Corey and Deane chat about Information Architecture for the World Wide Web — ”The Polar Bear Book” — and then our experiences with information organization in real life.
Then, Lisa Maria Marquis, author of Everyday Information Architecture and You Should Write a Book, joins to discuss how to frame information architecture for those who aren’t web people, the hidden biases in organizing content, and a bit about why you should write your own book. (We also take a critical look at Lisa Maria’s bookshelf.)
The Web Project Guide (webproject.guide) podcast is sponsored by Blend Interactive, a web strategy, design, and development firm dedicated to guiding teams through complicated web and content problems, from content strategy and design to CMS implementation and support.
Show Notes and Further Discussion:
- Lisa Maria Marquis (@redsesame)
- Everyday Information Architecture
- You Should Write a Book
- The Future Is Like Pie
- A Book Apart
- Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond, by Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango
- A Perfect Mess, by David H. Freedman and Eric Abrahamson
Hello, this is the Web Project Guide Podcast. And this is Episode 10, Organize your Content. I'm Corey Vilhauer, director of strategy at Blend Interactive and co-author of the Web Project Guide. Later on we'll talk to Lisa Maria Marquis, author of Everyday Information Architecture, and co-author of You Should Write a Book. But first I'm joined by the other Web Project Guide co-person, Deane Barker, Senior Director of Content Management Research at Optimizely. Hey, Deane.
Hi, I'm co-person this time. It changes every time.
And I couldn't think of anything. So, I went really uncreative about this.
Person, I'll take it. That's widely applicable.
What do you want to talk about, Deane, I didn't get that far?
Well, we're going to talk about information architecture. And so I think it's fair that we talk about the Polar Bear Book.
So, the Polar Bear Book, if you're familiar with O'Reilly publication, they all have animals on the front. I wrote an O'Reilly book and I had a flying squirrel on the front, but I think it's fair to say the first iconic O'Reilly book, the first O'Reilly book that people knew by animal was the Polar Bear Book, which was Information Architecture for the World Wide Web in its first edition by Louis Rosenfeld, who now owns Rosenfeld Media, which publishes lots of other books, and Peter Morville. And so that was the first one that people really knew. And I remember reading that book back in 2000, '99, 2000. It is now in its fourth edition, and it's now called Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond.
I had no idea they had made a fourth edition of it.
I have the fourth edition. I want to say, Corey, I have every single edition of the book. I want to say I have four of them.
So, you've seen as the first four Harry Potter books where it doubles in size every edition?
Yes, thankfully they never had an Order of the Phoenix, because I maintain the Order of the Phoenix you could pull 300 pages out the middle of that and have the same book. My larger point about the Polar Bear Book is this was the book that bought the idea of information architecture into the web. I think that information architecture's been around forever, information architecture is basically the library of science. But when we were making websites, we weren't really organizing much, to be honest with you. We hadn't quite gotten there yet. Back in the late '90s we were just fascinated that we could put things on the internet. And I want to say that the Polar Bear Book was the first book that said, "Hey, how you put things on the internet, how you organize them matters. And let's do this better."
And it has become an absolutely iconic book and Rosenfeld and Morville, the two authors of the original Polar Bear Book. I don't know if Peter Morville was involved in the later ones, I could be wrong there, I know that Louis Rosenfeld certainly was. But they became kind of the architects of Information Architecture. They became the Information Architecture architects. And I read the book and it was very influential on my thinking. And I loved the idea of information architecture, of doing information architecture. Unfortunately, I didn't love the reality of it. Because the reality of it can get very, very tedious. So there are people that do this and we'll be talking to one of them later. But Corey, you are the defacto information architecture architect at Blend, correct?
Yeah, it's interesting actually, because we are small enough, and I think this is probably the case for honestly most organizations where content strategy and information architecture are not separate and unique disciplines. They're different approaches for what ultimately is the same question, which is like, "How do we make this website usable and useful for people who are going to be visiting it?" So, I identify more as an information architect. I find it more fascinating. I appreciate it a lot more. I used to work at Best Buy, so I'm like a organization guy. I was a person who organized CDs and stuff. And my record collection's exactly. You also worked at Best Buy-
But you didn't have to organize things.
Trivia for the listener. Back in 1998, Corey and I worked at best buy together and didn't know each other.
But I mean, there is a whole system for how to organize CDs and it made sense to me. And I just found myself. I didn't realize it at the time. But later on I realized that was the point in which I was like, "I like things organized."
