Screen Shot 2012 11 10 at 2.33.18 PM Words vs. Design: What is Content, What Is Information Architecture?

[thoughts in this post are continued here: The Simplest Path is the Best: Occam's Site Map Strategy]

Years ago a friend and fellow web worker started getting interested in doing IA and sitemap design. All these fancy words and titles back then, now boil down to web design 2.0. Of course, we didn't know the term web 2.0 yet.

So my friend was very interested in tools and techniques for building wireframes and flowmaps of websites.

"I use PowerPoint," I told her. She glared at me. "And Excel." She changed to a more WTF look.

Of course any tool will do if you know what you are doing. But she was convinced that Illustrator or some prototyping tool was essential for her craft. Yes, I'd done sitemaps, wireframes, and visitor flowmaps with Illustrator. But now, for me, simple was best.

Recently this same friend and I were having a discussion about copywriting (her previous occupation) and information architecture.

"You know it's all blending together again," I said. "Taxonomy, design, blog templates and css. Information architecture is a great title if you have enough work to keep billing at a high rate, but most highly-evolved designers have some IA in them. And today, if you don't think about SEO and taxonomy, you really shouldn't be in this business."

"I still think an IA is essential."

"I agree that the discipline is essential. But I don't know that any of my clients would pay me double my rate to draw sitemaps for them."

It was almost as if I had told her PowerPoint was my favorite app. (I do admit to being a PPT ninja, but that's another story.)

"So, really," I asked, "What are you working on most, now?"

"Writing."

"But you SOOOO didn't want to be a copywriter any more."

"It's different."

"Is it?"

I went through my head recounting my most recent site architecture and content plan and the tools I used: PowerPoint and Google Docs.

She was looking at me with that irritated look again. But this time, I'm sure she thought I was toying with her.

"I can do a fine taxonomy and information architecture structure in excel. And in many ways, SEO and SEM are really about "writing" again. So that English degree paid off."

"I still love Illustrator," she said. "I should show you my latest IA."

"I'd love to see it."

Today I'm not sure "design" is all it was cracked up to be. The BLOG and the aggregation format have taken over classic business communications. Sure there are beautifully designed sites, but the flash-heavy graphic experience is mostly limited to entertainment companies with major marketing budgets. Everyone else is more interested in the information. The words. And when I do AI and taxonomy, I am organizing words into logical structures and paths.

And for me, PowerPoint is the rapid prototype tool I need to get ideas down fast. Later if I really need something pretty I can use Illustrator. And the same for actual site design. If it can't be done in WordPress I want to know why.

The way of the blog is the way of the word. The way of information architecture is word organization. And finally, the way of designing for the web is how to get your ideas organized and explained most efficiently.

Back in the days, when my friend was still a copywriter at a small software startup where we worked, the geek designer started talking about not doing mockups at all. With good CSS, he said, we can just start with design. Instead of mocking up wireframes, we'll just build the site variations. (Ever seen CSS Garden?)

That's where we're going. I'm still not there, because I'm not fluent enough in CSS. But I can whip words and cells around pretty quickly in Excel. And if I need pictures to communicate my ideas I open Powerpoint and draw rounded rectangles and squares.

[thoughts in this post are continued here: The Simplest Path is the Best: Occam's Site Map Strategy]

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
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