Sometimes we see a discontinuity between the “form” of screen pages and the interactive “function” of the service itself.

Perhaps this lack of integration between style and content is partly a result of the metaphors we use in describing the Web environment.



The Web as Publishing

Initially, Web design was treated as an editorial issue. It dealt with the content of the screen primarily as text on static “pages” bound in an electronic “magazine” and accessible primarily through a limited set of “menu tree” structures or indexes. It was assumed that the user would be self-motivated enough in their search for information that they would be willing to navigate several levels of indexes, menus and choice options in order retrieve the data.

This perception of the medium as driven by “information retrieval” behavior dominated the early development of the interactive industry.

Service operators saw themselves as maintaining a Library. The site might be described as “Information Retrieval

The Publishing Metaphor describes the Interaction Designer as an EDITOR.


The Web as Transaction

With the increasing involvement of the banking community and retail stores, service providers have begun to look at Web sites more as information processors rather than as simple information retrieval engines.

This perception has encouraged more dynamic database design and has resulted in the emergence of downloaded software, intelligent terminals, the use of parameter passing among applications and “videogame” style interaction as functional aspects of an online service.

Service operators saw themselves as “mediators” between the user and the raw data. At this level of sophistication the site might be described as “Information Processing“.

The Transactional Metaphor describes the Interaction Designer as a  TRANSFORMER.


The Web as Visual Medium

As the Web matures, service providers are investing larger sums in the pursuit of the ever elusive “user friendly interface” as well as the lucrative revenues which other media have obtained from advertising. This means there will be an increasing emphasis upon site design as a presentational display.

Here the information is seen primarily as a graphic issue; what might be described as the “Face of the Interface”.

Service operators saw themselves as “packagers”. The visual Metaphor describes the site as a filmic/graphic “Information Presentation” vehicle.

The Visual Metaphor describes the Interaction Designer as an  ARTIST.


Each of the metaphors above describes the Web in terms of its own proprietary language. Each of the metaphors is appropriate, but each is individually limited in that it describes only a particular aspect of the total picture.

The  PUBLISHING Metaphor deals with the  Textual and Library contents of the site.

The  TRANSACTIONAL Metaphor deals with the  Interactive Functionality of the site.

The  VISUAL Metaphor deals with the Screen Design and Display of the site.

In order to effectively coordinate these important aspects of the interactive database we must deal with them in a holistic manner. We must have a context, a framework, an environment which deals with transactional, editorial and visual interface techniques as an integrated and coherent whole.



In the Architectural Model, the Web service is viewed as an information space in which the user is immersed. We describe the highly integrated service in spatial terms. The video screen, rather than pulling static “pages” out of a two-dimensional magazine, provides a “window” into a multidimensional structure of information. The user can move about within this structure freely, but perhaps not randomly.

It is the task of the information architect to provide a meaningful set of utilities for moving about within this complex community of information.

This “information community” may offer a broad range of services: electronic mail, directory information, maps, published information, banking, shopping and other transactions, games and entertainment, and more. Some of these may be maintained in-house by the system operator. But as the industry evolves, users will have access to a far broader range of nodal service providers through a network of “seamless” gateways. In order for these to be coherent and managable they will have to share a common set of conventions of interaction much as a physical community shares common conventions regarding movement and the use of space.

The ARCHITECTURAL Metaphor encourages us to deal with the integrated information system as we might a multidimensional physical environment (an information community), dynamic, complex, interrelated, one in which the context of the information is as important as the content.

The strength of the system is measured by the quality of the connections, rather than the quantity of the data.



“The Web” is a term which has been used to describe the packaging of electronic databases and interactive services for distribution to untutored users and the general public. The Web is a “user friendly” interaction between a local user terminal with color and graphics capability and a remote host computer.

Interactive Architecture maps  meaningful connections between chunks of content and makes the  paths through that content natural for the customer.

The Structure of the Site

Interactive Architecture must be responsive to a variety of behavioral patterns both among individual users and in terms of the operational “personalities” of the interactive services on the system.



The Architectural Metaphor describes information as multi-dimensional environment requiring multidisciplinary skills.

The Interaction Designer – as an Architect – must be sensitive to both visual aesthetics and human dynamics, as well as the technical constraints of the medium.The Architect must design an overall coherent theme which is non-chaotic but which is also flexible enough to allow for diversity within its structure. The Architect deals with the creation of an information space in much the same manner as one would design a shopping mall, a planned community – or an amusement park “playspace”.

The Interactive Architect provides

Content Integration through Context Management


The Interactive Architecture Skill Base

In the role of “integrator” the Interaction Designer is a  generalist who embodies a range of interactive skills.

The Interactive Architect should be:

  • Sensitive to visual aesthetics in screen creation
  • Responsive to the dynamics of human behavior in the editing of content
  • Familiar with transactional techniques in the design of functional structure
  • Knowledgeable of the operating parameters of the technical environment
  • Skilled in the economies of production and maintenance
  • Fluent in the working “languages” of the interactive environment


This article first appeared almost verbatim as my presentation at the International Videotex Conference… in 1984.

I just replaced the term ” Videotex” with “the Web” in the version you see here.

Sometimes, the more things  change, …. the more they  stay the same…

I believe that this was one of the earliest descriptions of Interactive Architecture and the role of “Interactive Architect”

1983-jv-n-billThe Communication Studio

Co-Authors John Vaughan & William B. Porter (circa 1984)

The early 80’s saw the “first wave” of major investment in consumer-oriented interactive online digital services, known generically as “Videotex“. It was a market stab at ‘interactivity-before-we-called-it-the-Web’.  Like many VisionThings – the first try failed.  But it’s an interesting story.


© The Communication Studio LLC