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Louis Rosenfeld <[log in to unmask]>
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Louis Rosenfeld <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 17:49:20 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (59 lines)
How are usability engineering and information architecture related?  This
question has come up for me quite often recently, and I'm wondering if it
might be an interesting topic for the CHI-WEB list.  Below are some
thoughts that I've thrown together that might get a discussion going.  But
I should apologize in advance for my bias and ignorance:  I'm an
information architect, and claim no special expertise in UE.

It seems that both UE and IA are geared toward designing systems or
objects which provide users with appropriate information in effective
ways.  But I tend to get hung up with which systems and objects we're
talking about.

For example, in the context of information systems like Web sites, I can
see creating an information architecture intended to support users'
finding what they need, and performing user testing to test an information
architecture's performance.  Both areas might contribute metrics for
success, possibly with UE's more quantitative, and IA more qualitative.

In the context of things that we might not necessarily consider
information systems, UE's role in determining how well my car's power seat
recliner control is designed seems clear.  However, I'm not sure a
recliner control has an information architecture.  Or does it?  Doesn't
the control's success depend on providing me with appropriate information
so that I can learn to use it quickly and easily?

And that's where I get hung up:  is the question about how IA and UE are
related, or really whether they are both just components of the broader
area of information retrieval (IR)?  In either case, how does IR fit into
the mix?  My limited exposure to UE seems to indicate that, when compared
with IA, UE is concerned with a narrower subset of the kinds of
information needs that information retrieval addresses.

Some additional thoughts; how would you address these?:

* IA is art; UE is science.

* IA is an aspect (along with technical and visual design) of information
system design; UE is the testing and measurement of information system

* IA and UE are separate, distinct roles which ideally shouldn't be
performed by the same person (because designers shouldn't test their own

* Alternatively, you can't do one without doing a bit of the other,
explicitly or otherwise.

* How do you define UE?  IA?

In any case, I hope this is at least food for thought, if not for
discussion.  Apologies for my long-windedness.


Louis Rosenfeld / [log in to unmask]
Argus Associates / / 734.913.0010
Information Architecture for the WWW /