History and Origins of Informational Architecture

The actual practice of informational architecture (IA) streches back to ancient times when typesetters determined the arrangement of information in their books. Going back further, perhaps scribes did the same on papyrus reeds. None of them called their practice IA, yet nonetheless the deliberate arrangement, selection and presentation of information share a common core with IA today. However, the history of IA as a conscious discipline is much more recent. The discipline of IA was only born in 1976, when graphic designer, architect and the founding father of IA, Richard Saul Wurman coined the phrase. Just as architecture is concerned with the design, function and aesthetics of three-dimensional spatial space, informational architecture is concerned with the design, function and aesthetics of two-dimensional informational space.

IA was conceived as the study and practice of presenting, selecting and arranging information. It’s essential elements include ontology, taxonomy and choreography. Ontology is concerned with “the specific meaning of the content”. In other words, what the content actually means and whether the content can be understood by the user. Taxonomy consists of classification (the grouping of like elements, according to user needs) and navigation (path-finding for users). Choreography is concerned with the interaction between the content and the user’s interaction with the content.

With the growth of World Wide Web, IA has corresponding grown as well. Landmark publications in the field include Wurman’s 1996 Information Architects and Morville & Arango’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (now in its 4th edition and the byline changed to “for the World Wide Web and beyond”). Academic modules and programs dedicated to IA have popped up and the mention of IA is ubiquitous. So what does the future of IA hold?

There are a few points to note and all correspond with our current technological change.

1. Cross-channel consumption. At the beginning IA was concerned with the web and print. Nowadays with the growth of mobile devices, wearables (smart watches and fitness trackers) and even virtual reality, it is clear the IA professional must consider the presentation of content across multiple channels. Each channel will have its own characteristics and challenges, requiring different solutions that preserves the consistency of the content.

2. The growth of computational ability has also empowered a graphical improvement. Whereas animations and detailed images were challenging on the computer and impossible for the phone, now it has become standard. Consequently the presentation of information might see a shift from a primarily text-based solution to a graphical-based solution featuring infographics, charts and interactive elements.

Therefore it is certain the growth of IA will be greater then ever, and IA professionals must come up with increasingly innovative and creative solutions for the informational problems of the future.