What I find interesting about information architecture is one of those things where your opinion does not matter as the information owner. Your opinion does not matter, and often the way people look at your information is fundamentally and completely different from how you look at it and how you look at it does not matter. Because you have a skewed view of your own information, right? You're deep into it. How do you make it approachable for somebody else?
And you know what? Let's lead into the interview with a story I will tell you about my daughter. She came home on Christmas break. She's a sophomore in college and she was flat broke as sophomores in college usually are. And I have about a 1,000 books and I needed them organized. And what I did is I paid my daughter $500 for two weeks of work.
And she took all of my books off the shelf. She got them all in Goodreads. And I had laid out categories for her like technology, politics, history, sports, biographies, blah, blah, blah. And then later I broke those down further because I could only give her categories that she as an outsider could group them into.
But I remember one day she came into my office holding Andre Agassi's autobiography called, Open, which is a wonderful book. And she said, "Hey, I just cataloged this, but it's both sports and biography. What pile do I put it in?" And I said, "Congratulations, you just ran into your own information architecture problem." So there you go. That's my story about information architecture in the real world.
Which is so funny, because if you think about how Spotify organizes things, how Goodreads organizes things. They can put those in multiple places. But when you have an actual physical object, it can only go one spot versus a website where you really can link it everywhere you want it to.
From April Fool's day, Google announced jokingly something they called Gmail Print where you could order paper of all your emails and Gmail would send you all the papers. And one of the testimonials was a woman saying, "I didn't realize how limiting folders were when I had to put this piece of paper in two different folders and I couldn't do it." And I was like, "Wow, that's why Gmail didn't have folders."
All, yeah. Well, let's get into that. Lisa Maria Marquis is an independent information architecture consultant and author of Everyday Information Architecture. She is also author of, You Should Write a Book. Both of these books are available from A Book Apart, of which she is also managing editor.
But first, this episode of the web project guide podcast is brought to you by Blend Interactive, a web strategy design and development firm dedicated to building great websites. Blend spend guiding teams through complicated web and content problems for nearly 17 years and we're always looking for our next big project. I said nearly 17 years, it's been over 17 years. I wrote this before we had our anniversary.
It is, March 15th is Blend's birthday. And it was always fun because they would do the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Sioux Falls and so we just kind of pretended the parade was for us.
Visit us at blendinteractive.com. All right, let's welcome our guest, Lisa Maria Marquis. Hi, Lisa Maria.
Lisa Maria: (07:56)
Hi, thanks for having me.
Thanks for being on the podcast. This is great. We had, before we jumped on here, we had a 15 minute long discussion about how to pronounce the various parts of your name, which I'm sure is something you love going through every single time.
Lisa Maria: (08:09)
Well, sometimes it's easier if I just tell people, just call me LMM, because it's three letters and you can't just pronounce it. Unless you say, which feels harder for you than for me, frankly. So good luck with that.
Sure, absolutely. And probably the most famous LMM out there.
Lisa Maria: (08:22)
Oh, I'm definitely the correct LMM, don't get it twisted.
Anyway, this is great. Let's talk about information architecture. Lisa Maria.
Lisa Maria: (08:31)
Good pivot. Good pivot, Corey.
Thanks. I have a question that I did not run by you first, but I'm going to ask you, because I just kind of want to know what you think about this off the top of your head. How do you explain what you do to people who don't do it?
Lisa Maria: (08:43)
I help organize information on websites. That's it. That's it. I just organize information on websites. And then if I want to go into more detail, especially if I'm speaking to someone who doesn't work in the tech industry, usually what I'll say is something like, "If you've ever been to a website and you can't find the thing you're looking for, I'm there to make sure that doesn't happen." It usually resonates with folks. Everyone's been there several times a day.
Do you always qualify with on websites?
Lisa Maria: (09:09)
That is where I do my work. That is where I do my work. Obviously information architecture can be practiced in many contexts. It can happen in digital products. It could happen in, I mean, I would also argue it happens in books. My work is managing editor at A Book Apart. I really feel I'm doing IA for books. It's very much working with the same idea of looking at the information that the author, or company, if we're talking about a website, is trying to communicate to its audience. And then helping that person or organization maybe reframe or think about what they're trying to do a little differently so that it actually lands better with the people they're trying to reach. So that's how I see it is I am organizing and presenting information in a way that's going to make it findable, usable, useful, actionable.
