In IA Thought, Information Architecture
Summary: The magic layer is a capable processor and makes deliverables be good in meeting identified needs, not just those that look good

As a student at UM’s School of Information, I took Dan Klyn’s class where I learned about “the quality that cannot be named.” Abby Covert calls this “Delight” on TUG‘s heuristic poster. It is that element that cannot be willed into existence, cannot be found in a textbook, and is the thing that makes the difference between looking good and being good. It is a building that seems to introduce its purpose and feelings the moment you walk through its door. It is that website that not only meets your need but makes you happy- something you look forward to interacting with.

Shelly Bowen's Magic Layer Illustration


That triumphant creation cannot be reached without the correct work process – a work process that takes all the inputs – the stakeholder interviews, the analytics, the content audit – and lets them percolate through the magic layer.

Since the moment I stepped into this industry I have been struggling to put my finger on just what it was that had me feeling uneasy. Projects seemed complete, but were they faultless? Where was the concrete, empirical proof that I had gained the perfect insight?

magic layer blends data to produce a milkshake of a solution

Milkshake of a solution

Then I saw it, plain as day, in a diagram made by Shelly Bowen. The diagram shows intelligence and data going into a person and then through a magic layer and out the other side as deliverables. What a wonderful way of explaining what is basically a prolonged “ta da” moment!

It is easy to be comfortable with black and white and 2 + 2 = 4.
But it is hard to have confidence in the milkshake of a solution that results from taking gobs of data and putting it in a magic layer.

The lesson I strive to learn on a daily basis is to not only have confidence that my magic layer is a capable processor – but also that it makes the difference between deliverables that look good and deliverables that will be good in meeting identified needs.

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