Information Architecture: A Glimpse
It seems that the consensus within the community is that when Richard Saul Wurman gave his ground breaking speech to the AIA in 1976, the seeds of IA were sewn. He was an architect and a designer, yet did most of his work before the internet was even a thing. None of that matters though because he laid a foundation for which all UXers can build upon and draw from.
However, even before that, way before that, this definition was published in an IBM research paper in 1964: the conceptual structure and functional behavior, distinguishing the organization of data flows and controls, logical design, and physical implementation. Sounds somewhat familiar if you are at all familiar with information architecture. So the true beginnings of IA aren’t set in stone yet the concept is pretty clear. It is a loosely amalgamated set of principles and guidelines that shape web design today.
Flow and structure are incredibly important in architecture, so it is with web design and web site building. If there isn’t a general flow to a website then all you have is chaos and anarchy. Nothing will make sense, users will get lost and eventually will just abandon the page. Things need to be apparent, intuitive. Most people wouldn’t place a door on the outside of a building without a handle on it (I mean, it’s done. It’s kinda stupid, but it’s done). So why make a website that doesn’t have any menu options on it if you’re selling products?
However, IA dictates that we make those menus relevant and easy to understand. It’s important to the process. If you want your users to navigate by images then you had better use images with well know, universal connotations and not random shit you just made up because it looks cool. Nobody will know where the hell to go or where any of your products are and in all likelyhood will decide to just use another site that is easier to understand and sells similar products.
IA, I think, is something that is still being discovered to this day and it will probably remain that way for quite some time. It may never become a hard and fast discipline with a structured set of rules. I think a lot of it is left open to interpretation on purpose, because as many people say, IA is an art form. Art is rarely logical in its execution and the end result always means something different to each individual interaction. The foundation is there, so the art of IA will most likely be built upon, which will help people utilize it easier as things continue to trend towards the digital world.