Zen rock gardens, accessibility, information architecture

I was walking into work this morning, thinking about 1st, 2nd, 3rd orders of order (“Everything is Miscellaneous” by Weinberger) and came across a frozen pond. The pond is shaped like a teardrop and has three clumps of grass growing from it. As I considered the space between the clumps of grass, it reminded me of a Zen rock garden, with fine white gravel raked into patterns and larger rocks placed within.

I had a brief conversation yesterday afternoon about a website whose scope drastically changed. Instead of considering an audience of a few hundred people and serving about a dozen stakeholders, it may now serve tens of thousands of people, and our definition of who is a stakeholder sort of went out the window.

It is too late to reign it in.

We have an initial launch of mid-April, and we will only deliver a very small portion of what this site may become.

Organic does not mean irresponsible

The person I was conversing with heard my concern at what this change means for the information architecture of the site, and responded that we can’t know where this will go, and it will simply have to grow organically. I agreed, but asserted that we can still try to imagine what the site will look like in the future.

The word “organic” is sometimes a euphemism for “I don’t know what will happen, so I give up. Let it be what it will be.”

Organic does not mean wild and untended. In a design sense, it seems to relate to an out-of-style phrase, “form follows function.” Farmers who grow organic crops still have furrows in their fields.

I pictured this website on the one hand as “organic” in the loose, wild and untended sense. I have seen information that has grown “organically” like this and it is very much like a field of weeds, unfit for harvest. Those of you who have done a content inventory of a site that hasn’t been reworked in years know what I’m talking about.

Utopia: IA as rock garden

On the other end, imagine an information architecture as ordered and spacious as a Zen rock garden: Beautiful to gaze upon, rich in hidden relationships, all in view at once, yet different depending on where you stand around it.

The accessibility connection: tactile rock garden for the blind

An aside, I was looking at picture of Zen rock gardens, and found this example of one that has an accompanying tactile rock garden for the blind. Scroll down to the “Ryoanji” heading.

Author: Davin Granroth

Davin is Chief Operating Officer for Covenant Eyes, Inc. in Owosso, MI, USA, where he gets to mix his background in user experience design, research, and strategy with the operation of a software company. For more, see his LinkedIn profile.

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