--- Originally published on the Adaptive Path Blog ---
Lately I've gotten the feeling that there are those who feel that information architecture and interaction design are at odds with each other. I don't mean to get into another debate on defining the damn thing or anything like that. But for me, information architecture and interaction design have always been very closely intertwined. Where does one stop and the other begin? It's often hard to tell and in the end, does it really matter?
Adaptive Path recently did a project focusing on vertical search, and specifically integrating multiple search engines into a single experience. I consider the work I did on that project to be mostly information architecture because it was so focused on search -- a key component in the "ways to find things" toolbox.
But it also required a lot of interaction design. How do you take three very different interfaces and provide one overall experience to them all? Good question. There was much wireframing and musing over the controls and filters we presented to people to figure that out.
Interaction design is certainly the darling of the Internet and user experience community right now. I think the excitement of Ajax and what it brings to the web experience is a driving factor behind this. Sprinkling Ajaxy-goodness on a page is cool. Spending the day thinking about how can we make things move and glow and change effortlessly? That's the most fun part of interaction design (at least for me).
But that doesn't mean that information architecture has to take a backseat, that due to its librarian roots IA must be quietly sitting in a corner pushing up its glasses and wearing a cardigan sweater (no offence to the librarians out there. Remember, I am a librarian after all). But IA is more than just rearranging brochures and product descriptions on a marketing site. There are a lot of really cool and interesting IA-centric problems out there still waiting to be solved.
Jesse asked me today what it was that was exciting about IA. There's lots. Take that vertical search project for one; search is way cool and very interesting and nowhere near solved. With search comes good things like metadata, tagging, controlled vocabularies and taxonomies. Okay, so a taxonomy doesn't sound or look as cool and sexy as Ajax does. But for the folks so inclined towards it, there are really slick things that can be done with a solid information governance policy. Which gets us to Enterprise Information Architecture; that umbrella concept that runs through a whole organization.
But we are still left with the underlying feeling that infrastructure is not hot. Think back to Jesse's Elements of User Experience [ http://www.jjg.net/elements/pdf/elements.pdf ], or Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn where he talks about the rates of component change in buildings [ http://sb.longnow.org/Bldgs%20slides.html ]. Information architecture fits squarely in the infrastructure layer. It's the support that everything else hangs on. If you can't find what you are looking for, it doesn't matter how well designed the item is.
We still need IA to make a good user experience. All the Ajax in the world couldn't make a great site if there wasn't a solid structure and organization holding it together. I hope we don't lose sight of that.