Information Architecture: A Glance at its History

Imagine you walk into a department store looking for the men’s section. You look left and see women’s, you look right and see kids. You scan the room again and there is no easily visible signage directing you to men’s or any other section just jewelry, perfume and Dora as far as the eyes can see. This is a problem for customers trying to get around the store. What if you encountered that same problem when you were on the homepage of a website. All of this related to what is known as Information Architecture.

What is Information Architecture?

The definition via our friends at TryDesignLab.com is “the structural design of information or content, including text, photos and videos within a digital product.” Information Architecture focuses on organizing and labeling websites so that any user can best find what they’re looking for.

So Where Does Information Architecture Come From?

Richard Saul Wurman

Richard Saul Wurman, an American trained architect and graphic designer (2) is credited with creating the phrase “Information Architecture” in 1976, however, the concept manifested itself quite some a few times before that.

1960s

An IBM research paper written by Amdahl et al in 1964 entitled “Architecture of the IBM System/360” defined architecture as “the conceptual structure and functional behavior, distinguishing the organization of data flows and controls, logical design, and physical implementation.” The paper was not just discussing hardware but the conceptualization of architecture in connection with structure and behavior (4).

1970s

Xerox Labs takes part in this history lesson as a group of Information Scientist were assembled in 1974 and given the charter to develop tech, which could support the “architecture of information.” The group made some incredible contributions in the field of what we would call today Human-Computer Interaction. They developed the first personal computer with a user-friendly interface, laser printing and the first WYSIWYG text editor. Xerox was among the first corporations to address information structure phrasing it the “architecture of information” and making it part of it corporate mission.

In 1976 Richard Saul Wurman put the words Information and Architecture together at an American Institute of Architecture (AIA) conference in 1976. He details that gathering, organizing, and presenting information is closely related to the problems faced by an architect when designing a building. You must gather information about needs, organize the needs into patterns clarifying nature and interaction and create flow and meet users needs (5).

1990s

In the 90s Wurman started another business and published the book Information Architects in 1996. The book was a creation of writings and graphics by designers that exemplified the definition of information architecture. In 1998 the book Information Architecture for the world wide web (the polar bear book) was released, made the bestsellers list and was Amazon’s technology book of the year. With new editions of the book being released the definition of Information Architecture expanded making it difficult to pinpoint one definition. However now more than ever Information Architecture is a growing field with growing demand for professionals.

Though Information Architecture has been around for more that 30 years it still feels like a young field of study. Its clear Richard Saul Wurman was ahead of his time and still may be but one this is certain, the evolution of this field is just getting good!! What will they write about Information Architecture 10 years from now?!

References

1. Design Lab — trydesignlab.com

2. Richard Saul Wurman, wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Saul_Wurman

3. A Brief History of Information Architecture, http://journalofia.org/volume3/issue2/03-resmini/

4. Amdahl, G. M., Blaauw, G. A., & Brooks, F. P. (1964). Architecture of the IBM System/360. IBM Journal for Research and Development, 8(2). (Reprinted in IBM Journal for Research and Development, 44(1/2), 2000)

5. UT at Austin Graduate School of Library & Information Sciences https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~l38613dw/readings/InfoArchitecture.html