The evolution of IA

Imagine walking into the Disney theme park with no navigation signages around you. You will have absolutely no clue where you’re standing and get terribly lost. A well-designed map and signages will help you quickly orient, understand where you want to go, and how to get there.

So basically, Information Architecture (IA) is the creation of a well-organized information that helps a user navigate the complex information to make decisions. According to Wikipedia, it is “the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability, and an emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.”

IA is an indispensable part of User Experience Design. It informs Content Strategy by identifying what information is needed by the user in that particular context, and helps Interaction Designer in the wire-framing process. A good UX Designer will also be an adequate Information Architect.

And how did Information Architecture come along? Let’s take a look at how IA evolves in the lapse of time.

IA 1.0 (Pre-Internet era)
Arranging information is a practice as old as writing. Around 330 B.C., ancient Egypt’s Library of Alexandria listed its contents in a 120-scroll bibliography. In the 19th century, before the web and mobile apps. IA has been utilized in numerous fields like library science, cognitive psychology, etc.

IA 2.0 (Early Computer era)
In 1970, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was among one the first corporations to begin to address the concept of information structure and how it can be an easier, practical and more inspirational model. In 1976, Richard Saul Wurman, an architect, first used the term “Information Architecture” to define a new profession that gives structure to information at the “American Institute of Architecture” conference.

From the mid-1980s, Information Architecture seemingly went through a latent period. Articles written during those years were often referred Information Architecture as a tool for the design and creation of computer infrastructures and data layers, with a larger emphasis on the organizational and business aspects of the information networks.

IA 3.0 (The Internet era)
What defined IA in the internet era was the book “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” written by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, where they described the four definitions of IA:

  1. The structural design of shared information or content. (Taxonomy)
  2. The decisions made for organizing, labeling, searching, and navigation systems within websites and intranets. (Ontology)
  3. The art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability and accessibility. (Choreography)
  4. An emerging discipline and practice of bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscapes.

IA X (Post-Internet IA)
When faced with too much information (from web, mobile, social), people often panic. While organizing, labeling, searching, and navigation is still relevant to today’s digital platforms, the entire population is struggling to manage complexity. As “the architecture of understanding” we will continue to help our users to understand where they are, what they’ve found, what to expect, and where to go next, but we can’t afford to focus solely on our users. Increasingly, we must also use our skills and knowledge to design across the full spectrum of channels, devices, and media. Our expertise with divisions and connections will come in handy, but we must also dig deep into culture and empathy. It’s going to be an exciting time and has never been a better time for IA.