Outside of a podcast like this, which is obviously industry-based, do you use the phrase information architect?
Lisa Maria: (09:58)
No. No. I mean, I personally like it because it sounds fancy. It's so many syllables. It's really good. So I enjoy it, but I actually do hesitate to use it in other contexts, because I just think it won't land with people. Again, speaking of resonating with your audience and giving them something they can work with. Information architect doesn't mean things to anyone. It sounds like a made it up, or it sounds fanciful, or it's just abstract and confusing. So, usually I tell people that I'm a web designer, or I tell people that I work on the web, I genericize it out a little bit more. And then depending on what I hear back from them, how interested they are in hearing the details or how familiar they are with it, then we go down different rabbit holes maybe.
So how do you feel the idea of an information architect, do you feel that the perception for the need for information architecture itself is progressing? Back in the day nobody really thought about organizing things. Are we getting better? Do people understand when they're going to do an information-rich project that they need an information architect?
Lisa Maria: (11:02)
I'll walk down memory lane real quick, back to 16 year old LMM who was starting to learn what graphic design was and also had exits to AOL, and really liked Sarah McLachlan and went to the Sarah McLachlan website. And it was this beautiful watercolor drawing of a tree, like an abstracted tree. And different branches of the tree were housed inside tables or something so that you could click on the different pieces to be taken into the website, which would never work today. That is not how pictures work. That is not how websites work. It was very like 1997 I think. And I found that so fascinating as a way of just sort of, this is how you access this information is through this watercolor tree. So we did have ways for organizing things, they just weren't standardized. They were all kind of unique and individual. And I think we have organized things in libraries before the internet existed, card catalogs, the Dewey Decimal system.
There are lots of principles for organizing we can talk about. Linnaeus and the taxonomy of things and biological life and how we organize that. So, I think humanity has always been very interested in how we categorize and present and order information, because it's a way of understanding the world. It's a way of interfacing with the world. So we've always had to do that. It's just a question of, at what point did we say, "Oh, the web would benefit from some standard protocols to make sure that expectations are being set and met across websites, across experiences, and not just within a single company."
When you're in a project, if you get pushback from somebody, what's the basis of that pushback? I mean, do you get pushback from designers who want to sort manifest some artistic vision? Do you get pushback from marketers who don't like your labeling scheme? Who's the antagonist of information architecture? Is it everyone?
Lisa Maria: (12:54)
Yeah. Yes. Yes. It depends. And I don't like to think of it as antagonist. I don't like to think that we're duking it out on a project. I like to think we're all on the same team. And I also don't not mean to sound sun shiny, I'm not super posey over here. I do think projects go better if you're all in a collaborative mindset and we're all just trying to work together to find the best solution moving forward. I would say these days when I do client work I'm less embedded with designers and more thinking about digital products from a strategic level. So I'm often working with product managers or, I don't know, directors of content or directors of design. So people who are not necessarily arguing because they don't like the label they wrote, but more questioning, "Well, how did you arrive at this decision and how is this going to impact something? Or if we make this change, is it going to impact our bottom line?
There's a lot of that, a lot of. But if we take out this CTA, then how will people pay us money? And sometimes we have to walk through, well, there's other ways that they do that. And there's other paths we present to them. And there's other ways we can help the user to achieve their goals while also helping the business to achieve theirs. And I think that's where a lot of pushback, if I do see pushback is coming from is a fear that any change, even if it's change they want, even if they brought me in because they want to change the website, change is still going to hit a lot of people as, "But how is this going to impact how I look to my boss, how I get that next promotion, how much revenue we're bringing in via this path?" So even if it's of that they know isn't working as well, it's still scary to suggest changing it. So I think that's where, when we talk about pushback, that's what I generally see.
It's interesting, because I think when people hear about organizing content and they think about information architecture, they think about navigation, they think about labels, and there's so much more to it than just that. Organizing information just isn't specifically where it goes. In your experience, what are the most, I guess, what are the most uncared for parts of IA that really get overlooked on projects?
Lisa Maria: (15:06)
That's an interesting question, because I don't think you can look at navigation and site map enough. I think that is such a, I know it is certainly the more obvious places. It's kind of how we often think of how information is organized, but I think that's for a reason. That's a good way to think of it. That's a good way to see it because that is how people visiting your website see it.
