World IA Day (WIAD) is a one-day annual celebration that inspires the growth of information architecture as a community of practice across the globe. It started off back in 2012, however, for the first six years, New Delhi was missing from the map of global locations celebrating WIAD.
Information Architecture has always been a core part of our work and features in pretty much every web project we tackle. So last year we decided to bring this initiative to our city. I reached out to the WIAD Global Team and signed up to be the location organiser for New Delhi. Abhishek Rai, a fellow co-worker at Base Station, volunteered to help us put the event together.
This year’s global theme was “IA for Good”. We decided to focus on conversations that would involve representatives from non-profits and journalism. We believe through awareness about information architecture such professionals can catalyse a positive change in our society.
On February 24th, Abhishek kicked off the first edition of World IA Day in New Delhi. He oriented our attendees towards the purpose and theme of World IA Day, followed by the agenda of the day — 5 talks curated to help attendees understand the significance, process and impact of IA through examples relevant to the development sector.
Here’s a summary of each of the talks (with links to the slides and sketchnotes by @rasagy).
Information Architecture for Everyone
I delivered the first talk of the day introducing information architecture to the audience. The objective of the talk was to make the community aware of IA without bombarding them with technical jargons. Instead, I relied on everyday examples of IAs such as in books, house-numbering, pharmacy stores, exhibition spaces, or simply a buffet spread. My talk concluded with highlighting how IA lies at the intersection of information, user and context — which nicely set the stage for the remaining talks of the day.
User Research 101
Next up was Rasagy Sharma who is a designer at Mapbox. Rasagy’s talk focussed on the subject of user research and attempted to describe the whys and hows on the topic. In addition to covering some of the simple, easy-to-adopt techniques, Rasagy answered a bunch of queries pertaining to the more involving techniques. This was Rasagy’s first attempt at using hand sketched slides for a talk and everyone loved those!
Slides: User Research 101
IA and Research Synthesis
The pre-lunch talk was presented by Namita Mohandas, an independent information designer. Many a time despite investing a lot in research we’re unable to make good use of the research output, especially in understanding the problem space or connecting them with ideas or solutions. Through an example of her past work with Akanksha, Namita addressed this issue and emphasised the importance of research synthesis.
Slides: IA & Research Synthesis
Considering the Context of the Last User
Right after lunch Roshan Nair, the Country Manager at viamo.io, introduced a new perspective to our ongoing conversations. Roshan presented 3 different examples from their work in IVRs where IA gaps emerged when the system was rolled out to last users. Roshan defined last users as the group of users present at the absolute periphery of service delivery whose needs (and context) are often overlooked by designers and information architects. IVR examples also helped our audience break away from associating IA to visual outputs.
Communicating Social Impact Better
The final talk of the day was by Sheel Damani, an Independent design and communications consultant. Sheel started of with establishing the purpose of organised information which is to make itself findable, easy to share and align people across a value chain or system. She went on to critically review the annual reports of a number of non-profits and presented her analysis of the information and its organisation. Sheel also deserves the coolest analogy of the day award for pulling out an analogy from the 90’s Bollywood cult comedy Andaz Apna Apna.
It’s immensely fulfilling to see happy attendees at the end of an event. Here are a few moments captured at the event.
There’s an entire album if you’d like to see more.
We look forward to bigger and better editions in the coming years.
It’s often hard to define abstract, rudimentary and ubiquitous practices. Design is one such example which I’d touched upon earlier.
Information Architecture (IA) belongs to a similar territory.
Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.
Information architecture models are everywhere — printed material, digital documents, websites and even physical spaces (not typically thought of as information). It wouldn’t naturally occur that someone might have worked hard to make sense of mess to enable understanding and use.
When it comes to defining information architecture, IAI’s take is a good start. It attempts to describe IA through a specific activity. Several online references take a similar approach i.e. describing IA as an activity that involves “drawing boxes”, arranging parts or organising, structuring, and labelling. This approach makes the definition a bit narrow and incomplete.
Instead, taking a broader approach here’s an attempt to define Information Architecture—
Information Architecture is the thoughtful, deliberate practice of achieving a shared mental model, and further applying it to make something understandable. Thoughtful, because it involves shedding biases and unseeing things as they appear (or are presented).
Deliberate, because it involves making carefully considered and well-reasoned decisions.
Practice, because it involves application of principles, theories, tools and processes towards a purpose.
Shared, because it involves reaching parity in understanding of ideas and thoughts.
Mental Model, because it involves representing assumptions, structures and arrangements people carry in their minds.
Hope this adds to how we all understand IA.
For the first six years of Miranj, Prateek and I were responsible for every activity under the sun. Whether it was designing and writing code, or responding to opportunities, or basic housekeeping (and everything in between) — the responsibility was always shared. The lack of separation of concern, and in turn a lack of ownership, meant that some aspects received disproportionately less attention than others. A business runs smoothly when things are fixed before they break, and this is as true for our core craft as it is for other facets such as generating opportunities, or general housekeeping.
