Digital Media

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Information architecture

Cognitive Psychology and IA: From Theory to Practice by Jason Withrow
Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization by Luke Wroblewski
Usability experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus by Curt Cloninger

There were several themes in the group 3 readings that seemed to repeat:

1. Readers like categories: Different people will categorize things differently but generally people categorize things by visual similarity, shared purpose or proximity.
2. To create site hierarchy, there must be visual contrast. This can be created by differing colors, textures, shapes, directions and sizes. A hierarchy allows readers to see visually what the most important element on the page is and to navigate through the page without wondering where to look next.

One of my responsibilities is designing newspaper pages so I deal with page hierarchy often. When readers pick up the paper, they (theoretically) look at the largest, boldest headline first and the lead photo on the page. At that point they may read the article if they find the headline interesting or they may scan the rest of the headlines to determine what they want to spend their time reading. If they like a photo, they may look at the cutline to see what is going on. This may lead them to read the story that goes with the photo. By organizing content so not everything is visually the same, readers have cues as to what they should look at first. This is important because readers don't want to think when they are trying to figure out where to go in a Web site. Having a hierarchy leaves readers with fewer options to mentally sort through.

Curt Cloninger gives us insight on the misunderstood graphic designer and how usability experts have gotten all the publicity while the inarticulate, right-brain graphic designer has not gotten enough credit. The main thing that stood out for me in this article was the emphasis on branding. While Web site usability may be the top priority for content sites, corporate sites that have branding as their primary goal may do better with a site with more creativity that advances the brand of the product. A brand tries to convey a certain tone and emotion - something that designers are likely to be better at than information architects. The article emphasizes the important role that both usability experts and graphic designers play in the creation of a Web site.


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