Information Architecture Origins

According The Information Architect Institute IA is, “is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable”. They believe that information architecture is front and center in our everyday lives from the websites and apps we use to the physical spaces we inhabit. The Information Architecture Institute further describes IA as, “The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability”. It is the method of making all the tools and resources we use on a daily bases easier and more intuitive than if it was not present.

Information Architecture is a relatively new term, originating in 1976 when Richard Saul Wurman of the American Institute of Architecture coined the term. In later years Mr. Wurman has been quoted saying,

“That’s why I’ve chosen to call myself an Information Architect. I don’t mean a bricks and mortar architect. I mean architect as used in the words architect of foreign policy. I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work- the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear. I use the word information in its truest sense. Most of the word information contains the word inform, so I call things information only if they inform me, not if they are just collections of data, of stuff.” As design became a bigger part of our day to day lives, the value of Information Architecture became clear; with more focus on IA, the way information and stimuli were presented to people, particularly with the rise of technology, shifted to become more efficient and clear. This inevitably helped people to present their information, or their message, in a clearer, more deliberate manner and to generally push user experience to the forefront.

This last part, user experience, is a large reason why IA is so valuable as to be crucial. Take the example of a web designer in charge of putting together a homepage for a sporting goods business, who in addition to having online sales, also have an NFL sponsor, run a charity 5k, and host a yearly basketball event to supplement their revenue. This fictional small business will want to feature their sponsors, spread awareness of their 5k for charity, but above all else, they need to drive users to their online store to drive revenue. If a stock template is used for the website with no eye on IA, it is possible that people will not be drawn to their main focus (the online store), but instead follow the NFL logo to an external link. But if a savy designer with an eye to IA works closely with their client to address their needs, IA will allow them to drive users’ eyes and focus to the right places, improving the functionality of the website not only for the user, but for the needs of the web client.

As with every aspect of design, IA is constantly changing and shifting, but one of the biggest shifts I see in IA is the focus on mobile use, especially in apps. User experience is crucial on desktop-style web pages, but when this shifts to mobile technology, primarily phones and tablets, this IA becomes arguably more important AND complicated. A couple who are searching for a house using one of the many modern apps need to be able to easily and quickly access information on the go for the app to be functional, and IA and User Experience really come to the forefront- a functional but confusing, non-intuitive app is in fact NOT truly functional. This focus on IA as it applies to mobile apps and technology is a more recent, and explosive, area of growth and change in IA, and I believe one of the reason Designers as a whole are more in demand now than ever before.