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November 4, 2002
7:24 PM   Subscribe

Zeldman likes it. Jakob isn't saying, though he'll probably weigh in. mathowie'll probably like it since he seems to dig those Adaptive Path guys. It's elegant, it's like a pleased-with-itself polar bear, it's the AIfIA and there are probably more than 25 reasons it's a Good Thing.
posted by jburka (35 comments total)

 
Boxes and Arrows is another good source for articles on information architecture.
posted by Stuart_R at 7:27 PM on November 4, 2002


heh heh heh.
Our plans are revealed!
[cue mad laughter]
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:46 PM on November 4, 2002


Certainly looks like a bunch of information architects. The logo sucks.

Mean-spirited joking aside from us designers, I do however wonder from a graphic design standpoint whether they'll address information graphics and interface design and how important it is to architecture. Looking at the 17th thesis:

Even the best interface is only as good as the shape of the information behind it. (The converse is also true: even the most comprehensively shaped information is only as useful as its interface. For this reason, interface design and information architecture are mutually dependent.)

But I'm skeptical how much they'll focus on this. I suppose I'll have to monitor closely and hopefully there will be a seminar of sorts in the Atlanta area I can check out.
posted by Stan Chin at 8:08 PM on November 4, 2002


I read that as "looking at the 17th Century thesis" and thought, my god, how prescient.

Have I mentioned I'm ill?
posted by cortex at 8:14 PM on November 4, 2002


“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality. ” —Walt Disney

Like the quotation above, the tone of the writing on the site in foppish and cheesy. The 25 Theses have been poorly considered.

But the green is nice.
posted by blamb at 8:19 PM on November 4, 2002


there are probably more than 25 reasons it's a Good Thing.



Well I would hope so, as none of those 25 are comming up for me.
posted by delmoi at 8:40 PM on November 4, 2002


Gee thanks, Stan_Chin.

Actually, I think most IAs would agree that visual design is an important indicator of content objects' relative placement in a hierarchy, as well as a useful cue regarding other parameters of objects' relationship to one another other.

Indeed, some (self-link) would argue that visual design is key to incentivizing users to engage a navigational schema in the first place.

But as you can see, the Asilomar site isn't flashy (in either sense). We IAs have come through a hard, hard eighteen months of justifying our insights on an ROI basis, and at the present moment it's probably more appropriate to look conservative and institutional, backstopped more by our client lists and war stories than by visual flair.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:53 PM on November 4, 2002


In addition to other sites mentioned, ia/ is also a good resource. There is currently an article related to AIfIA. I'm not associated with ia/, I just like it...
posted by quam at 10:17 PM on November 4, 2002


It seems to me that a good information architect could have whittled those 25 theses down to no more than 15 or so. Theses 1 and 2, for example, could just as easily be expressed as one. Alternatively, the entire "Manifesto" could be expressed as a concise, well-written, clearly presented essay with just one thesis.

But maybe that's just me; I'm feeling a bit contrary today.
posted by Acetylene at 10:35 PM on November 4, 2002


Indeed, some ... would argue that visual design is key to incentivizing users to engage a navigational schema in the first place.

I have to risk offending you, adamgreenfield -- but lose the jargon. Please. You're not saying anything that requires such a pseudo-technical language, and I'm not sure that "incentivizing" is language at all.

How about: "Good visuals encourage users to follow the navigational system."

Perhaps my nerves are on edge after time spent reading loads of jargony educational-theory wank, but I long for people who are discussing interesting and important ideas to do so in plain English. And I bring this up because the page in question teeters on the edge of blathery double-talk quite often.
posted by argybarg at 11:04 PM on November 4, 2002


You haven't offended me; you've made me chuckle. I'm so often the one pulling my hair out trying to get folks to say plain things plainly, and here I am hoist by my own petard.

As it were.

Heh.

Thanks.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:12 PM on November 4, 2002


I am sure this is a good thing, but there has been a recent glut of articles and blogs defending/defining Information Architecture. It is undoubtedly an insecure profession, having spent a couple of years being pummeled into a corner by economic factors, but I would prefer to see more examples of good IA work, instead of yet another 'lets define what we do and why it's important' manifesto.

