What I Learned About Information Architecture From Watching Bad Movies

Christine Benson

I just finished watching the movie Gabriel.

It’s not good. I don’t recommend it.

I'll be honest, this is not the first bad movie I’ve seen. I wish I could redeem myself by blaming it on my husband, who put it in our Netflix queue. However, part of what drew us together 11 years ago was a shared appreciation for Hudson Hawk.

Turns out, though, that after extensive research, I've discovered this secret: Not all bad movies are bad.

Sometimes you get to the ending and the concepts reveal themselves to be thoughtful, although unsuccessful, attempts at telling a story.

This got me thinking.

As an Information Architect, I start every project with a current site audit. Now, while mocking a bad website provides great office fodder, it's safe to say that the site will nevertheless have good or interesting parts. Usually, it's typically an unsuccessful site experience because there are somehow barriers between the users and their goals.

Some of these barriers are similar to what makes a bad movie bad.

Bad Dialogue.

Even 20 years ago, the theater audibly groaned at, ”Nobody puts Baby in a corner." But how often do you see web copy like, "We deliver a complete, pre-integrated technology foundation to reduce the cost and complexity of building and deploying enterprise business intelligence." Seriously. Groan. Talk like people talk and use plain language on your site.

Bad Editing.

Ever get to the end of a movie and have no idea why the long lost cousin who liked to do magic tricks kept showing up? Scenes or characters that don’t advance the story need to be cut. Same thing on the web. Just because someone, somewhere might find the random detail interesting does not mean it's earned a place on the site. Ask yourself "Why would the user want to know this?" Do some research, decide who you're talking to and make some strong decisions based off that.

Bad Structure.

53 minutes in, it's the coolest sword fight of all time. (Oh, did I mention I like movies with sword fighting?) Too bad the past slow-going 52 minutes to get there just weren't worth where we arrived. I know there's an expectation that movies are a certain length, but there are no such rules for websites. Determine the importance of your information and make sure the structure of your site reflects that. When something needs to be told later, provide some really good hints to keep the interest going.

I'll wrap with a personal note to my IA colleagues out there. While writing this, I realized two things that affirm my career choice as an Information Architect. I figured you might appreciate them.

1. When I watch a bad movie, I think about how it could be restructured to tell a better story.

2. Watching bad movies reminds me that I enjoy digging through the junk to find the good bits.