Collaboration and Communication
The information architect must communicate
effectively with the web site development team. This is challenging, since an
information architecture is highly abstract and intangible. Besides
communicating the architecture verbally, documents (such as blueprint diagrams)
must be created in ways that can be understood by the rest of the team
regardless of their own disciplinary backgrounds.
In the early days of the Web, web sites were
often designed, built, and managed by a single individual through sheer force
of will. This webmaster was responsible for assembling and organizing the
content, designing the graphics, and hacking together any necessary CGI
scripts. The only prerequisites were a familiarity with HTML and a willingness
to learn on the job. People with an amazing diversity of backgrounds suddenly
became webmasters overnight, and soon found themselves torn in many directions
at once. One minute they were information architects, then graphic designers,
then editors, then programmers.
Then companies began to demand more of their
sites and, consequently, of their webmasters. Simple home pages quickly evolved
into complex web sites. People wanted more content, better organization,
greater function, and prettier graphics. Extensions, plug-ins, and languages
proliferated. Tables, VRML, frames, Shockwave, Java, and ActiveX were added to
the toolbox. No mortal webmaster could keep up with the rising expectations and
the increasing complexity of the environment.
Increasingly, webmasters and their employers
began to realize that the successful design and production of complex web sites
requires an interdisciplinary team approach. An individual cannot be an expert
in all facets of the process. Rather, a team of individuals with complementary
areas of expertise must work together. The composition of this team will vary,
depending upon the needs of a particular project, available budget, and the availability
of expertise. However, most projects will require expertise in marketing,
information architecture, graphic design, writing and editing, programming, and
The marketing team focuses on the intended
purposes and audiences for the web site. They must understand what will bring
the right people to the web site and what will bring them back again.
The information architects focus on the design
of organization, indexing, labeling, and navigation systems to support browsing
and searching throughout the web site.
The designers are responsible for the graphic
design and page layout that defines the graphic identity or look of the web
site. They strive to create and implement a design philosophy that balances
form and function.
Editors focus on the use of language
throughout the web site. Their tasks may involve proofreading and editing copy,
massaging content to ensure a common voice for the site, and creating new copy.
The technical designers and programmers are
responsible for server administration and the development or integration of
site production tools and web site applications. They advise the other teams
regarding technology-related opportunities and limitations.
The project manager keeps the project on
schedule and within budget. He or she facilitates communication between the
other teams and the clients or internal stakeholders.
The success of a web site design and
production project depends on successful communication and collaboration
between these specialized team members. A linear, black-box,
throw-it-over-the-wall methodology just won't work. Everyone needs to
understand the goals, perspectives, and approaches of the other members of the
team. For example, while the marketing specialist may lead the audience
analysis process, he or she needs to anticipate the types of questions about
the audience that the specialists will have. Otherwise, each will need to start
from scratch in learning about that audience, wasting substantial time and
For the information architect, communication
is a special challenge because of the intangible nature of the work. Anyone who
has played Pictionary knows that it is much harder to draw an abstract concept
such as science than a physical
object such as moon. As an
information architect, you face the daunting challenge of helping others visualize such abstract concepts as a metaphor-based architecture and indexing systems.
The information architect has to identify both
the goals of the site and the content that it will be built on. This means
getting the people who drive the business, whether bosses or clients, to
articulate their vision of the site and who its users are. Once you've collected
the data and developed a plan, you need to present your ideas for an
information architecture and move the group toward consensus. All in all, this
significantly burdens the architect to communicate effectively.