The Barnes & Noble Review
You know you need to pay close attention to information architecture. But are you really comfortable with your level of expertise on the subject? It’s time to stop talking a good game about information architecture, learn what works, and start leveraging the field’s best practices. One book can help: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition.
You’ll start with the fundamentals: what information architecture consists of, whose responsibility it is, and how to incorporate it into your already complex development process. Through practical examples, the authors show how to bring cohesion to even the most complex sites and intranets.
Next, they walk through every key component of information architecture: categorization (often “ambiguous” approaches are better than “precise” ones); labeling; navigation; and search. You’ll learn how to maximize flexibility in navigation without excess clutter; how to improve your search engine’s results (tip: don’t leave all the decisions to IT); even how to write effective link descriptions.
Perhaps most valuable, the coverage of process: researching your audience and content; brainstorming; creating blueprints, page mockups, style guides… then actually implementing your site and responding to feedback from -- can it be? -- actual users. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.
John S. Rhodes
Stop Designing Web Pages, Start Developing Web Sites
In my early days as a cognitive scientist, I came across a bit of research that explained how the neurons in your brain produce a surplus of electrical activity when you encounter novel information. My interest in this area has waned over the last few years, but I do bring it up from time to time with friends and family. I'll
avoid replaying the long-winded and dramatic explanation I give them -- in a nutshell, the light bulbs that kids draw over peoples' heads are based on a scientific reality.
When I read Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, I was satisfied to feel the bulb burning brightly above my head. Since I am a human factors engineer and usability professional, most of the concepts in the book
were not new to me. However, I repeatedly observed that this book is one of the only resources that brings the eclectic ideas of web site information architecture together.
Rosenfeld and Morville bring to light some theoretically powerful material regarding the planning, design, testing, and maintenance of large scale web sites. Their approach, as the title suggests, is information architecture. The authors explain that people tend to design web pages rather than web sites, and they show how
this is detrimental. When web pages are not developed within a well-conceived information architecture framework, the web site will suffer: Customers will complain, users will not revisit the site, and products will not sell. The big picture is crucial.
Human Factors and Usability
From a human factors and usability point of view, I was relieved to see that Information Architecture for the World Wide Web described web site development from two important angles -- the needs of the users and overall site
planning. Knowing and understanding the users of your web site is crucial. Also, the planning behind a web site (e.g., developing content, planning for growth, creating an outline) can make or break it. Content development and navigation were given great attention by the authors also. Not surprisingly, the best web
sites pay attention to all of these things.
I was pleased to see that the book runs contrary to the glut of graphic-design-oriented web-development books available that tend to focus
on issues like graphics, HTML, and page layout. I admit that these issues are important, even critical, but only after your users are considered, planning takes place, and the content for the site is generated.
Not The Holy Grail
You would be wrong to think that this book is the answer to all of your web site problems. While the book is well written and insightful, it seems to be more of an introduction to a broad set of user-centered, site-planning heuristics. I feel that Rosenfeld and Morville are so intent on the big picture that readers will be unhappy with the lack of tools. I was left wanting more details and how-to's. Unlike
most O'Reilly books, which can be a bit hefty, Information Architecture is only around 200 pages. The authors could have easily provided more examples, tools, and techniques to help the reader utilize their provocative approach. There are some great pointers, but not enough to satisfy. For example, Chapter 10, "Information Architecture in Action," was a case study meant to bring many of the book's ideas together, but it fell short for the reasons just mentioned. Similarly, the selected bibliography is a great resource, but it doesn't compensate for the lack
of details throughout the book.
The book is certain to be an eye opener for many web site developers. If you have not utilized human factors and usability analysis, user-centered design, or information architecture in your web site development, I strongly recommend this book. But beware, the book is primarily laden with theory, not tools. I think you might be disappointed if you are looking for a hands-on formula for creating a great web site.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books