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Sender: "ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" <[log in to unmask]>
From: Klaus Kaasgaard <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 10:30:25 +0100
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I have followed the discussion on the relationship between information
architecture and usability engineering with great interest, especially
because I'm starting on a project which presents problems related to the
issue. I hope that some of you who have contributed with so many interesting
comments and observations can give me some advice and perhaps references for
relevant literature.

First of all let me say that at the usability lab where I work we do not
consider usability engineering only to be connected with issues of
evaluation, but rather to be an issue in all phases of the development cycle
(ideally; in reality we - as most other usability engineers - fight with
organizational and disciplinary obstacles).

I'm presently engaged in a project in which we have started developing a
"frame" to be implemented in different websites (much like what Gail
McLaughlin called a "wireframe"??). The developers are, therefore,
interested in the structure of the frame in connection with the user's
conception of the information presented and not in the specific visual and
interactional design. Their general strategy is: "Seperate content from
design". Or (using Jennifer Flemings distinction): seperate the construction
of the logical organization of the site from the construction of the visual
organization (the construction of a usable visual organization that supports
the logical organization is done by the customers who buy the frame to
include it in their own website). This is a new situation for me, since we
usually work with evaluating (and thus producing input for a continuous
process of iterative design) the relationship between the two; that is: How
does the visual design support the logical organization of information
(among other things). And usually I would be very sceptical about seperating
issues of content from issues of design - or issues of content from
context!! It seems to me that the two determine each other? But I might be
confusing the issue?? How do information architects and usability engineers
feel about the distinction??

Anyway, the distinction is right here on my desk for me to cope with, and my
problem is to involve users in the process and have them give comments on
the structure/the logical organization of information and use this knowledge
as a stepping stone for our cooperation with the developers of the frame.
Our plan is to interview targeted users to try to uncover the goals, needs
and tasks that drive them to the information (however that information is
represented or made available). After this we plan to engage users in
commentating a prototype representing a logical organization of the
information (which will be changes as we go along) - that is commentating
the information architecture in a process of iterative design for about one
month (that is the timeframe I'm afraid).

My question is this: How does one evaluate the logical organization of
information? How does one make users focus on issues of structure and not on
the temporary visual design of the structure (the structure of information
is presented on a test site available for the public/the users)? Does anyone
have experience with participatory design of information architecture (which
is a step further than user centered design as I see it - since we are
trying to engage targeted users to take active part in commenting and
suggesting changes for the information architecture)?? And what's the
relevant literature on the subject?

Hope to get comments on these practical problems related to the discussion
on IA/UE and to hear how some of you have tackled problems of this kind.
Thanks - also for an interesting discussion and to Louis Rosenfeld for
bringing it up,


Klaus Kaasgaard
The Usability Lab
Lautrupparken 40, 2750 Ballerup, DK
Ph: +45 44686444 - 4693
E-mail: [log in to unmask]