The Potential of Web Based Video - Last Exit | WebReference

The Potential of Web Based Video - Last Exit


Fu Tien Chiou, Genex

When I’m asked, “how did you become an information architect?” my immediate answer is, “I was already halfway there by being an architect.” Although I say this partly in jest, it certainly has some truth to it. Information architecture has a great deal to do with traditional architecture – especially in the ability of each discipline to plan and connect various important elements together.

Architecture is commonly defined as “the art or science of building, specifically: the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones.” Viewed another way, architecture is “(a) a formation or construction as or as if as the result of conscious act (the architecture of the garden) and (b) a unifying or coherent form or structure (the novel lacks architecture).”

Similarly, there have been numerous discussions about the definition of information architecture in the “IA” community. In his book Information Architects, Richard Saul Wurman defined information architect as “the individual who organizes the patterns…creates the structure… the science of the organization of information.” In a broader sense, IA is about creating a set of blueprints for information-related projects and products that builders -- designers and programmers -- can construct.

The Purposes of Architecture – From Shelter to Prestige

Any primitive structure reflects some kind of architecture, even if no one actually drew up plans before the structure was built. Virtually from the beginning, builders knew to fit their structures into the natural surroundings, rather than trying to conquer nature. They used the natural materials available to them and built on the topography they found.

The initial purpose of architecture was to shelter people from undesirable elements such as weather conditions, and to fend off danger such as wild animals. Once those needs were met, people then requested comfort; rather than keeping beasts at bay, the concern became such nuisances as ants and roaches. Aside from protection from rain and snow, people sought heat in winter and relief from the heat in the summer. Step by step, beyond basic comfort, people wanted convenience, MTV and broadband Internet connections. Eventually, architecture became prestigious -- a symbol of status, business or personal.

Balance Between Function and Form

The degree of design flexibility is a means of categorizing building type in architectural design. The heavy industrial facilities --such as petrochemical plants and refineries – are little more than extensions of the manufacturing process. The building is best seen as an enlarged machine, which just happens to also include workers. Architects have very little design flexibility beyond exterior color selection, if that.

At the other end of the scale, museums provide architects with the ability make much more flexible design statements, which fit the nature of the museum. And to an even greater degree, the goal of most monuments is to convey certain ideas to visitors by creating an environment that users can experience themselves. In these cases, architects have maximum flexibility in the form design.

In like manner, web sites can be categorized by construction type into the following categories.

• Static – those that use static HTML to present content. Typically, these sites do not offer any way to interact on the site.
• Interactive – sites where users not only can read but also participate or interact with the site, such as discussion boards.
• Dynamic –sites like Yahoo! not only provide dynamic content continuously but also let users customize their web page content, layout and colors.

Web sites can also be categorized by purpose: personal, non-profit, governmental, educational, commercial, and so on. Driven by the needs of commerce – either to generate revenue (through direct sales or brand building) or to cut costs (by reducing customer service calls) -- commercial sites typically offer less design flexibility than personal sites. Within the world of commercial sites, transactional sites tend to have less design flexibility than entertainment sites.

Architectural and web Design Elements

In traditional architecture, in order to create a barrier between the usable space and external elements, roofs and walls are added to complement the building skin. Within the skin, architects further create room and space. In order to visually connect buildings or rooms, doors and windows are needed. Columns and beams are required to support these elements in place.

With the architectural elements identified, how do architect put them together? They adhere to principles and rules, which some call design languages, to lay out the building. These include:

• Geometry
• Scale
• Proportion
• Rhythm
• Axis
• Symmetry

Noticing the similarities between physical and virtual environments can help information architects visualize web design elements. A room/space is like a web page that a user views on a screen. A link -- be it text link or graphical button, connecting this page to another page -- is like a door connecting one room/space to another. Doors can be one-way, like those revolving doors in the airports, or two-way. Similarly, links can be one-way or two-way. In the virtual environment, the equivalent to the dead-end street is being unable to do anything but use the browser “back” button. The well-known “breadcrumb” is also a physical metaphor transferred to the virtual environment. A site map or an index is just like a directory or map in a complex building or compound. A company logo on the homepage is just like the sign on a building. The label of a link is like a sign on a door that tells you what’s behind the door; it must be clear so users can decide whether to enter or not. Rollover text (alt tag) is like a window that user can peek to learn more about the room/space before entering.

Created: May 2, 2003
Revised: December 15, 2003