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Double Dip: Design vs. Information Architecture

. tony

Double Dip: Design vs. Information Architecture

“I stopped trying to design while doing wires. I suck if I try to do both at the same time.” A friend of mine, Petar, said this to me. He happens to be an insanely great IA and Visual Designer, but he says doing both at the same time just doesn’t work. After looking at his stuff, he was right, it did suck, and not just a little. He’s a talented guy, so what’s going on here? Was it a right-brain/left-brain thing?

Not as talented as my buddy, but no slouch either, I decided to tackle both areas at once and see what happens. I started small: just an in-page gallery that pulled in related products. And guess what? I could only concentrate on one thing at a time. When I thought about aesthetics, I’d lose focus on functionality, and vice-versa. So what’s the deal?

My theories

Design requires a high level of thought and cannot be compromised by trivial things.

Information Architecture requires a high level of thought and cannot be compromised by trivial things.

Design is good, IA is evil.

IA is good, design is evil.

All plausible theories, but hard to prove. What I do know is this: information architecture is like the foundation and support system of a house, and design is like the finish. Not revolutionary, but think about it: if you tried to build a house at the same time you were laying the foundation, the walls would come tumbling down.

A respected designer once said, “Great design is thinking like a 2 year old.” And a knowledgeable IA said, “IA is the art of making people feel like they’ve been there before.”

Great design gets to what’s important and strips away the rest. It makes sense and strikes and emotional chord. Great IA makes the unfamiliar, familiar. It engages customers, shows them where to go and what to do, and inspires them to purchase products, sign up for services or get more info. Design is form, IA is function.

Hmm. Seems like they both have a lot in common in spite of their differences. Like they’re bickering brothers. One may dig art and Santana, and the other may be something of an engineer at heart (God forbid) and likes sudoku. But they share something deep.

People like me and Petar are constantly looking for that connection.


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