User Profile: Victor Lombardi

Victor Lombardi is a senior experience lead and information architect at Razorfish, the international digital solutions provider, where he manages client project design teams and practices information architecture, interaction design, and usability testing, for clients including Guardian Insurance, Sharp Electronics, J.P. Morgan, Instinet, Indigo Books, Bikeshop.com, Tolerance.org, and Ford Motor Company. Victor has the most in-depth understanding of developments in the information architecture field of anyone at Razorfish, says his boss, Karen McGrane, senior director of information architecture, Razorfish North America.

Lombardis training includes an undergraduate degree in journalism and mass media from Rutgers and a masters degree in music technology from NYU. He teaches information architecture at the prestigious Parsons School of Design at New School University in New York. His course prepares students to adopt a human-centered design process; understand how information architecture becomes the supporting structure joining design, technology, and business goals; and develop the ability to document information architecture ideas.

Information architect Victor Lombardi crafts commercial Web sites for Razorfish clients, but his personal website, Noise Between Stations, is devoted to the philosophical issues of web design, usability, and the experience of information mediated by technology. Lombardi emphasizes the notion of information architecture as a craft, as in this excerpt from his weblog:

I think of craft as the use of skill and experience to produce something of practical and esthetic value. The exploding Web has given us many tools to express our thoughts, creating a great, collective outpouring of ideas. Wonderful, important ideas, but they dont amount to much if they don't contribute to better living.

I see a great imbalance, and really this makes sense to me, because the ideas are fascinating and fun to ponder and design is difficult work that reveals our shortcomings. Showing our work to others can cause anxiety and receiving criticism can feel worse. But we must let our love of the craft imbue itself in our efforts and let our worries fall away.

To bring all these momentous design ideas to fruition we must practice them. Better designs will not simply poke their noses through the soil this Spring. Practice requires generation and iteration and mistakes. The mistakes, as much as the resulting artifacts, will teach us and others.

Lombardi is an enthusiastic Tinderbox fan. Im putting everything in it, he says. I organize information for a living, and Im interested in experimenting with the many ways I can organize the things I have with Tinderbox. Ive taken notes over the years, and I have hundreds of them. Keeping them in chronological order isnt that useful. Id love to go through and categorize by topic instead of just by time. Tinderbox is so much more flexible than a file system, than the way weve been storing our documents all these years. It just makes a lot more sense.

The Tinderbox features that resonate most for him are:

Whats great about Tinderbox," according to Lombardi, "is that when I get an idea, I can record it quickly as a note, then file it later. And it has so many ways of organizing things. I like being able to slice and dice the information in so many different ways. For instance, I can catalog my books so I can look at them by author and title, or by how they make me feel. And there are so many different ways to perform the same task. I can search using agents or keywords or attributes.

In the past, Internet data searches required you to know a specific technology to get what you wanted you had to set up a whole database, and query it, using that technology. With Tinderbox, whats nice is I dont have to know anything about databases, and I can still find whatever I want.

Still, it can take a little time to adjust to all that freedom. Its a funny thing, having this really powerful tool and not having any conventions to go on. As soon as I find a way to do something, or see how someone else has done it, the lightbulbs go on oh, you can do that! For instance, simple things about how you set up a map view can make it very disorganized or very clear. It took a while to get comfortable in the map view the different views influence how you see things. I was stuck in outline view for a long time, and in the outline view I tend toward hierarchy, where in the map view, with adornments, it can be more freefloating.

To be honest, figuring out how to do what I want with it takes me awhile. Each method has trade-offs. And sometimes I implement something and then learn it's not the best way. So what you say about conventions is true - once you figure it out you don't need a guide. I think the community will collectively find best ways to do things.

Lombardi’s first Tinderbox project was converting the Noise Between Stations weblog to Tinderbox. Since Lombardi sometimes updates the weblog several times a day, Tinderbox’s role as a personal content management assistant makes it the ideal tool for the job. I like not having to hand-code all the Web pages; to just be able to use agents to generate pages. An agent will grab the most recent notes that Ive deemed ready to publish,: these become the blog. Another agent grabs the most recent month, and that becomes the archive. I had been using Blogger, and there are some people for whom Blogger is the right solution. But I think for a lot of people who are moderately advanced or more into their information, Tinderbox is going to be more interesting.

Does Tinderbox influence design or data structures? No, says Lombardi, It doesn't, and that's the beauty of it. I can create my structure, and then just figure out how to make Tinderbox facilitate it. The trade off there is it takes a little more work than other organizers and web tools, but it's worth it.

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