Exploring Information Architecture: History & Origins

Where Did Information Architecture Begin?

When trying to define Information Architecture (IA) my thoughts scatter as I try to truncate the history and definition into one concise sentence. In fact many others may have struggled with this problem, since I found varied definitions on the field and profession while reviewing articles and videos. I discovered there may even be disagreements as to who the original founders were for this field in its modern form.

Richard Saul Wurman

While some may argue the first use of the term was Richard Saul Wurman at the 1976 conference for the American Institute of Architecture, others may cite the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In 1970, a group of specialists gathered together at PARC to develop technology that could support the “architecture of information.” Later on, Peter Morville writes that in 1994, before the release of Wurman’s book in 1996, he was working at Argus Associates using architecture as a metaphor with clients to emphasize the importance of structure and organization for website design. Peter also states that once he read Wurman’s book he was thinking that a better term would actually be “information design” instead of information architecture.

Lou Rosenfeld (left) and Peter Morville (right) in 2000, with Samantha

What Influenced the Formation of Information Architecture?

Since it appears the field itself does not have a single founder, it’s no surprise the profession is multidisciplinary and seeks inspiration from a variety of places. Cognitive psychology, library science, and architecture are very clear influences on the field. It incorporates cognitive psychology by drawing upon concepts like mental models, cognitive load, and decision making. Library science is a methodology that focuses on studying how to categorize, catalogue, and locate resources in order to develop “knowledge-organization systems.” Lastly, looking to architecture Wurman emphasized that much like the architecture of a building, information should be built on a solid foundation of ideas structured with precision and intentionality.

Conclusion

Although there is some discord around IA and it’s origins, without all of these influences and moving parts the field could not be what it is today. What is most important is the principles derived from the field that allow designers to craft products, services, and experiences that delight our users. No matter what school of thought the founders came from there was and still is an alignment towards a common goal. That goal is focused on helping users find the information they need so they can complete their intended tasks and achieve their goals.

Resources

“A Brief History of Information Architecture” by Peter Morville

“A Brief History of Information Architecture” by Resmini, A. & Rosati, L.

“Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture” by UX Booth

“Explaining Information Architecture” by Dan Klyn