For the moment I will stick to the job-title: Designer.
posted by mook at 1:05 AM on November 5, 2002


Good. Every Martin needs his Malcolm, and vice versa.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:37 AM on November 5, 2002


Great, now I've discovered the one occupation that sounds more boring than Architect.

And it appears to be what I do for a living.
posted by mmoncur at 3:03 AM on November 5, 2002


Software Engineering Institute and related repository is a good source for best engineering practices.

The 25 Theses seems more useful in defining information architecture, rather than actually offering valid and valuable insight into the task of IA. Example "The work is both an art and a science." Yeah? Well so is surgery and so is plain old customer service. They guy I buy my salt from (for my water softener) is an artist in my book. He is has an art for making the customer know and understand options. He makes me feel like the reason for his work, not an interruption. He is pleasant each and every time I see him. That is an art, I think. These theses are preposterous. They are void of real substance.

The one key thesis I use in day to day work is that the customer is the central foundation and reason for my work. From there I use some non-esoteric, generic-best practices-engineering guideline to architect my information using my skills to apply the processes to the specific task at hand.

Poppycock!
posted by internook at 3:05 AM on November 5, 2002


In the spirit of number 11:

25 More Succinct Theses

1. People need information.
2. People need the right information at the right time.
3. Without intervention, information dissipates into chaos.
4. The Internet has made ubiquitous what was once rare: the shared information environment.
5. Making information relevant and timely requires specialists. Doing so in a global information environment is a relatively new specialism.
6. This work is both a science and an art.
7-8. This work is a new kind of architecture: the structuring of information into information environments with useful, navigable form.
9. People live and work in information environments, just as they live and work in homes, offices and factories. These information environments are as real as their own minds.
10. As the number of physical workers declines and knowledge workers increases, more and more people will live, work, share, collaborate, learn and play in these environments for more and more of their lives.
11. There is too much information for us to comprehend easily. Each day there is more.
12. One goal of information architecture is to shape information into an environment that allows users to create, manage and share its very substance.
13. Another, more fundamental goal is to enable users to better communicate with, collaborate with and experience one another.
14. Information exists in communities of meaning. Without people, information no longer informs.
15. Therefore, information architecture is about people first and technology second.
16. People have to know where they are, where they are going and how to get what they need. They seek places that meet these needs.
17. Even the best interface is only as good as the shape of the information behind it.
17b. Conversely, even the best-shaped information is only as useful as its interface.
18. We now expect all information environments to be as accessible, as immediate and as comprehensive as the Internet.
19. Just because most information architecture concerns the Internet today doesn't mean that it will tomorrow.
20. Information architecture uses whatever tools are necessary to meet its aims.
21. These tools are being fashioned by information scientists, artists, librarians, designers, anthropologists, architects, writers, engineers, programmers and philosophers.
22. These tools come in many forms, including controlled vocabularies, mental modeling, brainstorming, ethnography, thesauri, and human-computer interaction. Some are old and some are new. Most are still waiting to be invented.
23. Information architecture is bigger than any single methodology, tool or perspective.
24. Information architecture is first an act, then a practice, then a discipline.
25. Sharing the practice strengthens the discipline.

394 words versus 620.
posted by rory at 3:21 AM on November 5, 2002


12 Even More Succinct Theses

1. The Internet is a shared information environment.
2. Making information relevant and timely requires specialists.
3. This work is a new kind of architecture.
4. People increasingly live and work in information environments.
5. There is too much information for us to comprehend easily.
6. Information exists in communities of meaning.
7. People seek places that meet their information needs.
8. We now expect all information environments to be as accessible, as immediate and as comprehensive as the Internet.
9. Information architecture uses whatever tools are necessary to meet its aims.
10. These tools come in many forms, some old, some new, some waiting to be invented.
11. Information architecture is first an act, then a practice, then a discipline.
12. Sharing the practice strengthens the discipline.

