left, key editorial writers from top national and local newspapers in the center column, and in the far right column, links and stats to the report itself and to weather sites. Again, there are no headings, no iconic labels, and no navigational system choices. Drudge relies on the ability of his readers to know what is where on the site, based on consistent positioning over the years, a sort of internal labeling system, a navigational system known to the cognoscenti of the Drudge Report. Morville and Rosenfeld make reference to this type of implicit, non-obvious labeling system in their references to the need for consistency, predictability, and ease of learning, and they assert that such a system may well be “invisible” (Morville and Rosenfeld, 2007, p. 99).
    Akindi and Boazza assert that a well-designed navigation system is the most significant determinant to the success of an information website (Akindi&Boazza, 2010). They highlight global, local and contextual navigation systems, as well as hierarchical navigation systems that include a table of contents (sitemap), an index, and site guides (Morville&Rosenfeld make the same distinction, identifying the former as embedded or integrated into the website, and the latter as supplemental to the website). Through illustrations from sample websites, they demonstrate the global navigation aid, a horizontal bar with tabs to general subjects, loca navigation aids, a vertical column of pulldown menus, and the contextual navigation, basically a scope note in the text of the website. As an example of hierarchical navigation aids, they use a university website that contains an alphabetical and hierarchical listing of links to offices at the university, the chain of command, so to speak.
    They conclude the section by outlining the principal factors for organizing information on a website, i.e., the navigation system should incorporate the design of the homepage (links, navigational bars, embedded navigation aids already mentioned, and supplementary navigation aids already mentioned, and the search engines should have efficient search systems, to provide users with autonomy (Akindi and Boazza, 2010).
    As far as a navigational system is concerned, the Drudge Report, though displaying no outward signs of navigational aids, does employ a unique but effective hierarchical system that is for all intents and purposes, again, invisible. Top stories are at the very top, then stories decrease insignificance and you move down the page. So the experienced visitor can scan the top layers and get the most significant news. It is a sort of hybrid embedded/hierarchical navigation system that perhaps represents an innovation in website design.

    02142014

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  2. Assignment #2

    For this assignment, I have chosen websites of two non-profit organizations, The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Development, and the U.S Institute for Peace.

    The Jerusalem Fund (www.thejerusalemfund.org) is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that conducts educational and humanitarian work on behalf of Palestinians, particularly those living in the Occupied Territory and surrounding refugee camps. The organization has three programs, the Palestine Center, the Jerusalem Fund Art Gallery, and the Humanitarian Link. It is funded by private donations and derives its operating expenses from investment income. Target audiences are potential donors, people interested in Middle East issues and culture, and grant applicants interested in Palestinian development issues and related charitable causes. The site provides a listing of Center events, an archive of listserv postings and videoed lectures given in the Center’s various and regular lecture series, and social media feeds (Facebook and Twitter).

    The U.S Institute for Peace (www.usip.org) is an independent, nonpartisan organization that is funded and maintained by Congress. It aims to increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence through performing research and analysis on conflict-ridden areas, and providing teaching and training to develop peacebuilding skills among staffers, workers, and inhabitants in those areas. Funding is exclusively through Congressional appropriation. Target audiences are students, researchers and analysts, development workers, policy practitioners, fellows and grantees from conflict-ridden areas. The site provides information about training opportunities for international conflict managers and the organization seeks, though its programs, to professionalize peacekeeping and peace-building efforts. It maintains an archive of lectures and videoed proceedings dating back to 2008.

    We will use the rubric developed in Morville and Rosenfeld, evaluate each site separately, compare and contrast the organization systems, labeling systems and navigation systems of each website, and conclude with a few recommendations for each website.

    The Jerusalem Fund – Organization System

    The Jerusalem Fund website has an ambiguous organization scheme, arranging information by topic and audience on the homepage, then arranging information by topic, chronology and audience interest on each of three distinct program sub-pages. Below are examples of the four separate pages. I have places in a red box the elements which each subpage has in common with the home page: global navigation tabs in the upper left corner index the primary programs; and the calendar with highlighted days indicated days that events are occurring at the Palestine Center, the home of the organization. You will notice the banner does not replicate on the program sub-pages, to the extent that if you enters the site from one of the program pages, you may not be aware of exactly where you are. We will cover that more in the navigation section.

    The “Mother” home page

    The Palestine Center subpage

    The organization structure is a hierarchical structure with a network of hypertextual links, in the global box, in the horizontal navigation bar used in two of three pages, and in photo elements on the site. Hierarchical categories are mutually exclusive across the program groups, with the exception, of course, that all events are held in one location. The four categories of pages make up a hierarchy that is broad and shallow, according to the Morville and Rosenfeld rubric (Morville&Rosenfeld, 2007, p.70). There is no attempt made to tag discrete items on the site for social classification, an opportunity lost to interact with audience in a two-face dialogue.

    The Humanitarian Link subpage
    The Gallery sub-page

    The Jerusalem Fund – Labeling System

    The homepage and all its constituent subpages use labeling fonts and colors to set up the hierarchy of the site. The banner identifying the site is bold gold. Upcoming events, key programs, the latest listserv posts and scrolling page headlines are a smaller font gold, identifying their important but secondary status. Individual reports and listserv links, individual upcoming events and Facebook and Twitter entries are blue, indicating their third level importance.

