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Info architecture and interface design

Now almost everyone is an information architect.  But we come from many different fields, trying to integrate our ideas. Designers, real architects, librarians, data base designers, data modelers, technical writers, makers of educational cds...all contribute their own perspectives.

The architecture becomes visible when we look at the menus, the navigation, the page layout. So interface design and page design reveal what lies below--or hide it.

These sites reflect the thinking of a wide range of people who have designed whole architectures, laid out small pieces to fit in the larger structure, or simply lived, happily or unhappily, within that larger design.

If you discover a site with useful, more or less unbiased info on information architecture or interface design, let me know.

Aaron Marcus

Aaron and his team have moved from traditional graphic design (charts, diagrams, info visualization) to web sites. Under Resources, they offer a lot of his articles on interface design, with a focus on global culture, metaphor, and visual communication through the interface. Bias: He did a good job editing a piece Joel Katz and I contributed to Visible Language, years ago.

Adaptive Path

A major consultancy about user experience, with multiple stars such as Jesse James Garrett and Jeffrey Veen. Check their publications. (New essay every few weeks).

American Society for Information Science and Technology

They have some good techie conferences on information architecture and digital archiving. The bulletin is good, but they do not post current issues, and they act as if they are going to charge you for articles they display, from old issues. The ecommerce model is fuzzy, here, but the articles are technically competent, and often useful.

Apple Human Interface Guidelines

How to do it right. A model of good guidelines…and good design. Bias: I used to work there, and my heart still belongs to the Mac.

Argus Center for Information Architecture

Here's a ghost site with a good archive still drifting about the web. Originally, the Argus Center for Information Architecture was set up by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, the two librarians who wrote the definitive book on information architecture, back when no one else even knew the term. Don't look for current info. They closed their doors in 2001.

Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture

Probe the research, with reports on topics such as The Future of Information Architecture, The Problems with CMS, and A Simplified Model for Facet Analysis.

Bad Designs

Michael Darnell collects things that don't work right. Ambiguous signs. Things that are hard to see, don't work together, things that get in your way, controls that work in unexpected ways, or in strange places, and missing labels. The problems reflect lack of imagination, but more seriously, lack of empathy with the people who are supposed to be able to use these gizmos. Mostly these messes are design screwups, but occasionally bad writing steps in, to compound the problem.


Louis Rosenfeld, who wrote the definitive book about information architecture (with Peter Morville), taking off from his background in library science, talks to other information architects. As he says, "Bloug is Lou's blog; B*lou*g, get it?"

Boxes and Arrows

A peer-written journal about "the complex task of bringing architecture and design to the digital landscape." They argue that no matter what your title-info architect, info designer, interaction designer, interface designer-you share a community of practice. The site helps you share tips on technique, stories of innovation, and rants backed up by sad experience.

Brightly Colored Food

Like M&M's? Grad student Chad Thornton's site explores user experience. A well organized blog, with thoughts about design, social computing, online communities, usability.

Communication Circle

Jonathan Price's own articles on creating complex interactive systems.

Cooper Design

Alan Cooper, master of interfaces, inventor of personas, has left Microsoft to do consulting, and his site shows you how to work with clients, even though he hides some proprietary info. Want to know if you are on the right track? Under "Why Cooper?" look at the process.

Croc O' Lyle

A blog on usability, web design, information architecture and user experience practices. Lyle Kantrovich bills himself as a User Experience Architect.

Design Interact

Reviews and interviews with people who design user interactions. Forums on interactive design, shop talk, and alas, the biggest, on self promotion. Resources are first paragraphs scraped off of press releases. The site belongs to the same company as the graphic design journal, Communication Arts, which features this site in its left rail. Real reviews tend to be short, opinionated, and broken up too much for easy flow. Still, you'll get the graphic designer's view of new site designs.

Design Not Found

Bad experiences captured in a library of screenshots, with the full story, recommendations on avoiding the same mistake on your site, and lots of comments. This company specializes in trouble, or what they call Contingency Design - " Design for when things go wrong (error messages, no search results found, missing pages, bad form entries)." Nice reviews of successful sites, too.

Digital Web

An online magazine for web designers, artists, and authors. Book reviews, product reviews, articles, and columns on usability, information architecture, problem solving, and design. Bias: They gave our book a great review, so naturally we think they are very smart.


Digital library research and development, including new technologies, applications, and contextual social and economic issues. The librarians have studied many of the problems we face in information architecture-for years. Here theybring their expertise to bear on collections of electronic information, um, er, just like web sites. Don't be put off by the insider talk. They are dealing with issues like taxonomies, thesauri, cost per article, and dynamic galleries of images. Previously funded by the folks who paid for the first Internet (DARPA), this monthly online magazine is now sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Elegant Hack

Christina Wodtke, author of Information Architecture, writes this blog. "This is everything I've gleaned from the vast field of information we call the web. Not only all the IA, ID and any other "I" you can think of, but also odd articles, random thoughts, and so on and so on and so on...." Look at her Widgetopia, too, for clips from a wide variety of sites-interesting, or peculiar solutions to common design problems. A beautiful, fun site.

Flamenco Search Interface Project

An interesting way to display the results of a keyword search, or, as they describe it, "Hierarchical faceted metadata." Particularly useful for large collections of images. Follow a topic to its page, to get the full categorization. Thanks to Linda Urban for pointing me to this experiment at UCB.

Good Experience

Mark Hurst's blog, email newsletter, and site focuses on giving users a satisfying experience. He's positive, friendly, and helpful, even when he details complete breakdowns in service, functionality, or interface design. He also runs the Good Experience Live conference (Gel to you).

