It often comes as a shock to me; but, there are times when I can't use the web to find out what I need to know. Sometimes I learn my way around using environmental cues. And, sometimes, those cues have been placed there by some very thoughtful people. Last week, I attended the IDEA Conference
in NYC. This was a single-track, two-day conference organized by the Information Architecture Institute
on the topic of information design and experience. While most of the attendees were web folk, the presenters were often information designers working in a more physical space. They were creative problem-solvers working across media to make sense of a system or provide an innovative service or experience. They helped patients find their way to and around a city hospital, analyzed the New York Taxicab system
, planned and implemented a city services helpline
, and conceived of ways for people to share and experience oral histories
. Each presenter described discovery and problem-solving methods that apply equally as well to both virtual and physical spaces. There was assessment through interviews, observation, and audience grouping. Interaction models mapped out how different users might make their way through a system. Branding and signs served the same reassuring, location-marking purpose in the physical world as they do online. None of this is groundbreaking news -- we've always leveraged physical metaphors to help people make sense of online spaces (sites, pages, visits), and of course information and experience design pre-date the web. It was helpful, though, to take a step back and reexamine the approaches that we use in designing web sites and online experiences from that broader, physical context. And to remind me that while web sites are powerful tools and while I may forget at times that the world doesn't exist entirely online, the sites we build are usually only one part of a total experience.