Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meshing the Developer with the Information Architect

Many IA professionals come primarily from the creative side as I originally did. Now I come from the technical side as well. Both sides bring strengths, both sides have problems. I’m working on an intranet sub-site which is primarily being used by accountants and bookkeepers. A simple IA problem arose. It's a bit lenghty to explain. The intranet has a standard three column layout. Navigation on the left; middle column has major headings (bookkeeper & accountant items)and then drill down information on the right.

Everything is being kept above the fold in either iframes or scrolling divs as appropriate. The problem to be fixed was this: as the user scrolled down in the right column there was no indication of which heading had been selected. We needed to find a way to keep the label at the top of the right column.

The developer in me said: no problem just put a scrolling div inside the iframe and the problem is solved. The date and info would stay put as the data was scrolled down. It was more than a little disappointing when I found that an "unsolvable" problem came up. There were now two vertical scroll bars next to each other. The “obvious” solution was to remove the scrolling from the iframe. Unfortunately the coding that allowed the div to scroll (overflow: auto) overwrote the iframe code which normally removed the scrollbar (scrolling=no).

So what to do? Obviously we can’t let this stop us. There were two solutions. One solution was to build another iframe with the header information in it and have one link change both iframes. This would be a very clunky solution. The other solution would be to create a div that would hide the iframe’ scroll bar; leaving only the div scroll bar visible to the end user. Think of this div as an object in Visio or a layer in Photoshop that you brought to the front hiding what’s behind it.

I dislike these kludges; you shouldn’t have to hide coding problems with “fake” divs. That’s the developer in me speaking. What is the problem in knowing technical solutions? Simple, sometimes knowing the technical aspect of a problem is a distraction. The IA’s role is to solve IA problems; not to solve the developer’s problems.

Does this mean that developers are handicapped when it comes to doing IA work? Not at all I find that some IAs, from a more creative background, have issues with the Creative Director. They have the same problem in the creative end as I have in the development end. Namely do your job and leave others to do theirs – until they ask for a suggestion.

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