Prognostication Digitalis

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Boxes and Arrows was born in 2002. We came into the world in March like a lion, and swore to write about “what we do” even though we couldn’t agree what that was or what to call it. Like art or porn, we agreed we knew it when we saw it, and that was good enough. As the year unfolded, we discovered “it” was strategy and practice, design and evaluation, and most of all understanding and empathy for users and business. We definitely design, but we design more than just an interface or just a sitemap. We discovered we need a vast variety of skills to do our jobs well. And we need to do our jobs well to survive.

2002 was the year the rubber hit the road. Cutbacks hit companies hard across the world, and everyone struggled to justify their existence. Some new media professions and techniques disappeared almost completely; others became part the standard design practice. 1997 to 2001 was our digital childhood, but now we are clearly in our adolescence—immature, cantankerous, argumentative, but also passionate, hopeful, and determined.

So now we stand poised to dive into 2003. What will this year hold for the profession known as “what we do” and its children, information architecture, usability, interaction design, interface design, and graphic design? What will it hold for our favored media, the digital world? Boxes and Arrows asked our authors to hazard a guess. Here’s what they came up with.

Dan Brown predicts:
Information architecture will be in high demand in the federal government, which faces information-sharing challenges with the Homeland Security “merger,” and information findability challenges as implied in the new e-Government Act of 2002. Information architecture, therefore, will play a prominent role in eGov conferences. The federal government might even recognize an official Information Architecture role in the Office of e-Government.

There will be at least one course on information architecture in every major university in the world.

The number of books specifically on information architecture (a la Polar Bear and Blueprints, et al) will double.

On the other hand: No standard will emerge for information architecture deliverables. The concepts are too varied, the field too dispersed, and the practitioners too spread out to achieve any sort of unity. This prediction won’t come true only if the information architecture community can find a unified voice.

Nate Burgos predicts:
Like the advancement of Internet2, there will be the advancement of Blog2.

More serial narratives, a la comic books and graphic novels, will be established on the Internet as the culture of online literary audiences grows.

Reacting to global causes and conflicts, there will be an increased wave of socially entrepreneurial web presences.

The nomenclature of visual communication will increase.

Earl Morrogh predicts:
I predict that in 2003 the subject of the emerging profession of information architecture will be picked up and reported on by at least one of the major television news networks. The report will include clips from an interview with either Christina Wodtke, Peter Morville, or Louis Rosenfeld.

I also predict that in 2003 there will be at least one newsworthy lawsuit served by a major retailer against a website design agency (or individual information architect) for a site design that fails to meet their return on investment expectations because of performance-related issues.

Scott Berkun predicts:
We’ll realize that the names used to define what we do (UX/IA/UI/design/usabililty) are less important, compared to the impact we have on customers and businesses, and the positive effect we can have helping each other, when we manage to ignore those names and focus on the impact of the work.

Adam Greenfield predicts:
In 2003, some members of our community—which tends to be populated by highly principled and ethical sorts—will be forced to confront their feelings regarding the political uses to which our work can be put. Will they, for example, improve the findability of suspect records in “homeland security” databases, or design simplified interfaces to surveillance systems?

Steve Fleckenstein predicts:
The most awesome IA challenge ever will surface in 2003, and most professionals in the field won’t even hear about it. The people in charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s website will have to contend with a merger of 22 separate agencies, page counts in the millions, hundreds of content owners, hundreds of web developers, dozens of contractors, a multitude of technical environments, and an extremely large and diverse user base (literally, the entire population of the U.S., along with tens of thousands of businesses and government agencies).

Jeff Lash predicts:
2003 will be the year of wireless. Wireless networks in homes, businesses, and public and common spaces will be increasingly popular, and cheaper service plans for mobile phones and PDAs will drive the development of usable and useful wireless-based applications.

The increase in the number of web applications and web services will highlight the need for standards for distributed information architecture.

