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Building the Information Balcony

Here is a step-by-step explanation of the process of changing how we think about and use the page, getting above the information in order to manage information more effectively.

Far from being merely an intriguing design technique, building a site to see more than one viewpoint at once enhances our ability to use information. Multiple points of view are critical to a full comprehension of a wide variety of issues in a world where complexity is increasing exponentially. Designing a Web site to incorporate an Information Balcony is useful for many industries, especially those facing such issues as these:

  • Conflict resolution: personal and corporate

  • Conflict resolution: geopolitical (seeing the issue from all combatants' viewpoints)

  • Global currency exchange

  • Medical imaging

  • Large quantities of medical information: conditions, therapies, treatments, drugs, and drug interactions

  • Corporate structuring (seeing the corporation from Finance, IT, Sales, Marketing, etc.)

  • Investment scenarios

Beneath many of the steps I've provided ("How To") suggestions or ways to think about and use this tool.


Step 1:

Start with any Web home page. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1Figure 1 A sample home page.


Step 2:

Change the plane of the information, turning it flat like a table top. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2Figure 2 Turn the home page flat, like a table top.


Step 3:

Lift the key information discriminators—that is, key visuals and page subheads—off the information plane, creating an exploded view of the information. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3Figure 3 Lifting key information discriminators off the page creates an exploded view of the information.

The exploded view also creates another layer. This layer is the Information Balcony. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4Figure 4 The Information Balcony. Note that there are many ways to configure this tool.

Abstract the text elements to simple referents. These should be, as you might have guessed, as simple as possible but not simpler. Use what you need to understand the elements in the map format. Sometimes iconographic representations will suffice. Often the map will be a combination of words, symbols, thumbnail photos, thumbnail graphs, etc.


Step 4:

The Information Balcony effectively creates a gyroscopic view of the information. (See Figure 5.)

Figure 5Figure 5 Gyroscopic view of the Information Balcony.

Now any discriminator or subhead becomes a point (or object) in any categorical or conceptual plane (or orbit).

Abstract enough elements so you can stay in the Balcony without having to run downstairs all the time. You know you have enough elements when you:

  • Can free the elements from the confines of text and especially the behavioral grammar of text.

  • Have the option of assigning placements or groupings of abstracted elements. For example, you may group grapefruits and oranges together because they're both citrus fruits, but you also may group apples and tomatoes together because they're cancer-fighters.


Step 5:

Once the information is in a gyroscopic configuration, it is no longer restricted by the limitations of the alphabetic matrix. (See Figure 6.)

Figure 6Figure 6 Information in a gyroscopic configuration can be turned, manipulated, and viewed from various angles.

The information then can be turned, manipulated, viewed from various angles, coordinated, cross-referenced, ordered—a myriad of options—for better utility and ultimate comprehension.

Think elementally or in an object-oriented fashion. Note that at the earliest conceptual stages, you are already changing the alphabetic or text patterns. This is because you're not using those patterns; you're using the logic of objects or elements. (The map is beginning to change the territory.)


Step 6:

The Information Balcony allows us to see information from multiple viewpoints simultaneously. (See Figure 7.)

Figure 7Figure 7 The Information Balcony allows you to choose and change your point of view—that is, the perceptive center from which you consider other information. This is seeing multiple viewpoints simultaneously.

Note that as you view information from another point of view, that POV becomes the perceptive center of the information.

Realize that you have changed the locale of what we might describe as the editor drivers or levers.

This is because objects are easier to manipulate than text. Text-based editing, essentially cut and paste, is no longer the place where the drivers of comprehension and information management are located. You're up a level looking down. The drivers are now upstairs, above the information. This is a huge perceptual shift.


Step 7:

To enhance navigation, incorporate map views of the information. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8Figure 8 Map views of information highlight ways of seeing, relating, and understanding content. Connecting information in this way provides depth and focus.

Study where you are. Because you are above the text, by studying the map you will see patterns, configurations, gaps, styles, etc., that are not readily visible otherwise. This topsight is what leads to aperçus.

Aperçu is a French word meaning "sudden intuitive insight." We have no equivalent word in English. Seeing the same information in different ways creates aperçus: We see many things differently. I'll explain this in greater detail in the third article in this series, discussing orbital information-management maps.

Here, too, you can change your point of view. The benefit of moving objects is the creation of multiple, dynamically changing perspectives. Now you are designing information for the Web.


Step 8:

Retain transparency. (See Figure 9.)

Figure 9Figure 9 Transparency means being able to see both the page view and the Information Balcony overview (topsight) at the same time. Note that the balcony may appear transparent until highlighted.

It's useful to see both the information and the management of that information at a glance. Often you will not want to completely hide the original information formatting. The value of a balcony is to be able to look down below and see the original as well as see the guidance the balcony provides.

Move back and forth between the Information Balcony and text. Finally, the balcony creates interactivity between text and map, between insight and topsight, between local and global views. Like a marriage, both parties are changed by this interaction.

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