HCI Bibliography

A list of articles, books, and sites on human-computer interaction. Special sections on accessibility, education, internationalization, and kids and computers.

History Wired, a few of our favorite things

Imagine that you have three million objects in your museum, and you want to show those all online.

Using Martin Wattenberg's Map of the Market created for Smart Money, the Smithsonian lets you browse over a map indicating groups of famous, unusual, or every day items. The visualization tool is based on work by Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland. You get a timeline, key words and pointer lines, thumbnail images, and a search. See a used chewing gum container, inaugural gowns, gold coins. You can zoom in to see related objects, or go to an article about the object itself.

IA Canon

Here's a list of books, articles, and sites devoted to information architecture. Want to ask questions, and debate policies? Join the wiki, of which this canon is just a small part.

IA Slash

A news site for information architects, or anyone interested in information organization, usability, user testing, user interface design, and ,you know, stuff like that. Modeled after slashdot, this community news site invites contributions, and syndication.

Info Design

Thom Haller can't find the information he wants. So he writes an occasional rant, Adventures of an Information Architect. Here's his reflection on writing:

Writing, I believe, offers us a grand opportunity to frame our work in respect. We have the opportunity to construct information to help people do what they want to do so they appreciate the experience. This requires that we ask them what they want to know - and then we work as hard as we might to craft the information to help them out as much as possible.
The site offers some good resources on information architecture, and a pitch for his company.

If you have to ask who Lynda is, you are just getting started in graphic design for the web. Lynda Weinman has become an industry, turning out cds, books, articles, and tips on how to use professional tools and design to enhance visual communication through web, print, and motion graphics. The home page shouts "Buy, buy, buy," and you probably should, if you need solid guidance on web graphics. But she posts plenty of tips, articles about color, and a gallery of inspirational web sites, under Free Resources. Yes, scroll down, and look over on the right.

Mappa Mundi

A magazine that died, but left a great archive of articles about maps of all kinds, for people who like site maps, and information models. A strange deserted site, with hundreds of serious explorations of strange approaches to organizing information in space.

MIT Media Lab

If you want to see what we might encounter in the future, explore these research projects and publications. Examples: electronic publishing, spatial imagery, object-based media, viral communication, smart cities, the society of mind. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the digital world hang out in the lab, teach courses, and carry out experiments here.

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood

Thinking about organizing your site around a map, or a photo? A bunch of editors and writers, led by Thomas Beller, attach stories to a satellite photo of Manhattan, with parts of Brooklyn. You see little red dots indicating a story, click and get a popup tale of that neighborhood.

"These images were taken by a plane flying over the island. Every dozen blocks or so, another picture was taken. This is what accounts for the odd, patchwork look of the Hudson and East River on the main map."
New Architect

Formerly Web Techniques, this paper magazine posts a few current articles, then selected pieces from past issues on subjects like enterprise computing, web hosting, wireless content, and security.

They also post lots of white papers and marketing stuff from vendors and analysts. Of course, you have to sign up, and when you download one of these papers, your contact information gets sent to the original vendor.


The On-line Library of Information Visualization Environments, organized around eight categories of data type (1D,2D,3D, chronological, and so on). Links to articles, books, commercial products, research projects, and videos. This web-site is a class project for Dr. Ben Shneiderman's graduate course on Information Visualization at the University of Maryland.


A blog about design (and random other things) with longish entries, often following a recent discovery, such as a book by Henry Dreyfuss, or the brochures of national parks. Great photos.

Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus

If you like Roget's, you'll love playing with this tool for exploring word relationships, displayed as spatial maps. Plumb argues that their Visual Thesaurus translates language into a visible architecture, and I would agree. If for no other reason, enter a word, and watch the related words appear, then follow one of those paths. Here's a dynamic interface that gets beyond menus and searches.

Background: "The Visual Thesaurus accesses data from WordNet, a publicly available lexical reference system developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University. This database, inspired by psycholinguistic theories of human lexical memory, contains over 50,000 words and 40,000 phrases collected into more than 70,000 sense meanings." Take the guided tour, and you'll see how Java makes those words dance.


Publications on thesauri

An extensive bibliography on how to build and use thesauri, mostly as part of search systems.

Semantic Studios

Peter Morville made the term Information Architect sound reasonable, despite Richard Saul Wurman's claim to have legitimized it in his coffee-table book of graphic design. Morville and Rosenfeld's book is still the first one you should read when beginning to pour the foundation for your web site. In his irregularly published column, he reflects on IA, libraries, and whatever. He posts a bunch of his articles, too.

Site Point

Overall, this site aims to help web developers. One section, though, focuses on usability and information architecture. Good articles, but broken up into a half a dozen sections, so go for the Printer-friendly version, to see everything at once.

This is Broken

The participants in this gallery run a race to the bottom, contributing stories about interfaces that balk, or frustrate users. A tribute to bad customer experiences, hosted by Mark Hurst, who also authors the Good Experience newsletter.

UI Web

Articles on usability, interface design, interaction, and design, from Scott Berkun, who was one of the developers of Internet Explorer when he worked at Microsoft as a project manager, usability engineer, team leader, and UI design evangelist. Each column is a solid essay.

Web Monkey

If you want a fun, simple intro to information architecture, Web Monkey offers this 5-lesson tutorial by John Shiple. He's biased toward design, but gives a quick nod to content and function.

Web Page Design--for Designers

Joe Gillespie talks CSS, fonts, platforms, browsers, technology. Originally, this site addressed graphic designers moving into the web, but nowadays, he concentrates on the biggest problems that people face when creating a layout and interface for a site. New to web design? He answers your top ten questions (which he has heard thousands of times).


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