I pondered a while how I should approach this Prezi presentation about information architecture by Peter Morville. For one thing I really like the content. It gives you a nice impression of what information architects do. But then I feel that it is being let down by the structure. Ironically what we see is an introduction to information architecture that suffers from poor information architecture.
Mind you, I don’t mean to bash the author nor the tool. I just think that it’s time that for Prezi, as for other types of presentation tools and media, we start to appreciate their properties and develop information architecture that caters to their strengths and weaknesses. This particular example, unfortunately, fails to do so.
The problem with the structure of Peter’s Prezi is that zoom or size is not meaningful at all. As is the case with too many Prezi examples already, the information is accessible only through a linear, monosequential roller coaster ride that may induce motion sickness to boot. Try to navigate the Prezi without the guiding help of the path that Peter created. Once the background image loads there is a visual cue that you start from the bottom left and follow a maze, but that does not get you everywhere you need to be to fully understand the content. In effect, you are bound to linear consumption in a way that is worse than what I came to expect from print.1
A page in a book usually features linear design.2 And yet, by typographic conventions such a page already has better information architecture and usability than most Prezis. On a page I can scan the text flow for headlines or keywords and skip to the part that I want to know about. I can’t do that with a Prezi that goes out of its way to hide information away in arbitrary places.
Prezis often look like mind maps that Mr. Magoo would draw under a microscope. Unlike headers in print, the size of the typeface does not give the user a clue about information hierarchy. No indents are there to tell us where a new line of argument may begin, no grid is there to guide our uptake. Most of the time we don’t even have a clue about how far we have progressed in absorbing the content. This isn’t just bad architecture. I’d say that in the worst examples there is no structure at all. It’s Labyrinth of powerpoint slides.
Now, I do not claim to have the definite solution to the puzzle that this new technology poses. I did in the past propose one possible framework to structure information on the infinite canvas on Prezi in a meaningful way, but I can imagine others that work just as well, if not better, at making the form of the content meaningful. Making the form have function. I’d say this calls for Information Architecture with a capital I&A, does it not?
In Peter’s defense: the title itself says that this version is only alpha 0.1 though ↩
Text need not be a monosequential medium. Footnotes are an obvious example. Even in print or handwriting do we have highly sophisticated information architecture that defies linearity. I shall revisit the theory of hypertext some other time, but in the meantime I highly recommend you ponder in awe its precursor, the information architecture masterpiece that is the Talmud. In there you find centuries of dialogic discourse among Hebraic scholars condensed into multilinear typography. Yeah. That just happened. Thousand years ago. ↩