Lisa Maria: (15:28)
So, to be able to look at the information architecture on a site, or to be able to think about how you're organizing the information on a site to do it through the eyes of someone new to your business, your brand, your content, is probably the most effective and immediate way to make positive changes to the information on your site.
That being said, to answer your question, taxonomy, by which I really mean, let's not use stupid words here, not use big $10 words. I think thinking about how content within the page gets labeled and tagged and organized, whether that's because you have sort of a content library and you need to be able to display articles that are tagged with different topics, or maybe you're just trying to organize different people's biographies or something. It sort of depends on obviously what your content is.
But having ways that you can categorize content, not through the site map, not through the navigation, can be really, really helpful and can be a way to, you can use it to create collections of content without having to put that in the navigation. You can learn to express categories and themes that might be important to users without relying on. Well, it has to be the label for this page or it has to be up in the main navigation. So there's lots of other ways to do it. And I think looking creatively at how information is being categorized and labeled in the navigation in the site map, but also in your dropdown menus and in your filters and in your tags or whatever other systems you're using, those are all valid options.
I find it fascinating. You talked about it, I believe in the sort of throughout your first book, it is your first book, right?
Lisa Maria: (17:11)
Yeah. Everyday Information Architecture, that-
Everyday Information Architecture, your first book, about this sort of idea of humans bringing their own biases into really everything they do. Can you talk about that, the idea? First of all, for anyone listening, if you haven't read just the first introduction to Everyday Information Architecture that has this wonderful story about racism, which is of course what you're always hoping to find in an information architecture book. But it's fascinating in terms of this idea, the biases and hidden meetings that are within how content is organized.
Lisa Maria: (17:46)
Yeah, for sure. Thanks for saying that, by the way, I think it's a nice little book and I think it's a good book for people who work on the web, but aren't necessarily information architects themselves and aren't working with an information architect. I like to think it's a good sort of entry into, here's how you're going to put that site map together, even though you're not actually a practicing IA. So in terms of bias, turns out people are biased all the time in all sorts of ways, for good and for bad. And we need to bring a lot of mindfulness to the choices that we make. Because every single choice we make to give it this label or that label, to put this thing here and this thing next to it, to put this thing ahead of it and this thing after it, all of those are going to be choices that display some kind of bias.
A lot of them probably harmless, cool, but some of them could be pretty harmful. And we don't always recognize that in the moment. So I think that's where you have a couple things that you need to do. One is test with real people and with real users and get that reaction and make sure that it actually works for everyone. Two, have a really diverse representation of voices and perspectives on your team with the people who are building the products, because those different backgrounds, those different perspectives, those different identities and ideas are going to help you create a more robust picture of the world going into it. So I think those are two really important things to help manage that bias.
Lisa Maria, how much information architecture does somebody actually need to know? Imagine you have a small, you're a small team, you're two people. You have somebody who's kind of now in charge of content strategy and they're in charge of content marketing and they also have to check analytics. What are the basics that they would need to know in order to actually be able to do their jobs in a way that makes sense?
Lisa Maria: (19:42)
That's a good question and a complicated one, I think. Because I feel like there's so many different things to think about, but not necessarily, you don't need to be a trained information architect. You don't need to be a practicing specialist, data scientist type brain to do good information architecture. Everyone can do good information architecture. But there are things you need to know. I think it helps to have a brain that is good at understanding systems. So being able to think about the big picture, being able to think about this holistic view of your website, making sure you're kind of looking at the whole thing in context, as well as looking at the experience users have with your brand. So not just on the website, obviously, as I said at the beginning, I'm only focusing on website content because that's what I get hired to do, but I like to think of it in terms of that ecosystem of what a user engaging with your company or product or brand is going to understand about you as a whole.
So, even when they're not on the website, what's happening in customer service and what's happening in print materials and what's happening in the space in the world, if there is one for your product? Thinking about what they are bringing to the website in terms of all those other contexts and all those other experiences with your product. So being able to look holistically at that system of the website and the brand, as well as understanding the system of the world generally, and the various factors that are weighing in on users and visitors coming to the site. So systems, being able to have that big picture perspective, and then also being able to drill down to the details of what is the content. What is literally the information that is on the site.
