Last winter, I spent some cold nights reading an inspiring book warmly recommended by Shannon Ryan, CEO of my agency: Ambient Findability, by Peter Morville.
The author has put together his findings from information science research and his own extensive experience as Information Architect.
Considering that anyone could find anything at any time has huge implications, and web navigability has become a standard requirement for successful people and businesses.
Here are the thoughts I like the most:
The historical approach of way finding
- Thanks to the internet, we are “no longer forced to trust the promotional spin of television advertisements, we have the ability to find the best products and the best deals. We can make informed decisions, thanks to the simple keyword and our sophisticated engines of findability.”
- “The world we know – filled with roads, grocery stores, factories, schools, cell phones, web sites, and nation states – has lasted for only the blink of an eye. The information age has just begun. We have transformed our environment but not ourselves. Technology moves fast. Evolution moves slow.” As a consequence, evolution psychology has significant implications in business: “Despite huge investments in information and communication technology, we still rely heavily on informal person-to-person networks.”
Peter Morville’s optimistic vision of the Web
- Some accuse the Web to participate in a transforming the world into a new place of more ignorance and less freedom. Students do their researches online rather than in libraries, therefore is internet responsible for a loss of culture? Peter Morville does not believe in such a “techno-dystopia”: “The Web makes our cultural heritage more accessible. […] Yesterday will not be lost, but tomorrow will be different. Findability is at the center of a quiet revolution in how we define authority, allocate trust, and make decisions.”
The integration of the human aspect into the information architecture science
- What is findability? “The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate”.
- How does information interact? Most variables are objective, such as language or information visualization. But some are emotional; this is what the author calls “The People Problem”: the design of the human mind resides in the fields of “neuroscience and evolutionary psychology”. He quotes Steven Johnson: the brain is “an ecosystem with modules simultaneously competing and relying on one another”. “In order words, Peter Morville says, rationality must compete with what affectionately call our lizard brain and rationality doesn’t always win.”
The focus on language and semantics
- “While the Web’s architecture rests on a solid foundation of code, its usefulness depends on the slippery slope of semantics. It’s all about words. Words as labels. Words as links. Keywords. […] Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, contranyms: the challenges of communication are part of the human condition, unsusceptible to the eager advances of technology.”
The cross-disciplinary approach of web activities
- Information literacy, information architecture, usability and SEM activities are all critical components of web findability. Peter Morville puts SEM into a broader context: “We must give credit to the pioneers of search engine marketing for taking a practical, cross-disciplinary approach to web findability and turning it into a multi-billion dollar industry in less than a decade.”
- “SEO can certainly be viewed as part of marketing. Information search is a key component of the consumer buying process.” […] “To view SEO as the sole purview of marketing is a huge mistake. […] Connecting users with the content and services we design is part of our broader mission. It’s not good enough to create a great product and expect someone else to worry about how people will find it. Together with form and function, findability is a required element of good design and engineering. […] Findability plays a role in each and every step.”
The 7 qualities that shape the user experience on a website
- Useful: “We must have the courage and creativity to apply our deep knowledge of craft and medium to define innovative solutions that are more useful.”
- Usable: “Ease of use remains vital, and yet the interface-centered methods and perspectives of human-computer interaction do not address all dimensions of the web.”
- Desirable: “Our quest for efficiency must be tempered by an appreciation for the power of value of image, identity, brand, and other elements of emotional design.”
- Findable: “We must strive to design navigable web sites and locatable objects, so users can find what they need.”
- Accessible: “Standards-based design for accessibility also supports access via mobile devices.”
- Credible: “Some design elements influence whether users trust and believe what we tell them.”
- Valuable: “For nonprofits, the user experience must advance the mission. With for-profits, it must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.”