You go to the bar floor and the music on demand is on. You request the DJ to play “Smells like teen spirit” and the lad rocks the floor in no time with this Nirvana’s number. That is Information Architecture for you. If you are able to find the right information at right time, it cannot happen by chance; there has to be a logical and intuitive content structuring behind this. This logical and intuitive content structuring is called Information Architecture (IA). I am not defining the definition of IA; the attempt is to facilitate the perceptive.
Information Architect is not the Designer
The difference between an information architect and a designer is similar to that you think of difference between a apartment architect and an interior designer.
The Architect job is to define structure, ventilation, placement of plumbing and electrical systems etc. The apartment might collapse or fail to meet the needs of the family using or living in the building if it’s not properly architected.
Interior Designer’s job is to take care of coloring, placement, vastu and style of furnishings; textures; surfaces; etc.
The Evolution Theory
Richard Saul Wurman in 1975 termed the concept of “Information Architecture”. Wurman’s initial definition of information architecture was “organising the patterns in data, making the complex clear”.
In 1996 library scientists Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville used IA as the term to define the work they were doing while structuring large-scale websites and intranets. In Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites they define information architecture as:
• The combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within an information system.
• The structural design of an information space to facilitate task completion and intuitive access to content.
• The art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information.
• An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape
Elements of Information Architecture
The End User
The successful Information Architecture is all about usability. For effective usability you need to involve end users in planning the IA. There are proven games that you can play involving end users:
Card Sorting: Card sorting a definitive guide – Read learn and use it… you are sorted for the aforementioned threat. The same guide has reference to card based classification evolution technique for testing the IA.
As an information architect, you need to understand the business context of an organization and identify the value addition you can bring while implementing the Information Architect.
Stakeholders need to be identified and interviewed to understand business objective and issues.
You need to have the right content to interest your target audience. The content needs to be written based on your audience’s expectations and proficiencies.
Keep in mind that content is not a static object: it can change not only in structure and delivery, but from day to day as well. Being mindful of content strategy and alignment with business goals is the key to successful information architecture.
To accomplish these goals, an Architect has to run both top-down and bottom-up discovery sessions. Top-down discovery involves getting a picture of the entire information space and working down into the details. Bottom-up discovery is all about figuring out metadata for each piece of content and working up toward the general.
Information architecture encompasses a wide range of problems. But regardless of the specific context or objectives of a given information architecture project, our concern is always with creating structures to facilitate effective communication. This notion is the core of our discipline. –– Jessie James Garrett
Flickr allows me to upload my pictures and organize them, tag them, however I see fit. There is no central authority telling me what to tag my pictures. This is partly because it’s not going to hurt anybody if I do it wrong … Flickr isn’t a mission-critical system. It’s a playful social platform…if you want a serious photo library, then use a system like the national archive or Corbis has, but not Flickr. There’s a difference between managing information, and designing the infrastructure to let others manage it themselves.
But both approaches are architectural. –– Andrew Hinton in Linkosophy