I cannot afford to hire actor Mike McGlone to record a voiceover for my cited argument. So please turn on your television and watch for an ubiquitous ad featuring McGlone impersonating Robert Stack. Remember his penetrating look and sonorous voice. Now imagine him saying:
“Can information architecture really save you money? What, you live under a rock?”
With little time and fuss, McGlone makes a compelling case. No one who lives under a rock wants to admit to it. It follows that if you give the correct answer (no) to the second question, you will also give the correct answer (yes) to the first, because you care about appearances. McGlone asks similar questions in all ads in this ad campaign, except these require a “yes” answer. I will use a similar rhetorical technique in my cited argument below because:
- No one wants to read or listen to a long and labored case about anything, unless it helps them become rich, beautiful, and popular. Maybe not even then.
- No one wants to do the heavy lifting required of same. Most prefer the less strenuous method of making sound bites rather than reasoned arguments. Sound bites persuade quickly and at a visceral level. Reasoned arguments may persuade quickly and viscerally, but usually do not.
I will make my case as quickly as I can, using bullet points with references. Where no references are available, I will make a bald-faced claim. I call this the “sound-bite method.”
- Information architecture (IA) cuts costs and wins business. IA― “the combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems within web sites and intranet.”1―makes web and intranet sites easy to navigate and site information easy to find. It is essential to winning and keeping online business on e-commerce sites and for cutting costs related to doing business on company intranets.
An online search of IA return on investment (ROI) yielded no estimated or actual dollar amounts. But a print source indicates that the ROI is significant.2 It cites cost savings through increased employee productivity, reduced call center volume, reduced employee training, and reduced site redesign, construction, and maintenance. A second print source cites similar savings realized through user-centered web and application design,3 which includes IA.
- Information architecture is related to real-world architecture. Morville and Rosenfeld make the case in their first chapter that the two are analogous.
“Why begin a book about web sites by writing about buildings? Because the architectural analogy is a powerful tool for introducing the complex, multidimensional nature of information spaces. Like buildings, web sites have architectures that cause us to react.”4
Wodtke and Govella also compare the two.
“Building a house seems like an impossible task … and designing an architecture for your content is similarly daunting.” 5
The discipline has a history going back to the mid-60s, when, the Adaptive Path Blog says, “British architect Cedric Price created information architecture — or rather, architecture made of information. He designed a number of buildings that would be used to navigate information, that could learn from their users and respond to what they did.”
Ten years later, American architect Richard Saul Wurman, coined the phrase “information architecture” in response to a perceived a need for an information architecture to organize data and information. Wurman’s view predominates to this day. However, Price’s view is gaining ground.
1Information for the World Wide Web, 3rd Ed., p. 4, by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld; O’Reilly Media, Inc: Nov. 27, 2006
3Formula for Calculating ROI Quick Reference, Human Factors International, Inc.: 2005
4Information for the World Wide Web, 3rd Ed., p. 3, by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld; O’Reilly Media, Inc: Nov. 27, 2006
5Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, 2nd Ed., p. 65, by Christina Wodtke and Austin Govella; New Riders, Berkeley, CA: 2009