History of Information Architecture

Information Architecture (IA) can be a vague and ambiguous term. Even the official definition given by the Information Architecture Instituteas the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability” often draws blank stares. To really understand what IA is, and what a crucial role it plays in our day to day lives, we must first understand the history of how this field came to be.

Information Architecture’s roots date back to 1976, when Richard Saul Wurman, an architect himself, understood that architects work could be equally essential to two-dimensional design and as it was to three-dimensional design. At the American Institute of Architecture Conference of that year, Wurman proposed his idea, calling it the Architecture of Information.

A few years later, the Xerox Palo Alto research Center organized a team of specialists in information science to develop technology which could support “information architecture.” This team is credited with many developments and contributions, including first personal computer with a user-friendly interface.

The IA field then laid slightly dormant until 1996, when Wurman published his book Information Architecture, in which he reiterated his speech from 1976, and more precisely definied IA. Two years following the publication Wurman’s book, Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld published another book on IA called Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, which became an instant bestseller and was named “Technology Book of the Year” by Amazon. Four editions later, this book as become an industry standard, presenting a broadening definition with each publication.

Today, there are three main concepts which interact to comprise IA; ontology, the specific meaning of content which is organized with labels and tags; taxonomy, the classification of elements through hierarchy; and choreography, the flow through which a user goes to complete a task.

These concepts give clarity to the definition and role of IA in our modern lives and allow designers, developers and strategists alike to create and build delightful products that we are benefited by every day.

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