From information architectures to trajectories

in Interaction design

One of the weaknesses of Information Architecture as a metaphor for design is that it is relatively impoverished. It’s mainly concerned with the structure and classification, labeling and navigation of information. This is too restrictive as we move towards a world of information ecologies in which people orchestrate ensembles of devices and applications to achieve their goals. And I say this as someone who architects information.

Think of the holiday-maker who takes pictures with her camera, transfers them to her laptop for editing and storing, then shares them via Flikr and Facebook with her friends back home, perhaps tagging them with descriptions and narratives. Oh, and then on her return she puts her favourites in a digital photo frame.

It’s not clear to me at all Information Architecture would describe these activities, never mind what advice it would give for their design. That’s what I mean by that as a practice Information Architecture is impoverished: it provides weak descriptions of how humans interact with technology and even less advice on how to design such interactions.

We need to look to other areas to design the systems and services that ubiquitous computing now promise.

I was therefore inspired by a paper at this week’s British HCI conference which describes user experiences in terms of trajectories. Trajectories are journeys in which people navigate different interfaces in different times and spaces, adopting different roles as they travel. In this world of trajectories, we have to think about how people react to the spaces they find themselves in (e.g. holiday resorts), how time affects their interaction, and what roles they take on (e.g. photographer, picture editor, album narrator).

And critically, for fluent and coherent user experiences, we need to consider the boundaries between trajectories. For example, how could technology help our holiday-maker shift from the role of photographer to the role of album narrator – crossing the boundary from one role to another. How about the automatic geo-tagging of objects in the pictures? Or holiday scrapbooks: a mixture of photos, thoughts, and and diaries? Or micro-projectors built into cameras?

New times need new ways to describe and inform our work.

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