2016 was a tough year overall. And it provoked some profound changes. In no other year have we evolved and achieved as much as in the year that just went by. This is the first time I felt like writing a year in review.
We took cues from the year before, and made a bold move. Prateek and I split our responsibilities and took charge of different aspects of work. We both have different priorities now, which means fewer hurdles, more encouragement, and more motivation. As a result our progress last year has been more well-rounded than in any preceding year — be it clarity in objectives, leaner processes, generating new opportunities, better collaborations, and most of all, our work.
With a Clear Purpose
We had laid down our purpose back in 2016. Last year we had the opportunity to invest time and mind-space in reflecting on our values, strengths, and strategies, and to audit our performance. This self-analysis drove us to align our mindset and tactics to move closer to our purpose. We’ve made subtle changes in our conduct. To take an example, we’ve identified longevity as a core value in our work. We now consciously look ahead, well into the future, and take considered decisions at each step of planning and executing a project. We’re exploring questions like how long should a website last and even evaluate our client’s commitment towards this value. For a while we’d been posing four simple questions to understand new enquiries, but recently we’ve added a fifth question that seeks to understand the potential life-span of the website that we’re being asked to work on.
We’ve started investing more in understanding a project, guiding clients and aligning expectations. For any typical project we now conduct a week-long project discovery workshop with our clients. We follow a methodical approach towards understanding the audience, content, and goals of the project, along with recognising the client’s taste in aesthetics. Further, we facilitate prioritisation, recommend a strategy, brainstorm a solution and mutually agree on the scope, and a plan of work.
This week-long intensive exercise has given tremendous clarity to our clients, helped us speed up alignment, and discover problems that are often overlooked by initial project briefs. It also serves as an opportunity to guide them — from design and technology to feedback and project management.
Raising the Quality of Work
We usually cringe when we look at our past work. But that’s also something that makes us proud. There’s probably no better evidence to indicate that we’re improving all the time. This year we’ve made some measurable improvements in our work. Our projects are faster, more secure, and implement better technical SEO. Some noteworthy changes that we’ve introduced are:
- hosting on VPS (such as Digital Ocean or Linode)
- ditching Apache and opting for an Nginx-only architecture
- deploying CloudFlare CDN to serve static assets
- inlining critical CSS
- micro-caching dynamic content using FastCGI Cache
- automating image optimisation
- serving all websites over HTTPs (including our own!), and
- delivering the most up to date technical SEO — from checking off all social media meta-tags to JSON-LD Structured Data, using SEOmatic.
These qualitative improvements are now our “minimum deliverable” for every project we tackle.
We finally got around to formalising our support offering. This includes essential housekeeping like monitoring server health, fixing issues, regular backups and timely updates (and renewals). Further, we now offer retainers which embrace the fact that websites are a living thing. We can help sites evolve over time and not let our client’s ideas (or needs) remain parked indefinitely.
New Geographies and Communities
We met more people from different parts of the globe than ever before. Our year started with a Singapore-based project, followed by attending Peers Conference in Seattle, and concluded with Dot All in Portland (the first Craft CMS conference). It’s been great to interact with these communities and learn from peers. It also helped us evaluate our own standing against the international web community in terms of skills, processes and quality of output.
Projects of Note
A year in review cannot be complete without touching upon some of the work we shipped. Here are three notable ones —
- Buuuk — Powerful page builder website for a bespoke mobile app design and development studio based in Singapore.
- Design Fabric — Lightning fast experience for a new publication on the art & design culture in India.
- Tiffinbox — #May1Reboot for a communication and illustration studio in New Delhi.
We’re super excited about 2018!
There are some interesting (and challenging) projects in the pipeline that will go live in the coming weeks and months. We’re gearing up to celebrate World IA Day 2018 next month. And we’re looking for an experienced web developer to join our team. We’ve laid out the offer very thoughtfully, and have meticulously put together a few rounds of evaluation to establish a good match. We’d really appreciate your help in recommending a suitable web developer to us. If the endorsed candidate is successfully hired we’ll be happy to share a referral fee of ₹10,000/- for your gesture.
Happy New Year!
We are looking for an expert developer (at least 3 years of work experience) to help us with our ongoing and future projects. You could be a full-stack developer, a WordPress/Drupal developer, or simply, a web developer. If you’re passionate about writing code and wish to grow as a developer while building websites hands-on, we’d love to have you grow alongside us, as we get better at our craft.
Miranj is a web design and development studio based out of New Delhi. We architect information and design radically simple, future-proof websites. We started out in 2011, and have worked on websites for a variety of clients across domains such as film, tech events & conferences, internet advocacy, science outreach, online content publishing, public interest campaigns, and other design studios. We’ve been attending web conferences around the world while also speaking at (and curating) a few in India. We’ve consciously remained small (between 2 – 4 people) while tackling projects collaboratively with peers and freelancers.