And having to jump back and forth between those small details and that big picture, that's really tough. But I'd say that is the main thing. That's what information architecture is sort thinking about how information operates in that dual context of big and small, and being able to either think about those simultaneously, or jump back and forth between them easily. That's the main skill. And some people are not strong in that, but can develop that skill and get better at it through practice, and other people are naturally that's how they think. I think either way, if that's what you're trying to do, then you can probably be pretty successful at the information on your website, how it's to organized and how it's presented.
In your engagements, are you usually working with what I would call the oblivious user, meaning, oblivious, that sounded terrible. It sound, oh wow, they could [inaudible 00:22:06]-
Lisa Maria: (22:06)
Try again, try again.
Do you assume every time a user approaches this domain of information they've never seen it before? Because I love, when I was in services I love internet projects. And I loved internet projects because it was some degree of what I would call indoctrination. That user may use this system every day. They may have actually had some training on it. They understand concepts with it. What's the difference between those two situations? Do you encounter indoctrinated user situations? That's a terrible phrase, but I've been using it for years.
Lisa Maria: (22:34)
Lisa Maria: (22:35)
Yeah. No, I think this is a great question, because I would argue that even with an intranet project you still need to be aware of the new users, right? Because even though you are most of the time going to be dealing with employees who are coming into this space on a regular basis and are familiar with it, there's always going to be someone new to the team, new to the company, having a career change, moving up from something else. Maybe it's the first time they've been there. And I think being conscious and cognizant of that user and that head space is not only good just on its face value. I think that's good to take care of that user, but I also think that taking care of that user takes care of the more advanced user too.
I don't really love the phrase lowest common denominator, because I feel like that's a weird kind of way of dragging everyone down. But it's more like, if we take care of the most, for lack of a better term, vulnerable user population, we are going to make access better for all. It doesn't hurt more advanced users to see more context and to see things more clearly explained, how is that harmful? I think the place where you need to look at that and be aware of that fear and that concern is if you're dealing with some kind of product experience, I don't think this usually happens on typical website projects, but different product experiences where you know you are dealing with an experienced or advanced user and creating more context then is hampering their experience.
Obviously we don't want to do that, but I just think the context for that happening is so rare on the standard website, even on an intranet. You really just want to give people enough information and not too much that it slows them down, but usually people err on the wrong side of that. They end up not giving enough information because they're very concerned about their current customers or they're very concerned about repeat visitors, when really just making things a little easier for the new folks is going to make things easier for everyone.
I just want to note that you didn't want to use the phrase lowest common denominator, but you effectively described it perfectly. I appreciate you not wanting to insult those people.
Lisa Maria: (24:40)
Well, people tend to use that phrase when they are trying to talk about dumbing things down. And I just think that's like, that's awful. It might be the lowest common denominator, but that's a good thing, right? That's like, that's good. Let's elevate everyone.
I just want to note that when we started talking about lowest common denominator, Corey got up and walked away from his computer.
Sorry, my daughter started vacuuming outside the hallway.
Nope, nope. Just tells me that Corey felt like he was being attacked at that moment.
Well, at all times. Lisa Maria Marquis, let's stop talking about information architecture and let's start talking about your most recent book.
Lisa Maria: (25:13)
Oh, okay. Let's do that.
You wrote a book called, You Should Write a Book. Very meta.
Lisa Maria: (25:18)
Yes, it's called, You Should Write a Book. Very meta. You should write a book, that's-
Lisa Maria: (25:23)
Corey, let's write a book.
Lisa Maria: (25:27)
You should write a book. You should write a book and you should write a book and you should write a book. Yes, and I co-authored it with Katel LeDû, who is the CEO/editor in chief of A Book Apart where I am the managing editor. So we wrote that book together. We're pretty proud of it. We like it. We think it's good. And you should buy it if you think you might ever want to think about maybe writing a book.
I did buy it and it is a great-
Lisa Maria: (25:50)
... little resource that I wish I would have had before we started self-publishing our own very large book.
I was about to say, did you read it before we wrote the book, or after?
Been a lot more helpful then?
Yeah, I have-
Lisa Maria: (26:03)
Sorry we couldn't write it before February of this year.
I have a final question for you, Lisa Marie. And I know that we told you before we got recorded that we weren't going to do anything with this video, but I'm looking behind you right now. Nobody's going to be able to see this. There's a bookshelf with books that are color coded. And I just want to say, do you consider that a complete betrayal of the principles in information architecture, color coding books for vanity sake and aesthetics. Do you feel like you've betrayed your industry, or have you actually betrayed your industry?