With more desktop software applications connecting to the Internet to obtain, upload, and share files and information, interaction designers will need to design conceptual models for this new line of “webware” that blurs the line between traditional software and web applications.

David Heller predicts:
Instant Messaging will enter the enterprise as a true collaboration tool, as opposed to a distraction that is stopped at the firewall.

Tablet PCs (especially laptop/tablet hybrids) take more market share from laptops.

The Content Management Systems (CMS) market is going to thin out as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle take bigger chunks of the enterprise market, forcing previous enterprise vendors to find space in the middle tier.

Dan Saffer predicts:
As the word about our discipline(s) continues to spread, more companies, established and startup, will begin hiring in-house IAs.

Transportation systems, military applications, biomedical systems, gaming, PDA/phone/wireless applications, and financial services will be the areas where the most interactive work will occur.

Several IAs will get drunk in Portland.

Elan Freydenson predicts:
Phone companies will realize snapping and emailing photos from cell phones is the next killer mobile data hog.

Flash will still not be the web client of choice for highly interactive applications.

Hopeful: Cell phone manufacturers will finally realize that they need to make hands-free use much more usable, starting all the way from connecting the headset (cordless or otherwise) to redialing a lost connection to dialing with spoken digits (“call 2015553434”).

And I’ll play the game too—Christina Wodtke predicts:
Information architecture as a skillset will become ubiquitous—any company making websites will have people who practice it. Information architects however, will remain relatively rare, and be hired mostly as consultants for major content restructuring. The people in companies doing IA will be visual designers and interaction designers, product managers, database modelers, programmers, webmasters, and editors.

Design teams will start remembering they have to hire writers.

“Findability” will begin to be part of the business vocabulary along with usability and understandability, but not until the end of 2003, where it will be mentioned in a magazine such as CIO or Fast Company.

Knowledge management and information architecture will recognize each other as kin and begin intense collaborative efforts, both informally and formally.

The SIGIA list will either collapse under the weight of annoying squabbling, or become fiercely moderated. Meanwhile, an exciting new interaction design list will pop-up… somewhere…

A company delivering films online will grow popular among the high-bandwidth set for its excellent findability and usability, allowing the film industry to avoid being cannibalized by pirating.

Meanwhile, the music industry will continue to slit their own throats by not figuring out how to deliver music to their users in a satisfying fashion. However, the independent music labels will figure it out.

Somebody will finally write a readable book on controlled vocabularies.

Somebody else will come up with a formula for ROI of Design and Information Architecture.

Somebody else still will start selling prepackaged taxonomies.

…and that is all my Magic 8-Ball will tell me.

Next year, hopefully we can all check in and see how many we got right, and how many we got wrong. And now I dare you: what are your predictions for 2003?


  1. I was come from Hong Kong and I’m very new to this field. I don’t want to predict anything but only to make some wishes.

    The sense of our profession (aka “what we do” by Christina) is very low here in Hong Kong. The most famous term to the senior management or clients is usability. I think this may be because of the Jakob Nielsen effect and the FURPS by HP (which means Functionality, Usability, Reliability, Performance, Supportability) which includes usability.

    For example, my previous Chief Technology Officer would just throw a few usability books on the web designers’ desks and assume they can do everything including web site organization (those IA jobs), UI design and visual design with good usability. No one know we need time and resources to do user and task analysis, create personas and scenarios and even do some user testings.

    I just hope our field can draw some attentions in Hong Kong (and similar places where our profession is not as popular as US).

    And thank you all for making such a good web site for us.

  2. CW: in terms of prepackaged taxonomies…that’s already happening. Many content aggregators are starting to give their taxonomies to their existing clients and even working closely with them to help develop the taxonomies that would be used internally to tag the content they aggregate. There are also other companies out there who “sell” services to create taxonomies for a company. In actuality they just grab a previous taxonomy that they built and add/delete what is relevant to that current client.

  3. I believe the views put forward all have their basis in their own right. I would like to just add my perspective to all this. Here goes (my 2 cents worth)

    I think the love affair brought about by the internet revolution is just beginning. The internet has put forward so much in so little time.