    The labeling system is not uniform and/or consistent throughout, and that could cause some confusion for the user. For example, the Humanitarian Link subpage has a blue banner, unlike the gold banner on the other two program subpages. Labels are used primarily as headers, and large font labels that could have served as hyperlinks to information dispersed throughout the site, are static. Iconic labels are used to represent social media options, and the attached blog is also represented by an iconic label.

    The Jerusalem Fund – Navigation System

    The website does not have a site map, nor does it have an AA-Z guide. Very serious oversights. The bold large font banner on the homepage announces, “You are here.” But is not replicated on the sub-pages, presenting both a navigational loss and a branding opportunity loss. It is a Hybrid local/embedded navigation system. All pages provide a hyperlink back to the homepage. There is a local navigation system for upcoming events and for the latest posts and there is contextual navigation aids for scrolling photos and for scrolling quotes on the home page. There is an Arabic icon on each page’s banner that identifies the page. It is a calligraphic inscription of “Al-Quds,” the traditional and historic Arabic name for Jerusalem, but it is more symbolic than anything else because so many English readers will not recognize the meaning of the logo. Further, if the site were being aimed to an Arabic speaking audience, there would be Arabic translations of the sites contents. But there is none. Again, there is no supplemental navigation system. No real attempts are made to provide personalization or customization for users. There is no option for users to provide comments to the site, other than the telephone number and email address in the footer and the option to send a twitter tweet directly to the staff monitoring the twitter account.

    The U.S. Institute for Peace – Organization System

    The US Institute for Peace website also has an ambiguous organization scheme, providing a hybrid of topics for discussion tailored to audiences that need to have those discussions. Then, within sub-topics, there is a geographical and a chronological scheme that is not at all ambiguous. The organizational structure, according to the Morville and Rosenfeld rubric, is polyhierarchical, and both broad and deep, focusing on four (4) broad thematic areas, seven (7) strategic goals within those areas, covering eleven (11) geographic regions of conflict, and eight (8) specified countries (a few of the conflict areas have obviously sunken to non-state or non-functional state status). There are 102 linked items on the home page alone, suggesting that the website, though apparently comprehensive in its organizational system, may actually be trying to focus on too much and spreading itself too thin in the process.

    The U.S. Institute for Peace – Labeling System

    The white font on blue background header banner appears on every subpage of the site, in its exact form, with the precise list of global navigation labels in fine white font. It is very professionally done and very striking to the user. A smaller blue font identifies the second hierarchical level, and an orange font the third level. The labels are representative and differentiatable, user-centric and not jargon, not confusing, and definitely impressionable. (Morville&Rosenfeld, 2007, p. 85-86). Heading labels are blue, big or small, and sans serif.

    Contextual links are all small font and unobtrusive. I would consider greater use of contextual labels within articles and blocks of text, linking to other, archived articles, as well as to related information items on other, similarly focused sites. Labels for vertical navigation system (main topics) are consistent and uniform, big font, sans serif. There is very little use of iconic labels, an opportunity lost. For example, on the world map, miniature flags of affected countries could be used instead of those upside-down tear drop markers that add no meaning. Overall the website is very text-intensive, almost academic.

    The Home page banner

    The first “topic” focus in the homepage body

    The U.S. Institute for Peace – Navigation System

    The website has a refined and professional navigation system. The use of color and font size is consistent and uniform throughout the site, aiding greatly to the site’s navigation. Global site-wide navigation is enhanced by the header banner, consistent throughout and on each and every page. The local navigation system within internal pages is both alphabetical and directional, depending on the requirements of the page. Contextual navigation that would support associative learning (Morville&Rosenfeld, 2007, p. 126) exists, but is sparse to internal pages and non-existent to external sites. There are very few navigational icons in use, the site instead depends primarily on browser navigation icons. Supplemental navigation consists of an elaborate site map (see screenshot) below and a site index. There is very little use of personalization or customization as a navigational aid on the site.

    Analysis

    An analysis of these websites would compare the two, not to each other, but to their respective capacities to achieve their purposes, reach their audiences, and accomplish their purposes.

    Starting with the Jerusalem Fund, we already mentioned the header banner that is not replicated on every subpage of the website, wasting both a navigational opportunity and a branding opportunity. The US Institute for Peace does get that one right. The Jerusalem Fund has inconsistent labeling across the various pages of the site, which is both a labeling and a navigational defect/loss. It also lacks a site index, a navigation no-no. The US Institute for Peace website team has clearly given lots of thought to labeling and navigation systems, though they are aiming for a much larger “territory” in terms of information organization and display. And though they have tidier labeling and more comprehensive navigation coverage, their aim is so diffuse and so unfocused that it is easy to get lost in the text and the thought, navigation excellence notwithstanding. Neither site make ‘sufficient’ use of icons as labels or as navigational aids, and neither site makes significant use of personalization and customization to enhance navigation, though to do so might be helpful even if neither is a commerce site like Amazon (where customization is essential). Finally, neither site makes use of social navigation beyond options to post to Twitter or Facebook. In my opinion this reflects a sort of silo effect of these organizations, an unwillingness to reach out and interact with audiences and related websites in a two-way fashion, not in a one-way delivery of information exclusively.

    References

    Morville, P. & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

    The Jerusalem Fund. [Web site]. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.thejerusalemfund.org.

    The United States Institute for Peace. [Web site]. Retrieved March 1, 2014 from http://www.usip.org.

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