- Participating in project planning, strategy and estimation of tasks.
- Information architecture and data modelling, often in the context of a Content Management System (CMS).
- Working closely with designers and suggesting changes based on technical feasibility.
- Translating designs into front-end templates that render as responsive, interactive webpages.
- Building custom features, often to extend CMS functionality by developing plugins.
- Auditing code to meet quality standards expected from modern websites, such as SEO, accessibility, security, etc.
- Optimising websites for performance through caching, image optimisation and other #perf strategies.
- Deploying websites, including setting up and configuring web servers, and related services.
- Migrating websites between servers and data migration across CMSes.
- Maintaining, supporting and upgrading past projects.
- Documenting work and communicating with project teams and clients.
- Learning and staying on top of web standards, development workflows, coding strategies and other industry best practises.
Your work will involve a healthy rotation of all the above. It is not expected that you will stand out at everything on the first day of your job. However, you should already be comfortable with:
- collaborating using version control systems (Git or Mercurial), and
- coding templates from a design mockup, and
- installing, developing and deploying a CMS (e.g. WordPress, Craft CMS, Ghost, Kirby, Statamic, Jekyll, Drupal etc.) powered website.
We believe the following traits will play nicely:
- You favour a long-term relationship over a short stint.
- You are eager to take charge and get stuff done.
- You are open to learning and have the ability to pick up new technologies by reading documentation & tutorials.
- You value your commitments.
- You are good at communication, including writing.
- You have an eye for design and a temperament for design thinking.
- You like sharing ideas on how to make work more fun, meaningful and fulfilling.
- You appreciate coffee and love mountains.
What’s on offer?
- A healthy compensation, proportionate to the value you can bring to us.
- A cool office, with a stocked pantry, which doubles up as a small co-working space.
- An annual pilgrimage to the mountains, to rejuvenate from the stresses of work and city life.
- Opportunity to work with modern systems and software, with continuous learning.
- Medical insurance.
- A culture that values reason and debate over authority; autonomy over control; slow and considered decision-making over fast and hasty; and a healthy work-life balance.
How to apply?
Just fill out this form. We recommend skipping your résumé or CV and keeping the application informal. Point us to 2 or 3 past web projects that you’re proud of. For each one, mention the project duration, your role, and your contribution. In addition, please share your online presence (such as Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, Website/Blog). And oh, do mention your hobbies. We’re curious about what you find interesting outside work.
Please ensure that you’ve included active links to projects for us to take your application under consideration.
We do not discriminate on the basis of caste, race, religion, orientation, gender, physical ability, formal education, age, nationality or any such factors.
Hi there! We are looking for a developer to help us with our ongoing and future projects.
Are you, or do you happen to know a full-stack developer, a WordPress/CMS developer, or a good old web developer looking for a new opportunity? Head over to Hasjob or AngelList to check out the job’s perks, responsibilities, and to apply for the position.
We’d long known that the web was about embracing flexibility and about a dynamic, infinite canvas rather than fixed paper sizes. There were a fair share of designers practising this too by designing fluid, scalable websites. To the mainstream however, embracing flexibility meant little beyond supporting a few different browsers and two different screen resolutions.
That was then. It’d been three years since the iPhone’s release. Tablets had made their debut, but smartphones were about to reach critical mass. Diversity in the shape, size and form factor of devices accessing the web was now a ripe reality. And Ethan struck on hot metal with the idea to “design for an optimal viewing experience” by querying for and adapting to the user’s environment.
While responsive design might’ve initially arrived as a primer on using media queries, it feels more like a philosophy than a specific technique. The philosophy being, to recognise and build for web design’s known unknowns, to secede certain control to the user, meet them in their environment of choice rather than dictate one particular context on to them via your design choices.
The responsive web design philosophy fits so well with the principles of the web that it is now as ingrained in our processes as using CSS instead of
<table>s for layout.
If you’re getting a new site made, or getting one revamped, go read “How Long Should Your Website Last” by Mike Swartz. Few are clear in their heads if their website is an investment or an expense. This article does a great job at setting the right direction.
Your website has got three core layers: content storage, content management interface, and forward-facing user experience.
The forward facing experience is what most people think of as their “website”. It’s the layer that goes out of fashion merely in 18 months. Another other important take away from that article is that the choice of CMS becomes very critical to determine longevity of investment.
A typical content management system controls all three layers together, and they move in lock-step. Not ideal, but that is how things are. Through the life of a website the content types & storage probably won’t change much. Big perceivable changes happen in other two layers. Therefore the content storage layer must be very well considered. A CMS switch later is expensive, especially the data migration effort.
Hopefully this will be discussed in the upcoming CMS Conference.