The Architecture of Information.

When you read this blogs title, it may not make any sense to you. But it does to me. Architecture is the art or science of designing and creating buildings. Information is knowledge that you get about someone or something. If we rearrange the words, it may start to make sense for you. Perhaps…

Information Architecture: describes how content is organized to ensure timely discoverability and comprehension. This affects the clarity of the content, and its navigational elements.

Q: Where did this term originate?


The term IA was originally spoken : Richard Saul Wurman in 1976. He started off as an architect and Graphic design who published a book in 1996 on Information Architects for the World Wide Web. I also forgot to mention that he is the creator of the TED conference! This book also played a key role in inspiring the Polar Bear series on IA-recognized by many. I suggest that you get a copy. Anyhow, the book is written by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld and it is in it’s fourth edition released just recently in 2015. They go in-depth about the history IA.

Q: How does Information Architecture work?


All sites, and apps hold some kind of data or content. In order for that content to “make sense”, it requires a structure. In fact, Information Architects have established 10 heuristics. These are variables will allow your interface to work for us humans.

They are:

  1. Findable — Is it easy for the user to locate what they need?
  2. Accessible — Is it reaching all devices, all audiences, etc.?
  3. Clear — Is it easy to understand for all users?
  4. Communicative  Displaying clear messages?
  5. Usable — Is the product functional?
  6. Credible — Is the product reliable?
  7. Controllable — Is the user able to go back and forth through site easily?
  8. Valuable — Is the product reaching its user goal?
  9. Learnable — Are users able to remember how to do things once returning to the site?
  10. Delightful — Is it a overall good experience for the user?

Now zooming out a bit, there are larger cogs of IA. Ontology, Taxonomy, and Choreography.

Q: What does Ontology, Taxonomy, and Choreography mean? Why is it important?


Figure 1: DesignLab. “Information Architecture.” DesignLab. Web. 2 Nov 2016.

Ontology is particular meaning of a products elements. All throughout the day we use words without understanding that it could mean something totally different to another person. Richard Saul Wurman, refereed to Ontology during a statement he made during an interview with the Economist. He jokes about word Innovate: “Innovate is word thrown around everywhere! But what really is the morphology of the word?

Does it mean to subtract like the philosophy of the Bauhaus movement, or does it mean to add? Or does it mean to combine like Apple stealing patented hardware all over the world, and putting it all into their devices. *laughs*”. Ultimately, words like “innovate” can have subjective meanings. And as a human, it is our job to filter out then discover those meanings for ourselves. Once we figure this out, this determines the constraints of life, then the cogs begin to turn.

Taxonomy describes the arrangements of specific product elements to accomplish specific user goals across multiple contexts. This is normally what something thinks when hearing the word “Information Architecture”. They visualize structuring of information via taxonomies, sitemaps, or even wire frames. However, form does not take place until it has function. And when visualizing the landscape of businesses and customers, the structures for assuring trust needs to be particular and versatile.

Choreography the rule of interaction among the parts. This deals with how meaning and structure will combine like that video game Tetris. By paying attention to choreography, you will be able to ensure that the flow of the experience will be pleasant for the user. The interface will have limited distractions, and everything will fit together like this puzzle. A key takeaway: Choreography is important to a a successful user experience. Especially with the increasing amount of devices, and applications uploaded everyday to the app store.

Without buy-in on IA’s importance, and it doesn’t sound like you have it, success is unlikely. My advice is to keep at it, persistently and quietly, and use customers’ responses to improve the product.

Q: What will the future of IA look like?


I would to re-frame that question.

Q: Is IA relevant today?


The future is always hard to predict. But one thing I know for sure is that I don’t think IA is dead. Nor are libraries, both Physical and Digital. Today there are many opportunities for specialists, even pure IA positions are hard to find on (or any other job search engine).

In addition, the 4th and most recent edition of the Polar Bear was released in 2015, and I don’t think that indicates the extinction of IA. Its foundation principles and methods of IA have remained, and will continue to remain the same. Good books on design have a much longer shelf life than books on programming or on specific technologies.

Today you will see the responsibilities of Information Architect are being diffused throughout various UX roles. This includes identifying heuristics, and its larger cogs. User experience design,content strategy, user research, and its counter parts will overlap in activities, and skills of an information architect.

As I continue further into my UX career, I’ll most likely be needing these IA skills.

Inspiration for this post:

DesignLab. “Information Architecture.” DesignLab. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

“What is IA?” (PDF). Information Architecture Institute.