Information + Architecture = ?
As human beings, what is the first thing we do when we are lost?
We seek guidance from information, and we use that information to find our bearings and to better understand our surroundings. Whether someone is riding the subway for the first time, reading a graphic advertisement in the newspaper, or navigating her way through an unfamiliar website, the way such information is structured and communicated in each of these examples is something the average person rarely thinks about.
How humans are able to receive the information they need from layouts such as websites, applications, and printed materials is due to the purposeful inclusion of information architecture — or broadly, the design of information. Great information architecture communicates information to people in ways that are accessible, digestible, understandable, and ultimately meaningful.
Information + Architecture = ?
Traditionally, “architects” are known to design buildings and structures that meet the needs of people in their living and working environments. The systematic organization of “information,” on the other hand, is a skill that has been practiced for centuries since the beginning of libraries and literary collections. So, how exactly do these two seemingly different concepts overlap?
The term “Information architecture” was born when Richard Saul Wurman first used the words “information” and “architecture” together during his address at the 1976 American Institute of Architecture conference. With a background in architecture and graphic design, Wurman explained that the same principles used in traditional architecture could also be applied in 2-dimensions . Essentially, presenting information in a way that meets a specific purpose was an architectural task in nature. Information organizing wasn’t just a science anymore, but also an art.
Breaking down information architecture
Dan Klyn, co-founder of the information architecture consulting company, The Understanding Group, developed a simple architecture model that encompasses 3 major components: ontology (meaning), taxonomy (structure and arrangement), and choreography (user flow and rules for interaction). Klyn visualizes each component as gears working with one another — that is, if the ontology changes, the taxonomy and choreography is bound to also change.
All three components work together to create great information architecture. Ontology establishes the meaning behind the particular content being organized. Taxonomy, on the other hand, is what designers traditionally think of as “information architecture,” as it focuses on the structure of the information using visual tools such as wireframes, sitemaps, and user flows. Choreography defines the rules of interaction, and ties both ontology and taxonomy of content together into an enjoyable user flow that is within a specific context.
Information Architecture and UX
As we thrive in the digital age, great information architecture naturally lent itself to becoming one of the main focuses of user experience (UX) design. On a daily basis, information architects on a UX team employ best practices in the field to complete user research and other information architecture deliverables— such as card sorting exercises, sitemaps, and wireframes — that organize and convey the complex amounts of information required for websites, softwares, and mobile applications.
The need for information architecture in the digital age will always be relevant, as technology has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. As new and existing products and services are constantly being developed and introduced, there is no doubt that information architecture will continue to be an important and vital part of all user experience design processes.