116 words. This is fun!
posted by rory at 3:32 AM on November 5, 2002


Or why not ten?

1. Information exists in communities of meaning.
2. We increasingly live and work in information environments.
3. There is too much information for us to comprehend easily.
4. We seek places that meet our information needs.
5. The Internet is a shared information environment.
6. We now expect all information environments to be as accessible, as immediate and as comprehensive as the Internet.
7. Making information relevant and timely requires specialists.
8. This work is a new kind of architecture.
9. The tools of information architecture come in many forms.
10. Sharing the practice of information architecture strengthens the discipline.

90 words.
posted by rory at 3:45 AM on November 5, 2002


The point being, of course, that "structuring ... raw information into shared information environments with useful, navigable form that resists entropy and reduces confusion" is about more than just nav bars and directory structures. Padding out a list with unnecessary words just to reach 25 items only ensures that it "drowns in its own mass".

Some of the 25 theses need rephrasing to make any sense, and even then it's hard to rescue all of them. "Without human intervention, information devolves into entropy and chaos"? What about DNA? "Without other people, information no longer has context, and no longer informs"? So, without other people, information no longer informs... other people? "It becomes mere data, less than dust"? DNA is mere data.
posted by rory at 4:02 AM on November 5, 2002


thanks rory.

to be honest i didnt know what the hell this was all about until i read your lists.
posted by joedan at 4:39 AM on November 5, 2002


How's this?

As you may have noticed, we live in a complicated world. Some of that complexity is inevitable; much of the rest is the result of poor decisions about the ordering, categorization and presentation of information.

IAs are (some of) the people working to understand the consistent elements in interactions between human beings and arbitrarily large and thorny fields of information - whether you're searching for just the right book on an e-commerce site, attempting to transfer money between one account and another on a banking site, or trying to customize a news site.

Our hope is that by attending to both these dynamics and the physiological, cognitive, psychological, cultural, and social contexts in which the interaction takes place, we can consistently reduce the "inherent" frustrations, improve the experience, and meaningfully reduce the cognitive load that seems to attend modern life.

If it takes using a specialized vocabulary from time to time to achieve these aims, it's a price I for one am willing to pay despite my preference for simplicity. As an IA friend pointed out, sometimes one sentence of $5 words you have to reread three times is preferable to three pages of simple, clear prose.

And, of course, sometimes just the opposite is true. (IA axiom #1: "It depends.")

What I don't get is the hostility I see here. IAs generally see themselves as advocates for ordinary human beings in the site development process - where, believe you me, between the demands of marketers, developers, designers, and boneheaded clients, you frequently do not have an effective voice speaking on your behalf. So I have to ask: why the bitter, vitriolic sarcasm? Huh?
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:04 AM on November 5, 2002


I've got so many reactions to this, it's hard for me to know where to begin. Background: I've got 20 years of large-scale IT systems design, development, management. I've seen a lot of stuff come and go on architecture, user interface, and methodology. I'm a lightweight on Web design, it's not very relevant to the large-scale architecture problems. I'm currently very interested in Agile Software Development methods and think they represent the future.

Lately I spend my time with the big managers who don't want to understand anything that doesn't have to do with the business. So I represent either the management consultant who wants to know whether IA is a useful part of my practice, or the ultimate customer for IA, the guy who signs the checks.

First reaction: Why haven't I heard of this before? IA doesn't seem to be very well plugged into the IT architecture community or the management consulting community. What's IA's intellectual heritage, and where does the community come from.

Second reaction: After clicking around on the site for a good 10-15 minutes, I can't find a link that says "What is IA?" I get led to the IA Wiki, where the Starting Points page is worse than useless. Finally I find it in the link marked "more ..." on the front page. These people claim to know something about organising information for users?

3. After reading the definition, I still don't know what IA is. The elevator pitches aren't bad, but they don't tell me how you're going to solve the problem or why I should trust you to solve it. Rory's list is a good statement of the context in which IA operates, but it's missing the conclusion: "Therefore, we should do the following ... "?

