So, I was indulging my latest geek obsession of physics and the space-time continuum last night with ‘wonders of the universe’ on BBC HD. It wasn’t quite as mind blowing as some programme, but it had an interesting debate on the Second Law of Thermodynamics; specifically the concept of Entropy.
Being the complete no-life that I am, I started thinking about how the fundamental laws of physics are as sound a concept as anything in order to understand how things do/should work; and of course how this might apply to web design and user experiences.
To explain Entropy, the analogy used by Professor Brian Cox what that of a sandpile; where the sand particles can be re-ordered in MANY ways without fundamentally changing it from being a pile of sand – known as High Entropy. In contrast, something with a low Entropy would be a sandcastle; as there are not many ways in which the sand particles could be rearranged before the fundamental form of the castle become distinctively different from its original form.
Anything that has a low Entropy is destined to have a shorter and more volatile lifespan than something with high Entropy. The second law of Thermodynamics states that over the natural course of Time (indeed the arrow of time), order will ultimately become disorder and Entropy is essentially what determines the velocity of which this happens.
If we were to apply this type of thinking to the information architecture of a website (or any project), we could root ourselves in the mindset of how something will affect the user-experience over time, more deeply than emotion alone would allow us to comprehend. I’m 100% sure that a focus attached to this would allow us to challenge the fundamental structure (and therefore existence) of a website so that the Entropy of it was more aligned with the intended experience; something which is intended to provoke and engage (such as a campaign) would benefit from having low Entropy, whereas something that needs to build longer term engagement would benefit from high Entropy.
As a final thought on whether this principle works in practice, I would argue that Facebook has had a High Entropy, in that since is started, it hasn’t fundamentally changed that much; only adapted in small ways in order to preserve and retain its form (and market position!). A campaign website however has a low Entropy, as its message, functions and relevance have dictated it to be more rigid in form and ultimately liable to being broken down over a short period of time – but with the intention of provoking a more specific and targeted reaction (or Call to Action).
As somebody who is always keen to explore how we can approach user experience design in new and innovative ways, I’m keen to further explore this concept of applying fundamental Physics to the process in order to test the theory; pure science can seldom be argued as being a bad place to start right?
Open to discussion and opinion on this if anybody cares to share?