When the founders of this site set out to create what we now know as Boxes and Arrows, they had four things on their mind: information architecture, interaction design, information design, and interface design. Now, only nine months later, Boxes and Arrows stands as one of the preeminent design communities on the Web and is well on its way to fulfilling its mission to be the “definitive source for the complex task of bringing architecture and design to the digital landscape.” With its first birthday a few short months away, it seems an appropriate time to expand the conversation and the community by examining issues outside the traditional scope of information architecture. To wit, I offer the first of a twelve-article, twelve-month series devoted to the field of interaction design.
The focus of this series is on the challenges inherent in the task of translating established product requirements into a browser-based interface. Along the way, we’ll discuss the activity of interaction design as it relates to the Web and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the Web as an interactive medium. In addition, we’ll examine a variety of solutions to common interaction design problems. Although the next eleven articles are already loosely mapped out, if there are particular topics you would like to have covered, please let me know and I’ll do my best to work them in.
And so we’re off. I hope the journey is a fun, useful, and educational one for us all.
Ours is a world, an economy, and a profession that has embraced the idea of specialization of occupation on a scale heretofore unknown. Where six years ago someone who designed software could readily lay claim to the title “interface designer,” the explosion of the Web and other interactive mediums has split our profession into a variety of increasingly granular specialties.
Although this has sometimes been both necessary and useful, it has also resulted in a cacophony of competing titles, responsibilities, and consulting rates. As a result, even though we all approach our work from the same user-centric orientation, specialists working on one aspect of a design may be ignorant of the issues and compromises being made by other specialists working on other aspects of the design.
In particular, information architecture and interaction design have often been sequestered from one another. Where information architecture has tended to focus on content-centric sites, interaction design has tended to focus on functionality-centric sites. Now however, the two often find themselves in meetings together thanks to the proliferation of websites featuring both large volumes of content and sophisticated functionality.
Therefore, seeing as how we’re going to be in meetings together, it seems only polite to introduce ourselves to one another.
A good place to begin is the definition of information architecture offered up by two of Michigan’s better minds. In their recently published second edition to Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Sirs Rosenfeld and Morville offer a lengthy definition of the field which focuses on four key themes:
Other than the fact that “art and science” is endemic to all forms of design, their definition describes a fairly specific universe of design issues and challenges. In contrast, the field of interaction design concentrates on the following:
Well-designed interactive products balance each of these concerns with the respective limitations and capabilities of both people and technology. Such products allow people and technology to carry on a complex and elegant dance relying on multiple, simultaneous forms of communication. The role of the interaction design, therefore, is to choreograph and facilitate the dance in a manner that makes everyone feel like Fred Astaire.
Such choreography, of course, requires an understanding of both the stage and the dancers. As a result, the best interaction designers draw from a variety of disciplines ranging from perceptual psychology to computer science.
With that brief introduction to the field of interaction design behind us, we can start to examine more specific and thorny topics. Next month’s installment will include a comparison of web applications to traditional content-based sites as well as a consideration of the relative advantages and disadvantages of the Web as an application platform.
This article was originally published on November 11, 2002 in the online journal Boxes and Arrows.