Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Information Architecture and WCM

It is fascinating to look across multiple situations (different clients in different sectors) and see so may similarities. (As an ex analyst that is of course how one spots trends), and a major trend at the moment seems to be the complete overhauling of B2C Web Sites.

But what is different now to six or seven years ago when most of these were first designed and built? For the technology hasn't really changed that much since then. WCM tools of today are cheaper (much cheaper) than they were in the boom, but the basic functionality and capablities has not changed much at all.

What seems to have changed are user expectations, which are now not neccesarily more complex but certainly more savvy. Another thing that has changed is that a B2C site is now often part of the core business model framework of many firms, rather than the 'me too' exercise they were when first built.

Yet we see so many struggling with the same issues they did in 2000 - and particularly an over emphasis on the power of technology to solve business issues. I mention this as common lore would have us believe that we moved away from that and now recognize that IT is simply a toolset, its mystique has gone. But its not so - or rather the mystique has gone at the IT Department level, but the Board level still seems to have some pretty crazy expectations for technology at times!

In my mind the core to success in any B2C site is Information Architecture - if we do not effectively define the information environment at the start of the project, how can we ever hope to build an efficient solution? At one level IA is simply about organizing and displaying the information in context - in a form that is not only functional but also efficient. To do this we need to be cognizant of many things, including an overall or conceptual design goal, the needs of users, usability, practicality etc. And just to keep IA at that level would be a huge step forward for many organizations, for without that work being undertaken you can almost guarantee disspointment.

I really don't know why IA as a discipline has so far failed to take off - a shortage of practitioners, no major industry body to promote it, industry analyst uninterested as its not technology?

Whatever the reason/s, if it continues to take a backseat we will all feel the pain down the line - IA really needs to be promoted agressively as a vital element of the Web deployment consulting process.

Information Architecture is (or should be) real 'Architecture' it deals with the essentials of form and design. I think that there is an interesting parallel that in the US we see more and more houses built without the use of an Architect, the net result is the McMansion - a proportionaly idiotic building that somehow manages to provide 4000 square foot of living area, yet manages to be noisy, difficult to heat and cool and often with remarkably cramped rooms. A well Architected house of 1700 square feet, can feel open, comfortable and remain easy to heat and cool.

A good website Architected by a professional IA is a joy to behold, but most often we see electronic data versions of McMansions.

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