4. OK, so if these guys can't say what IA is, maybe I can throw out a straw man: "IA is a methodology for taking corporate information and structuring it so that people can understand it." So how does it differ from UI design, data architecture, requirements analysis, or other well-established practices?

5. What's the purpose of AIfIA? Is it an intellectual movement? Looks very lightweight intellectually, maybe the ideas are out there but I haven't found them in a half-hour of surfing. Is it a professional organization dedicated to advancing the careers of its members? That's what it looks like on first glance. Is it a clearinghouse for exchanging ideas? The site isn't very interactive for that.

6. My gut reaction says that within a year this will either die from lack of interest, or be transformed into the classic management consultancy song-and-dance completely decoupled from real results. What would the world look like if IA succeeded in its goals? What are the goals of IA?

Sorry to be so harsh and so wordy, but I hope these are constructive questions. I'd really like to understand what this is about.
posted by fuzz at 5:35 AM on November 5, 2002


Rory, you're doing the Lord's work. That was excellent. IA folks would be well-served by combining the theoretical with the straight-forward.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:13 AM on November 5, 2002


why the bitter, vitriolic sarcasm? Huh?

First - what fuzz said. Second - my list-editing exercise above wasn't bitter, vitriolic or sarcastic. It was mostly an exercise to pick up the challenge thrown out earlier to rewrite the 25 theses more succinctly, but the more I got into it, the more it seemed to be the very point. Why? Because when you start nailing lists to the door like Martin Luther and expecting the world to pay attention, you'd better make them as succinct as possible.

If you're going to make sweeping statements about the centrality of your discipline in fighting information overload, you can't afford to use any jargon when making your case to "marketers, developers, designers, and boneheaded clients". None.

I am not being flippant. I've worked as web developer, bureaucrat, academic, writer, editor, researcher, teacher, and my current job combines aspects of all of those roles - and when you wear as many hats as that, you avoid jargon wherever possible, especially when talking to a mixed audience.

My own discipline is political science, which often involves the study of rhetoric. The '25 Theses' are rhetoric. I don't mean that in a negative sense, but in a neutral sense: any list of this kind is largely rhetorical and aimed at outsiders as well as insiders. So: make it effective rhetoric.

(On preview - thanks, RJ.)
posted by rory at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2002


As the author of the cheesy and breezy 25 theses, I thought I'd weigh in for a moment.

First of all, what is going here is very very good. It's precisely the kind of thing we hoped would happen with the institute's launch. If we get people revising our content and turning it over to make it more palatable to another audience, that's a huge success. The point isn't for us to "get it right" but to create meaningful conversations outside the walls of the "IA ghetto." Keep talking, we're learning a lot.

As for the Theses themselves, nobody said it had to be 25, that's just what I ended up with.

As for the breezy-cheesy tone, I myself am very breezy and cheesy. (Though cheese itself doesn't quite agree with me, which is a shame, because ... well... damn, I really like cheese.) I'm not ignorant of the points people are bringing up -- I could've definitely edited this thing down to a few statements. I used to teach Freshman Composition and I'd get onto my students for the same stuff you folks are bringing up.

But rather than reach for a Basho-like economy, I went for a voice that was more like my own, with all the fat around the bones. That's one reason why my name is at the bottom -- because this isn't a corporate voice, it's mine, and I am the one to blame. So please don't fault everyone involved. The ideas are to some degree endorsed by the Institute, but the Theses are meant to provoke, perhaps inspire, or even annoy. That's what gets conversations started.

This approach isn't without precedent; e.g. the theses are inspired somwhat by the Cluetrain manifesto which is kinda breezy itself, and manages to reach 95 Theses. I didn't want to go that far.

True, it could've been expressed as a series of traditional, cogent paragraphs, but these are coming out of a different tradition, and it's a different form of prose. (I'm a big fan of Wittgenstein's Tractatus & Philosophical Investigations -- which are pretty hermetic, but much richer and more powerful than what I wrote for the Institute).

