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Dan Ramsden
Information architect, writer and magician
Information architect, writer and magician

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After reviewing submissions for IA Summit 2014 it occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to think about trends. IA summit is where some of the best minds in IA gather, so the proposals for talks and workshops should represent some dominant themes and concerns. Right?

I went back over the feedback I’d given and grabbed some of the sentences that seemed to make more general points about a trend or an insight that is worth thinking about. Maybe these give us a good indication of things we’ll see in 2014.

Search is becoming the norm
Search is how users connect with content. Google has become the front-door to the internet for a lot of our audience.

Recently I was doing some ethnographic research in a library. We wanted to explore the parallels between the library and websites that try to offer similar services and experiences. I watched as people entered the building, took 4 seconds to consult a sign that was printed on the wall and then moved on to a different information-seeking strategy.

I think search has accustomed people to almost instant access to highly personalised signposting. I also think that as keywords have become more important to the way people search for information, there’s more chance that if you haven’t selected the best word or phrase to include in your signposting, users are probably now less prepared to connect the dots between their mental model and yours.

In recent user research I’ve also noted some interesting behaviours around ‘re-finding’ content. Product owners are desperate to get people to create accounts. I’ve often heard that bookmarking and ‘saved favourite’ functionality is a motivator for users to create an account. But I’ve seen some evidence that the the reliability of search is undermining this motivation. As one user said, ‘if everything is stored in my bookmarks, I’ll only ever see the same thing. If I use search to ‘re-find’ something then I’ve got the chance of finding something better than the original’.

In 2014 I’ll be checking these insights, and using my conclusion to shape the way I think about information-seeking strategies. With a product-design approach, it’s sometimes hard to plan and advocate for the ‘plumbing’ that serves multiple products – it sometimes feels like search isn’t really anyone’s sole responsibility, so it gets ignored by everyone. If your search isn’t good enough, or if your IA forces users to rely on search, the odds are increased that user sessions will be interrupted by trips back to Google. If your audience trust Google more than your IA then chances are that they won’t become loyal users – resulting in lots of missed opportunities.

Being ambitious
Recently I wrote about motivation in user experience design. I noted that some experiences are task focused, a user begins with a goal in mind and information architecture should support them as they move towards completion. A metaphor for this might be the rails you get when you’re bowling, that keep the ball on track. IA is the safety rail to keep people going in the right direction.  

But there is a higher task that IA is capable of supporting, it’s not just keeping people moving in the right direction, it’s keeping people moving.

In 2014 I want to describe a process for identifying missed opportunities where IA could be more pro-active in experiences. I also want to describe the key characteristics of these motivating features that pull users deeper into our products and experiences.

In 2014 I think we’ll see a movement in IA to thinking more about service design. Information architecture has always been about considering context. It feels as thought we’re at a point where user experience architects can bring their expertise to cross-channel design challenges. I’m a big fan of the idea of pervasive information architecture. As ‘information’ becomes more pervasive in our society, I think a huge opportunity exists to harness this data and transform it into value for our audiences and users.

Everyone is a designer
On the homepage of my site ( I confidently claim, “everyone designs experiences”. But as technologies converge the old tension between specialists and the T-shaped 'broad and deep' people evolves again.

I’m not sure how designers can be at their best if they can’t code a bit. I don’t think developers are being fair to themselves and the users of their sites if they don’t think about learning the basics of good design to enhance what they’re building. Everyone should be a designer.

I think there’s lots of potential in exploring how developers can contribute more effectively to designed experiences. Often when an idea gets to a developer it’s focused on the ‘build’ stage of a project, so we miss the chance to unlock the skills and talents of developers. They’re too often tasked with executing a plan, rather than contributing to one.

Maybe the key trend here is to develop a robust process that ensures that everyone is getting the most opportunity to contribute to our projects. We should be encouraging everyone to exercise empathy towards the audience (or user) as they contribute to a designed experience.

Ecosystems everywhere
Every platform creates a set of design patterns and generates an environment to house experiences. For example, native apps are native for a reason, they exhibit behaviours congruent with the environment they find themselves in. But there are also wider ‘contexts’ in which our digital products exists – these are the ‘contexts of use’ in which our users consume our products.

Good design is all about understanding needs and designing solutions to meet them. In 2014 I’ll be trying to detect shared patterns between user needs and intentions and the interactions we’re providing to meet them. I’ll be thinking about ecosystems – how we can use context to enhance or enable experiences.

I’ll be thinking about technological contexts and real world contexts. And I’ll be thinking about how service design can help designers tell a story of need that is addressed by a design, and how this thinking, along with sketching and iteration tools like trajectories can help the design process.  

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I've been doing some work on how using personalisation technologies and a 'service design' approach might help us to help audiences to pursue their interests more easily. So I've just written up some notes on how I think motivation, need and information architecture might interact.

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I wrote this a while ago for the BBC Academy site. I'm still thinking about how the interplay between taxonomic and ontological thinking can help us design motivation into our information architecture.

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I've written a blog post about what I think information architecture and user experience architects can add to projects.
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