A Brief History of Information Architecture

For the first time this past week I learned of the existence of Information Architecture (IA), and am captivated. IA is the structure and design of information and content—such as text, photos and videos. It is specifically the way the content is labeled and categorized given the user, most typically on the web, in mind. Effective IA in web marries ontology, taxonomy, and choreography.

What I found most interesting about IA, is that outside of existing in design, it can be seen everywhere, and it has been that way for a long time.

As early as 1976, Richard Saul Wurman acknowledged and wrote about how architects are important to design in more than just the typical architect field. He famously addressed the audience at the American Institute of Architecture on the topic.

Cover of Information Architects by Richard Saul Wurman

In 1996, Wurman took his ideas and writings on IA, and published Information Architects. He collected writings and graphics with works showcasing effective examples or IA.

Information Architecture by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville

Two years later, Information Architecture, written from a librarianship perspective by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, was named technology book of the year. Their intention was to teach audiences frameworks for organizing information for websites, particularly complex and large ones. What’s intesting about this book is that every new edition changed in relation to technology.

Then, in 2000, the first annual Information Architecture summit took place, bringing together people from all different circles—universities, libraries, web consultant agencies and Fortune 500 companies. This was the first large organized conference for this community in it’s history.

Fast forward to two more years in 2002, in the midst of technological expansion, a lot of works and communites were published and established, respectively, in the IA scene. A book on user experience, The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett was published. This explored strategy and structure within the context of user-centered design. A book referencing the original Information Architecture by Wurman was published called, Information Architecture: blueprints for the web. This book married the LIS (Library and Information Science) school of thought with Richard Saul Wurman’s original ideation.

Information Architecture: an emerging 21st century profession, written by Earl Morrogh was also published. He wrote of the history of IA and where this profession and field were headed. Also, at this time a second edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, by Rosenfeld and Morville, was published.

Fast forward to now—where the knowledge and need for information architects has grown significantly. Even with a simple search on job websites, you’ll see thousands of listings for this career, something most people, even in relavent fields, may have not even heard of just a decade ago. I feel with technology and the web continuing to expand and have their grasp on even more of our lives, IA will not only continue to be pertinent, but it’s shape and usage will alter and expand like never before. IA in relation to web is no longer confined to a desktop, it’s everywhere. From the new iPhone watches we now posses, and to how virtual reality will affect us in the future, and everything inbetween. The world will continue to rely on IA for a long time to come.