I want to thank "fuzz" especially -- your feedback as someone who is pretty new to the idea of IA as we express it is invaluable. I suspect we have more work to do toward making the site and the content more accessible and clear.

As for rory's thorough revisions, thanks. Can we use some of your language in other materials we're working on? We'd be happy to credit you somehow.

The idea of Information Architecture as I've tried expressing it has to do with much more than controlled vocabularies and "nav bars and directory structures" (neither of which is especially IA-centric, but I get your drift.) Take Metafilter for instance -- understanding how people live in a structure like this, how they converse, how ideas evolve here, and how people "dwell" here is just as much a part of IA as creating thesauri or drawing blueprints. The 'Net is a new kind of place for people to exist with one another, and we're only beginning to understand how it works. It's been around a number of decades, but only recently has it been so massively shared by so many different kinds of people. I believe there's a metaphysical dimension to what has happened, where language has become flesh and stone. And that's what makes me so excited about something that's so boring to so many other people. :-)

I'm looking forward to seeing how all of this comes out. Thanks for talking about it.


posted by andrewhinton at 6:58 AM on November 5, 2002


andrew, are there any links out there today that you can recommend that explain exactly what IA is?
posted by fuzz at 7:03 AM on November 5, 2002


Great, now I've discovered the one occupation that sounds more boring than Architect.

Huh? /prod from stupor and wipe drool from keyboard in midst of check of door schedule
posted by Dick Paris at 7:13 AM on November 5, 2002


This very good visual model (pdf) from Jesse James Garret gives you an overview of a widely accepted place of IA in the larger picture of 'User Experience'. What it doesn't do is explain what IA is, for that you might start with this meta list.
posted by mook at 7:16 AM on November 5, 2002


response to question about links to definitions by fuzz:

is that a trick question? :-)

seriously, part of what has happened here is that the IA community itself has been struggling with that very question, and there have been many heated debates.

The short answer: my official definition would be the one we offer at the Institute site, which you understandably had a hard time locating at the bottom of the page at http://www.aifia.org/pg/about_aifia.php

"Defining Information Architecture
We define information architecture as:

1. The structural design of shared information environments.
2. The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
3. An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

Are these definitions definitive? Absolutely not. Our craft is new and still taking shape. We’re clear on the center but fuzzy at the boundaries. This inherent ambiguity challenges us to think deeply and seek diverse perspectives."

Funny thing is, do we consider the disclaimer at the bottom to be part of the definition? I think if we're honest, we do.

Longer answer:

Christina Wodke (at eleganthack.com) is fond of calling this conversation "defining the damn thing." IA's are typically very picky people when it comes to definitions. But defining IA has turned out to be kind of like trying to write a school prayer -- every definition seems to spark some kind of holy war. We have worked hard as a community to figure out a way to talk about what we do, though. Here's a taste: http://www.IAwiki.net/DefiningTheDamnThing

So, I'm going to answer this from my own, personal perspective: Information Architecture is a lot like physical Architecture, but it's with bits rather than atoms. That's how I think of it. Others hate that definition, partly because lots of folks really despise Architecture as a discipline for one reason or another. I'm not a "design" insider, and I'm not from any kind of design or arch. school. My background is philosophy, rhet-comp, and literature. Which explains why my answers are so freakin' wordy and "breezy":-)

Information Architecture is as much a rubric for a particular ongoing conversation as it is a term for a practice or discipline. I suspect Architecture is the same, but it's been around thousands of years so we take it a little more for granted. But go into any university design school and ask them to define architecture, and I suspect you'd get the same kind of noise in the channel.

Sorry this is so oblique, but if anybody wants straight answers, I'm usually not the guy.

One really excellent place to start is Jesse James Garrett's IA resources page at http://www.jjg.net/ia/

There's also the excellent ACIA which burned brightly for a while until Argus fell victim to the economy: http://www.argus-acia.com/
posted by andrewhinton at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2002


As for rory's thorough revisions, thanks. Can we use some of your language in other materials we're working on? We'd be happy to credit you somehow.

