- We'll begin by trying to define what it is exactly that information architects do. That's not as easy as it sounds. The Information Architecture Institute says that, "Information architecture "is the practice of deciding how to arrange "the parts of something to be understandable." Great. That's so broad that it could cover multiple job roles from librarians, to technical writers, to designers, to the people who create those step-by-step instructions for self-assembly furniture. I think the Information Architecture Institute does that on purpose because they want to be inclusive and welcoming.
However, their description ends up encompassing several jobs where information architecture is just one portion of the work. We want to concentrate on information architecture specifically. I'll take a stab at a more focused description for our needs in this course. Information architects use the principles of information science, whether or not they learnt those principals formally, to help organizations present their data to users in a way that meets those users expectations and best helps them to complete their tasks.
Normally, that data's presented in computer systems, websites, and apps but there's no reason why it couldn't also be printed, or even used to help design things like directional signs in buildings or timetables in railway stations. Often, people fall into the trap of thinking that information architecture is just building the navigation menus for a website. In fact, development teams will often pretend they're fancy by using the term information architecture to refer to their navigation menus. Yes, the menus are one outcome of what information architects do, but that's not where they start.
Think of it this way, what do architects do in the construction industry? They build physical structures, trying to make those structures work the best they can for the people who use them. They might focus on attributes like making the structure strong, accommodating of the uses it's put to, easy to move through, and pleasant to be in. Information architects build data structures trying to make them work the best they can for the people who use them. Information architects might focus on attributes like making the information easy to find, making it fast to scan and read, making an extensible framework to account for future additions, or making any commands easy to learn and remember.
Those data structures end up as the basis for all of the products, apps, and sites we use. Like I already mentioned, some also extend into the physical world, through printed material and even signage. Those data structures appear throughout the product or site, not just the navigation menus, but also how items can be sorted and filtered, what shows up in recommendation areas, how breadcrumbs work, how command syntax is created. Even the layout and hierarchy of page types on a site, the types and location of content chunks on each page, and the way help files are organized.
Of course, just like some buildings were never designed by an architect but instead just grew somewhat organically, we see the same in the digital world. It's quite possible to have a web presence or a software product that's never been touched by an information architect. The question is how much better could it be if the information architects where involved?
- Defining information architecture (IA)
- What do information architects do?
- Managing information architects
- Terminology used by information architects
- Recruiting information architects
- Setting suitable goals for information architects
- Where is IA headed?