Lisa Maria: (26:37)
I do and I have.
Lisa Maria: (26:40)
I feel terrible about it.
Oh, and I called you out.
I'll back you up, because I do it too.
Lisa Maria: (26:46)
No, but the thing that gets me is I literally just made this change last week. I reorganized my bookshelf last week to put it in color order. And I was like, "I can't believe I'm doing this."
Lisa Maria: (26:54)
It is such a bad move for information access. Like really, I do not think anyone should ever do it with their books. Now, the reason I did it though is because, one, those are all the Book Apart books that you're seeing. I put those in rainbow order because the thing with the Book Apart books for folks who aren't familiar with them is that the cover design for all the books is identical. The only thing that changes is obviously the title and the name, but the color, the color. They're solid color covers. And so each one comes out and gets its own unique Pantone swatch. And so you end up with a library of 40 books, which is what I have over there, with this amazing rainbow. And I put it in rainbow order. I previously had it in numerical order because that is how information access works better.
But I put them in rainbow order because I was interested in seeing what color cover options we really needed to fill out. So that in the future, if I ever were to write another book, I could be like, "Ah, yes, we need this shade of blue." And I will know what shade to request for my book. Yeah, it was fun. I was like, "I'm going to do it in rainbow order. It's going to be cool. It's going to be pretty." And it does look lovely, but it is a deep betrayal. I am disappointed, I'm just disappointed.
When you shelved that final book somewhere an information architect got a chill down their spine, they didn't know why. They're like, "I feel something bad just happened."
Lisa Maria: (28:11)
I will fight this on all counts because number one-
Lisa Maria: (28:16)
I don't think numerical order is a much better, as far as information access, because it isn't like somebody who doesn't know the order in which they were published doesn't know where to find something. Number two-
Lisa Maria: (28:28)
Ah, but how often is someone coming into my bookshelf looking for something? Like this is a user base of one.
And in that case color is perfect, because you know where to look for. That's the other thing I was going to say, you're the user.
Lisa Maria: (28:40)
I know. No, and you're right. But listen to me, I don't know the color order. When I think I need to get a book off my shelf from my Book Apart, I'm thinking about when we published it, because that's, because I'm involved in that phase. So I'm thinking, "Okay, I know my book was number 40, so I'm going to go to the end of the row of the books." Now I have to look for where's the gray book. I know it's, and I don't know, I don't have all the colors memorized for each book. So if I'm like, "Okay, where do I find Mike Monteiro's, Design is a Job," I can't necessarily remember the number. I can't necessarily remember the color of the cover, but I do know that it was published very early in ABA's run. So I know I can go to the top of the list and I can find it. So number order for me for A Book Apart was a better idea. But-
Yeah, I guess so. I only don't even know the titles of half of them. I just don't like, "Well, there's the brown one and there's two blue ones." And it's like, "There's a new one. I think it's kind of a fuchsia." I don't know.
Lisa Maria: (29:34)
Frankly, that probably is. A Book Apart probably is a good candidate for organizing by color in most people's bookshelves. But for me it was, I'm very number oriented with the series of books we have.
Lisa Maria: (29:44)
So, that was a mistake.
So, this reminds me if I can provide a book recommendation, please read Lisa Maria's book, for sure. But I read a lovely book earlier this year called A Perfect Mess. And the book was about the fact that we desperately try to organize according to arbitrary principles where we should organize in ways that make sense to us. We should just organize the level that it provides benefit to us. And the idea was that we can keep things messy as long as we understand the mess and we're the only ones trying to access it. It's a fascinating book-
Lisa Maria: (30:15)
Strong agree. Yeah, no, I was unaware of this, and I am absolutely going to buy it and read it.
It is called A Perfect Mess. It is a lovely book and it made me feel a lot better about my life, which tells you where my self-esteem is at.
Lisa Maria: (30:29)
Excellent. Well, I agree with that idea, which is organizing things for your own life, your own context, your own personal use, you should do what makes sense. And honestly, a lot of people, especially web designers are going to be very visually oriented. And so if color of cover is what is going to help you find the book fastest, do that. But for some people it's author last name. For other people it's the topic. Maybe you group by category. So, do whatever works.
That's all we have.
Lisa Maria: (30:59)
That's it. Thanks so much for joining us, Lisa Maria.
Lisa Maria: (31:02)
I am delighted to have been here.
Your defensiveness about your book organizing signals your betrayal of the industry.
