We have been told that Information Architecture tries to map the mental model of the end users. What is this mental model and are they really users?
First let’s define whether they are “users” or “be-ers”. The idea of information architecture is to dive into the universe of what makes these people “BE” themselves rather than discover what they would “DO”, since they are what they are and they are not expected to do anything except just be themselves.
Is information architecture about finding one’s way around a temple discovering its various parts or is it about understanding the underlying impact of one’s own psychology during this physical journey? Nothing explains this experience better than a trip down into the darkness of the ancient temple. The purpose of a temple served multiple needs, not only was it a place of social interaction in later years, its primary purpose was to unite the human side of a person with their God side!
Let’s first probably agree we have a God side to us, the ancient structure re-enforced this inherent thought back to us.
The basic actionable Information Architecture in temple architecture is the path of circumambulation around the main sanctum of the temple. The emblem of the supreme resides at the center and is visible in lamp light, a sacred fire that illuminates the little chamber, and the path around it is the single dedicated effort a person makes in all sincerity to worship the power of the supreme within. Is this enough to trigger the basic need of unconditional love towards the supreme - Bhakti! The ancients devised a far more complex strategy to ensure such emotion flowed as the user walked through the walls.
Not only was the path defined as clockwise in all temples, but it was the basic need to demonstrate one’s sacred emotion of love to respect the power within in addition by circumambulating it. The combination of darkness and the rays of sunlight that decorated the inner chamber added to this experience, bringing a certain mysticism towards it. Small gaps in the ceiling of the temples enhanced the inner WOW experience within the mind of the be-er as they took the journey towards the self within these walls.
Now, Information architecture was not just restricted to the path between the pillars, as the darkness grew and the sunlight reduced, the lamp lights lit up the interior into a make-belief heavenly world where the deities in their various exploits revealed themselves through the niches. These sculptures were not just about anybody, there was a whole science behind who stood within which niche and throughout the temples across the geography of India, these rules applied.
If a Bhakta walked through the inner passage around the sanctum of a Shiva temple, they would see the forms of Ganesha, Devi, Nataraja, Lingodhbhava Shiva, Dakshinamurthy Shiva, Bhairava along the passage. These avatars are a must, and in addition to this, in the south the Bhakta silently associates with greater devotees like the Nayanars, 63 saintly poets in all who sang the praise of the Lord during their lifetimes. The idea of this experience being, they just didn’t walk through plain walls into darkness, their minds associate with the principle forms, connect with the undercurrent of the cult, understand its principle reasons for existence, its teachings, the core philosophy and relate to it at a far more powerful subtle level than just “doing” a walk around the sanctum.
My understanding is that the essence of Information Architecture was far more resonant in the early ages of our ancients than what we apply today for the time to think and derive a method was that much more potent, essential and spot on. They didn’t focus on what people did, they focused on what people wanted to be and that is probably why best practices of Information Architecture during their time was far more effective that what we are building today, in the medium of digital.
Strangely, rock brought home an in-depth feeling of comfort zone compared to digital of the present age and the resulting ROI was far more effective as it crossed centuries withstanding the test of time.