“Information architecture is a set of concepts that can help anyone making anything make sense of any mess… caused by not enough, or too much information” (Covert 2015)
Covert’s book ‘How to Make Sense of Any Mess’ introduces the reader to the concept of information architecture (IA) simplifying examples down to what we see in our everyday life. (see fig 1 below)
Skimming through this book helped me to conceptualise IA and take note of it’s importance in the design of digital products. For my current project, definition 4 – ‘categories, labels and tasks’ are the most relevant.
IA in Wastevine
The app I’m creating a design proposal for – Wastevine – relies on clear, well-researched IA to allow users to browse and buy. It will essentially be a material marketplace, populated with user-generated listings, so organisation and categorisation are of upmost importance.
When discussing the categories with my tutor, she pointed out that the homepage needs to start with an easy, welcoming navigation which meets the users’ key goals. I referred back to my initial user interviews, during which I asked one question relating to how students & makers prioritise features when searching for materials, their responses were as follows:
I prioritize cost when choosing my materials, as cheap as possible. Can be cheaper if it’s the experimental part of the design process. Then I’ll buy nicer material for the final models.
When I’m toiling I don’t care about what calico I have, it’s just a pre production sample. I usually try to get the cheapest one. When it comes to the final garment I think a lot more carefully, so I spend more money on that.
If I’m looking at all certified products, the cheapest one would be my choice.
Students’ priority is saving money, so it’s clear that they need the ability to browse by price. It’s also clear that depending on which course the students are completing, they seek a certain niche of materials. E.g. my participant who studied textiles searches for:linen, natural materials for dying, pigment dye, inks for printing, silk yarn for embroidery. So categories based on end use should be easily available.
I think the design is going to focus on the basic material categories (textile, wood, metal, paper, plastic, ceramic). Then I will undertake a second round of interviews next week focusing on how students / makers categorise and prioritise material features, this will guide the design of the homepage, search feature and tags. I do also think that the way materials are categorised and discoverable should develop based on the users’ behavior and feedback once the app is launched.
I’m in the process of designing my second round interviews with the students I talked to a couple of weeks ago. I’ll be talking to graduates as well as current students. As discussed with my tutors and collaborator Alex, the concept solves a need for makers and designers in general and will offer a wider variety of materials and content with a diverse set of users.
I plan to conduct a cognitive walkthrough of Alex’s prototype app. Cognitive walkthroughs are usually used to see whether or not a new user can easily carry out tasks within a given system (IDF 2022). However since my goal is to research how students search for and categorise materials, I will focus the walkthrough to observe user’s behavior when browsing the app. As well as asking the students to talk me through their use of the search, and observing what they type into the search bar. The current prototype has limited features so I have also compiled a list of questions to gather users’ opinions on prospective navigation:
– Please describe your experience of navigating the app
– Where would you expect to find material categories on opening the app?
– What material categories would you expect to see?
– Are there any other features of a material that you would like to be able to search for?
– How much time do you typically spend searching for materials?
I will write an update on my progress here once I’ve gathered my interview data.
COVERT, Abby. 2015. How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody. Edited by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
‘How to Conduct a Cognitive Walkthrough’. 2022. The Interaction Design Foundation [online]. Available at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/how-to-conduct-a-cognitive-walkthrough [accessed 2 Mar 2022].