Lisa Maria: (31:09)
I'm a traitor. I am a deep, deep traitor, yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure here to talk with you, and I hope folks find this helpful. And I hope folks reach out to me if they have questions about information architecture, I'd love to hear from you. And I hope people are enjoying your book, which is fantastic.
All right, Deane we're back. Great interview with Lisa Maria. I really think she does a great job of explaining information architecture at a level that doesn't get too in the weeds and information architecturey.
I think we also have to acknowledge that. She's hilarious. She's very, very funny. And obviously, if you're listening to this, you don't have video, but I really did enjoy calling her out on her bookshelf and her organization and complete betrayal of the professional principles she espouses and adheres to.
She talked about using Treejack and using to do reverse tree testing and talked about how valuable that was. And it reminded me of something. I didn't want to bring it up then, but I kind of want to bring it up now that is sort of overlooked when you do a test like that.
Treejack allows you to let them find participants for you. And so we did that once. We worked with a higher ed, with a university and ask them, "Hey, do you want to source people? Or we can have this organization source it for us?" And they said, "Just have the organization source it." And so we filled out some questions and sort of tried to get them in the right spot. But the tests came back as if nobody had ever understood what a website was in the first place. And I think it goes a long way in understanding that there's a layer of context that goes into information architecture that you just have to automatically, you want everything to be dumbed down to the level that anyone can find it, but you also have to allow for a certain level of context. You have to give them the credit that they know what admissions means in a certain situation.
And it was fascinating. We emailed them back and said, "None of these people worked." And they gave us our money back, so it worked okay. But it was like, I went in there saying everything is wrong. And we all looked through and said, "No, this all makes sense. It's just that the people here don't have any background on even applying for college."
So, this goes back to what we talked with Lisa Maria about, the lowest common denominator, right?
If there's a spectrum, on one end of the spectrum is you who know your information intimately. And the other end of the spectrum is somebody who literally is completely ignorant of your information and doesn't really care. And in the middle is the person who's coming to your digital property to find information. And for a higher education for a university, this is going to be a prospective student. And they know that they're looking for majors or they're looking for admissions. And so, using the lowest common denominator, assuming complete ignorance, might cause you to make some really dumb IA decisions. Because catering to them is really catering under your target audience, and your target audience is probably all that matters.
Right, absolutely. Anything else you want to say about information architecture, Deane?
Nothing, except I'm glad that people like Lisa Maria exist, because it's harder than you think. And I love, again, love the idea of it. Read the Polar Bear Book, every edition that comes out. I luxuriate in information architecture, but I would be hopeless as an information architect.
Well, that's our show. Thanks to our guest, Lisa Maria Marquis, author of Everyday Information Architecture, author of You Should Write a Book. She tells everybody that you should write a book. So if you have a book idea, I'm sure she would love for you to just send them all to A Book Apart.
Hey, Corey, we should write a book.
No, Deane. The Web Project Guide is a product of Blend Interactive, a web strategy design and development shop that builds websites and guides teams through complicated web and content problems. From content strategy and design to CMS implementation and support, and also publishing their own book. We are dedicated to making great things for the web. And this is one of those things. As always, we encourage you to get physical. And by that I mean check out the physical version of the Web Project Guide, an actual physical book that you can buy. You can purchase it directly from us at order.webproject.guide. And there's also a link to Amazon for international shipping, which will be a lot more reasonable than we can provide direct.
This is episode 10 of the Web Project Guide, which also corresponds with chapter 10 of the book, Organize your Content. You can read the full text of this chapter at webproject.guide/organize, where you'll find the resources we use to write the chapter. And if you like this episode, reach back in the archives a month and check out episode nine, which was a live episode we recorded with Kristina Halvorson about content strategy. Deane, do you want to know my favorite part of podcasts?
Tell me, Corey, tell me.
Yeah, it helps people find the good ones. And so I think everybody should rate podcasts, specifically giving us a five star review on whatever podcast app you use. Whether it's Spotify or Apple Music, we would really appreciate it.
I feel like I was an unwitting participant in your promotion.
I got you. And with that we're closing down shops. We're not closing down shop. I wrote in the script we're closing down shop. We're not closing down shop. We're just going to stop this episode. Subscribe and check us out next month when we talk about modeling content and start to turn that corner towards site development.
Ooh, modeling content. That's my jam.
Until then, go do amazing things.