Information Architecture

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Information Architecture

Information architect Victor Lombardi crafts commercial Web sites for Razorfish clients, but personal website, Noise Between Stations, is devoted to the philosophical issues of web design, usability, and the experience of information mediated by technology. Lombardi emphasizes the notion of information architecture as a craft, as in this excerpt from his weblog:

I think of craft as the use of skill and experience to produce something of practical and esthetic value. The exploding Web has given us many tools to express our thoughts, creating a great, collective outpouring of ideas. Wonderful, important ideas, but they dont amount to much if they don't contribute to better living.

....To bring all these momentous design ideas to fruition we must practice them. Better designs will not simply poke their noses through the soil this Spring. Practice requires generation and iteration and mistakes. The mistakes, as much as the resulting artifacts, will teach us and others.

Lombardi is an enthusiastic Tinderbox fan. Im putting everything in it, he says. I organize information for a living, and Im interested in experimenting with the many ways I can organize the things I have with Tinderbox. Ive taken notes over the years, and I have hundreds of them. Keeping them in chronological order isnt that useful. Id love to go through and categorize by topic instead of just by time. Tinderbox is so much more flexible than a file system, than the way weve been storing our documents all these years. It just makes a lot more sense.

The Tinderbox features that resonate most for him are:

Whats great about Tinderbox," according to Lombardi, "is that when I get an idea, I can record it quickly as a note, then file it later. And it has so many ways of organizing things. I like being able to slice and dice the information in so many different ways. For instance, I can catalog my books so I can look at them by author and title, or by how they make me feel. And there are so many different ways to perform the same task. I can search using agents or keywords or attributes.

In the past, Internet data searches required you to know a specific technology to get what you wanted you had to set up a whole database, and query it, using that technology. With Tinderbox, whats nice is I dont have to know anything about databases, and I can still find whatever I want.

To be honest, figuring out how to do what I want with it takes me awhile. Each method has trade-offs. And sometimes I implement something and then learn it's not the best way. So what you say about conventions is true - once you figure it out you don't need a guide. I think the community will collectively find best ways to do things.

Does Tinderbox influence design or data structures? No, says Lombardi, It doesn't, and that's the beauty of it. I can create my structure, and then just figure out how to make Tinderbox facilitate it. The trade off there is it takes a little more work than other organizers and web tools, but it's worth it.

Tinderbox designer Mark Bernstein emphasizes that Information Architects need to be open to the full, dynamic complexity of real information spaces. Too often, he says, a rigid blueprint tries to control and categorize, forcing the Web site to fit the plan instead of adapting the plan to fit the need. "Architecture seeks to reconcile art and engineering, he said in his keynote address at the first OZ-IA in Sydney, but often Information Architecture seems to be about reining in the creatives.

Tinderbox's flexible, template-driven export lets architects quickly build rich and fully functional prototypes. Better still, massive reorganizations can be quickly and easily accomplished, simply by moving boxes and arrows in map views and outline windows. Tinderbox gives rich support for HTML, XML, and microformats, and Tinderbox agents and templates have direct access to all the power of command-line tools and Web services. You can even email notes to Tinderbox to update projects on the fly.

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