    We have only just begun to appreciate some of the benefits. Like all love affairs, the love affair with putting up web pages quickly and easilyand hence web sites so easily and quickly has only just begun. This is shown by the recent introduction of online web site generation tools that seemingly make putting up web sites by Yahoo and some large corporations.

    Therefore I forsee many people going down this ‘discovery’ path before taking stock of what IA can do for them. Information Architecture will have to wait a while longer before gaining widespread recognition as one of the proper activity in web site design and building.

    A lot will have to come from the IA community being able to organize proper organizations and marketing the benefits of IA.

    As has been said, attempts to develop methodologies to be used IA will be futile. This is because the subject itself demands extreme skill-sets, which are not deliverable by individuals. Each organization/group seems to have their own methodologies, veryone of them working well for their owners. Standardisation becomes increasingly difficult.

    Advertising companies, holding the key role in shaping corporate identity, marketing and media strategies are best positioned to take advantage. However, I still think they are still locked into traditional approaches rather that innovating new ones recognize convergent trends of media.

    People will continue to be pushed with technologies only to discover that this approach will only provide a shallow experience both for the owners as well as their audiences.

    Organizations looking for ROI’s with magnifying glasses will continue to be overwhelemed with confusion and non achievement.

    However, the handful of organizations that concentrate on usability and seriously endeavour to integrate web sites as well as other forms of technology to better serve their customers, will eventually be the winners in usability strategies and eventually see big returns on ROI’s. These groups will advance the use of IA methods.

    All this gives IA proponents time to organize themselves. We can only hope more and more people go down the ‘discover’ path and quickly realize that web site buidling is more than just some quick coding and some fancy graphics. In this lies IA’s real growth. Attepts to fight this trend will be futile, as the variables are just too difficult for people to see.

  4. Rich Internet Applications – whether based on Flash and ColdFusion or not – will become much more widespread, as people want the kind of interaction that they’re used to with desktops, games etc. This will be a Good Thing, although the IA world will resist it, until plenty of people find new, better jobs, working on the IA of rich internet apps.

    The growing maturity of web standards, CSS etc etc will mean a greater gulf between those web professionals and ‘bedroom’ coders. This means greater barriers to entry to people wishing to publish on the web, unless they want to add to the legions of blogs. This is potentially bad for the democratic web of communication.

    Devising a framework for the semantic web will be the next big challenge.

  5. On Taxonomies: my prediction is that this is the year for general awarness of formal taxonomies as distinct from grab bag collections of words), and sharing of small scale taxonomies.

    Efforts like XFML, LiveTopics, and FacetMap are leading the way, along with support for categories in the major blogging tools. The growing interconnectedness of the blogosphere is also helping here, with trackback/pingback/referrers/etc.

  6. “1997 to 2001 was our digital childhood, but now we are clearly in our adolescence?immature, cantankerous, argumentative, but also passionate, hopeful, and determined. ”

    The late 90s was our childhood?

    Man… and what does that say about those of us who have been doing this kind of work since the early 90s? What about MY peers, the ones who broke ground in the 1980s? What about the pioneers in 1970s? Were they embryos and me a simple infant? I don’t think so.

    I think you mean to say, “1982 to 2002” was our digital childhood.

    That so many in the field these days seem to not know what happened prior to 1997 is serious problem in the field of design for technology proiducts. IMHO. Let’s not perpetuate the lack of understanding of how things got to 1997, or worse, not include it in the log.

    In fact, maybe B&A should have an article written about what was LOST in the Internet craze. What things were suddenly forgotten when the browser emerged. So those who got into the field in 1997 can not be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.


  7. Co-creation

    Content docking

    Self building architecture

    Orbital architecture

    Data guardians



    Internet O/S

    Keyhole apps



    Feedback styling

    Metaphor programming

    Experiential algorithms


    Experience audit

    … and a thousand other vague but mystical sounding buzzterms.

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