From display:none to display:relevant - Why “Responsive IA” is vital

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 30 April 2012

You can’t be involved in digital product design and not have heard the buzz-words “responsive design” - building one URL that changes the information and design displayed as you access it with different devices with different screen sizes. The Boston Globe has won awards for doing it in the news space. A key component of a successful “responsive design” has to be a flexible and responsive IA.

Why is “Responsive IA” important?

For a start it took us a while to recognise the importance of organising information on large-scale websites, so it seems absurd to forget that as we look to re-organise the same large-scale sets of information for smaller screens.

In fact, the classic IA Venn diagram of content, context and users is even more relevant now than it has ever been. When you reduce down a full-page service to work on a small screen, you need to understand why you are choosing not to show content to users, and the context in which that information needs to be revealed to them.

And if you are starting with a “mobile first” design that is optimised for a mobile screen, and you begin to scale it up, you need to understand why you are adding extra items, navigation, metadata or functionality to the display.

“Context of use” is even more tricky.

The assumption that using a mobile device means I’ve only got twenty seconds to snack on information whilst dashing for a train is one that belongs back in a world where data connections were expensive and bandwidth was scarce. I could just as easily be sitting on my sofa at home, picking up the phone because it is in my pocket, whereas the tablet or laptop I have are a couple of metres away.

There is also another key element at play here. The mobile screen is a very personal experience on a very personal device. The mobile view of a responsive service needs to convey trust, and be personally relevant. Getting the right information in front of the right user is paramount.

So what do I mean by “Responsive IA”?

I mean IA that flexes across devices. IA deliverables that help developers and product managers understand the product. IA that works seamlessly for the user across multiple contexts of use. And the IA of the content production systems that are needed to support these services.

Find out more...

Join me on Thursday for a Responsive information architecture masterclass. In this day-long session you’ll learn how the principles of IA work in a “responsive” design, uniting content, context, and user to underpin a satisfying and successful user experience.
Thursday 3 May 2012, London. From £399 + VAT. Find out more. Not sure the course is right for you? Email me to discuss it.

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