Saturday, March 04, 2006


help! usability in need of information architecture

For a number of months I have been involved in a project designing user interfaces for new banking system. A big challenge has been to develop a design language to handle diverse processes, such that patterns can be standardized (and hence learnable), while also being flexible enough to handle very complex, and ad hoc, situations.

I have been mining the Internet for UI examples to leverage from. As I have sought every last permutation of UI design patterns, looking for the best ideas for my project, I have been struck by how inconsistent professionals in the UI design world are in the terms they use to describe widgets.

If anyone should understand the value of consistent, meaningful information architecture, it should be UI designers. But I find little evidence they do, at least when it comes to the terms they use to discuss widgets. You might recognize the widget when you see it, but try to Google it. What term do you use?

We don't even have a standard term for a drop-down list (a pick list? drop box?) What is a list box? Can it include tick boxes (check boxes)?

Some of these terminology issues are legacies of Microsoft verses Apple. The widget terminology wars continue, especially as new widgets are created in the Rich Internet world, and their authors seek to give these subtle variations special names. Is the toggle in a
Windows dialog box the same as an Ajax show/hide toggle? Or the status bar of a web app the same as the task bar of a client application?

I don't want binding advice, but would appreciate some movement to development of a consensus.

Judging from the (*ahem) "diversity of opinion" that can be found on the popular IA mailing lists, I'm skeptical of the chances for a standardization effort.

Maybe a folksonomy approach would suffice; a central repository of tagged patterns, with an A-Z index style "see also" framework for the diverse nomenclature of widgets and concepts.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe the 3rd Edition of the Polar Bear book will have the definitive listing of UI/IA/HCI/IxD/CIA/FBI/USPS/FedEx terminology. (*crosses fingers)
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