The developer and the Information Architecture

ByBruno Rodrigues in

You, more than anyone, know that comparing the work of a developer with whom plans and produces the engine of a car is little – much of the chassis is also under their responsibility, after all.

Still, there are important areas to create a digital environment that pass, either directly or indirectly, by the hands of a developer, but that do not involve coding.

Dealing with Information Architecture is one of them.

Although creating structures is one of the bases of the work of a systems analyst, for example, it is an activity that, by nature, is restricted to the world of IT – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the digital environment, nowadays, calls for more of a developer: it demands knowledge of vary models of access and navigation that are applied to sites, portals and apps.

In short, Information Architecture.

For those who want to understand about it, there are three traditional models of IA that are good “work tools”. To know them is a sure way to start with the right foot. Let’s go to them, then:

Mental model

The starting point in the task of creating the Information Architecture of a digital environment is to know the way your user thinks.

Each of us uses two mental models in everyday life: the individual mental model and the collective mental model.

The collective mental model is a distant relative of good old ‘collective unconscious’. It is the result of centuries in the evolution of the human being with the world around. We know what is dangerous, for example – approaching a poisonous snake or crossing the street with the red light.

Similarly, we understand the world collectively, learn throughout life ways of dealing with information, several patterns that were built over the centuries.

In several points, we think the same way – but in others, not.

This is the individual mental model: the way that, from a certain point in life, we begin to interpret the patterns that are passed in the collective mental model.

Analyzing structures of organization and retrieval of information, for example, each of us develop a type of memory, like the photographic one. We all have – and must have – mental organization models, but, individually, we use the most adapted to our experience, our personality, our needs.

So, in order to develop the information architecture of a site or app, which one we should study, then, the individual mental model or the collective one?

It is quite likely that your company or client has not performed in-depth research (or even superficial ones) on the behavior of the brand’s public in the digital environment – calm down, it is still very common! – and so it is easier to go for researches on the characteristics that are common to all public in online media, ie the collective mental model.

Library

The creation of the library was, for centuries, the first thing to achieve the collective mental model.

By then, it was not enough to simply store information in our minds; to perpetuate them it was necessary to store and ensure their recovery in a simple way, easy to be understood by all.

Can you see the parallels with the task of building the information architecture of a digital environment?

Face the arrival of a book or document in a library with the need to include information in a portal.

You must first imagine *where* the book/information will be located, and for that it’s necessary to organize, before, the library itself. Will the organization be by author or subject?

The biggest lesson brought with the emergence of the library was to understand that, more than organizing information, it is more important to think how it will be sought.

There would not be Google if there was not the library – think of it.

Home

The name was not given aimlessly: yes, information architecture has full resemblance to the architecture that gives life to our homes.

For those who are starting to deal with IA, the important thing is to understand that what impacts its creation is the public who will use it – even more than the content that will populate it up.

Imagine a house with two floors: on the first, there is a room, a long hall with two bedrooms and at the end a bathroom. At an initial scenario, we will deal with a family with two adults and a teenage son. No problem in the architecture designed by the couple’s time they built the house, right?

Now think of this same house, but with another family living in it. In this second scenario, we have only a couple, receiving several visits of elderly relatives. In this example, you build a house where, on the first floor, there is a huge hall, with a bathroom only at the end? Never, right? Thus, it is quite likely that in this house the bathroom was built at the begining of the corridor.

The most important detail to note: in both instances, the first floor of the house no longer has the same rooms (living room, bathroom, bedrooms). The only difference was the adaptation of architecture to the public that will use it, right?

In short, the same house, different audiences.

Conclusion

As every task, dealing with the information architecture of a digital environment requires practice, but there is always a ‘zero’, a moment in which we are groping in the dark.

The purpose of this column – bimonthly – is to create a bridge between the worlds of Information and Information Technology, presenting not only concepts, but also solutions for IA issues.

For those who are beginning to accompany me on this journey, I recommend the ‘bible’ in this matter, has been for over a decade: “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, as well as the second book, ” Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond”.

Worth every penny.

See you!

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