Spatial metaphors in IA and game design

Look­ing at dom­i­nant metaphors in dif­fer­ent design dis­ci­plines I’m in some way involved in, it’s obvi­ous to me that most are spa­tial (no sur­pris­es there). Here’s some thoughts on how I think this is (or should be) chang­ing. Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture tends to approach sites as infor­ma­tion spaces (although the web 2.0 hype has brought us a few ‘new’ ones, on which more lat­er.) I do a lot of IA work. I have done quite a bit of game design (and am re-enter­ing that field as a teacher now.) Some of the design­ers in that field I admire the most (such as Molyneux and Wright) approach games from a more or less spa­tial stand­point too (and not a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive, like the vast major­i­ty do). I think it was Molyneux who said games are a series of inter­est­ing choic­es. Wright tends to call games ‘pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces’, where a play­er can explore a num­ber of dif­fer­ent solu­tions to a prob­lem, more than one of which can be viable.

I don’t think I’m going any­where in par­tic­u­lar here, but when look­ing at IA again, as I just said, the field is cur­rent­ly com­ing to terms with new ways of look­ing at the web and web sites; the web as a net­work, web as plat­form, the web of data, and so on. Some of these might ben­e­fit from a more pro­ce­dur­al, i.e. game design-like, stance. I seem to remem­ber Jesse James Gar­rett giv­ing quite some atten­tion to what he calls ‘algo­rith­mic archi­tec­ture’ (using Ama­zon as an exam­ple) where the IA is actu­al­ly cre­at­ing some­thing akin to a pos­si­bil­i­ty space for the user to explore.

Per­haps when we see more cross-pol­li­na­tion between game design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and inter­ac­tion design for the web, we’ll end up with more and more sites that are not only more like desk­top appli­ca­tions (the promise of RIA’s) but also more like games. Wouldn’t that be fun and inter­est­ing?

Using concept models to design for the web of data

Flickr concept model by mApplogic

I’m lucky enough to be doing some con­cept­ing and inter­ac­tion design work for a social web site. This pre­sent­ed me with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inte­grate some stuff I found while read­ing on social soft­ware, and the web as platform/network. Here’s how I’ve been inte­grat­ing some of it.

I was inspired by the con­cept mod­el of the Flickr ecosys­tem I saw in Luke Wroblewski’s pre­sen­ta­tion on social inter­ac­tion design (which was done by Bryce Glass) to try and cre­ate one myself. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly there’s a whole chap­ter in Dan Brown’s book (which Peter was smart enough to pur­chase and was lying around the office) on cre­at­ing con­cept mod­els.

One of the things I want­ed to do is make the site play nice with the web of data. To that end, I decid­ed to apply Tom Coates’ 3 basic page types to the design of the site. So what I did was first cre­ate a con­cept mod­el (of course fol­low­ing some research of the site’s busi­ness and user goals) and then look at the nouns and verbs in the mod­el. For each noun I cre­at­ed a sin­gle object view page and a list view page. For each verb I cre­at­ed a manip­u­la­tion inter­face page. Of course, all list type pages would get RSS feeds in the even­tu­al site.

For instance if you have a mod­el that states ‘Review­er rates Book’ then you’d end up with a page for each review­er and book, a page to list review­ers, a page to list books and a manip­u­la­tion inter­face for rat­ing a book.

Doing this result­ed in a nice list of pages that I could then analyse for com­plete­ness and/or redun­dan­cy. Of course this only works if your con­cept mod­el accu­rate­ly reflects what the site should achieve. If your mod­el sucks, your list of pages will too.

Anoth­er caveat lies in the fact that a con­cept mod­el tends to be very effec­tive for map­ping the func­tion­al aspects of a site, but not very suit­able for cre­at­ing an overview of its con­tent (which is often more push ori­ent­ed). If the kind of site you’re cre­at­ing involves more infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture than inter­ac­tion design you might want to do some addi­tion­al con­tent inven­to­ry work and fold that into the page list.

One last chal­lenge would be orga­niz­ing these pages in a coher­ent whole (beyond cou­pling lists to sin­gle items to inter­faces). I can imag­ine I’d attempt some card sort­ing to achieve that.

Final­ly, for cre­at­ing the con­cept mod­el I used the spe­cial­ized (and free) tool Cmap­Tools which is pret­ty nice in that it goes beyond visu­al­ly mod­el­ling the con­cepts but actu­al­ly track­ing the state­ments you implic­it­ly make when link­ing con­cepts to each oth­er.

Any­one else have expe­ri­ence with try­ing to inte­grate some of the stuff Coates was talk­ing about in their design of a site?