Be my guest, Andrew. I'm glad you took them in the spirit intended. As for credit, it's not really necessary, but a thank-you wrapped in <small> tags is always welcome - check my user profile and site if you want to get in touch.
posted by rory at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2002


rory: I've had less polite editors, believe me. ;-)

all:
apologies for not hyperlinking my url's listed above ... but my browser decided to stop letting me select things in text-boxes. looking under the hood when i get a chance.
posted by andrewhinton at 8:00 AM on November 5, 2002


But why "information architect"? The term smells like an oxymoron. Aren't writers, editors, designers, illustrators and photographers collectively up to the task of shaping and delivering information? Maybe the sarcasm and hostility is rooted in people's perception that this lofty, new profession is really nothing new.
posted by blamb at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2002


What's the difference between IA and Information Science as practiced by librarians, records managers, and other professionals? You define IA as architecture with 'bits rather than atoms' — does this mean that IA considers its scope to include only digital information, or Internet information? Is book design a branch of IA, or cataloging, or the Guide to Periodical Literature?

Just curious.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2002


There are great questions raised, which the folks that practice information architecture have been working with and mulling over for the last few years. IA is one of the processes and roles in a larger umbrella of User-Centered Design, which focuses on the user as the audience for the information being presented. The user is the consumer for the information presented. UCD and IA focus on the user understanding the information, but also increasing the findability of the information the user is seeking. We all work for clients or managers that hold the money and success is often based on how they (the managers/clients) like what has been done. Information is the main element in communication between the message sender and the receivers. If the receivers are not attracted to the message, can not find the message, or ignore the message even though it is the information they the receiver/user/audience/consumer is seeking the sender has failed. IAs work to assure the information is structured in a manner that leads better findability of the information and the user seeking the information is attracted to the information so they have the information when they want it and need it.

In part AIfIA has launched to get feedback from the audiences. All of us who develop know there is refinement to the message and needs of those interested in the information. MeFi is doing a great job of highlighting parts of the information we need to refine and add to help be a better resource.

AIfIA is a professional organization to help those who are IAs full-time, part-time, just one of the many hats worn, and the consumers of the IA processes and roles. There are many definitions of IA that range from the visual design side of the meter to the library science and metadata side of the scale. The IA skills scale from the Micro IA (self-contained Web sites), Enterprise IA (enterprise-wide information structures so to more easily share information between various audiences that use different terms for the same items and processes that may live on an Intranet or tie the marketing web site to the production line), to Macro IA (inter-organization information architecture that is part of the B2B world and industry-wide XML repositories). Most of the skills, roles, and processes the information Architect uses are the same across these various roles and needs.

Those of us that have worked on getting AIfIA off the ground know the success that comes from adding IA to the development process. There are many folks that have experience with these skills and roles and we want to help share what we know as well as educate the consumers of our services what IA is and how it helps. For many this is the beginning of the conversation regarding IA and we hope that AIfIA will be a vehicle that helps move the conversation forward to assist the world of digital information step further forward in a positive way.
posted by vanderwal at 10:24 AM on November 5, 2002


Great questions from blamb and IshmaelGraves!! I'll see if I can take a longish stab.

As for blamb's question about the term itself -- I confess I've grown so used to the term over the last four years or so that I'd forgotten how it can sound the first time.

It's important to separate IA as an act, a practice and a discipline.

As an act, lots of people do it whether consciously or no. Just like lots of people do design, whether consciously following any 'best practices' or not (when I use markers to make a sign for a yard sale, I'm designing an ad -- but I don't think of it that way as I do it, and I'd be insulting professional designers to say "hey, I'm a designer too!!"). But there are elements of design going on. As I become aware of design principles and standards and methods, then I can keep those in mind as I make my yard sale sign -- and hopefully have a much better sign as a result. At that point, I'm "practicing" design. Same with IA, except we're talking about information structure, retrieval, etc.

When people practice IA as part of their jobs, they may actually be programmers or designers or marketers. Same with design: I have a great book here called The Essential Guide to User Interface Design that's written primarily for programmers who have never had a human-factors course in their lives. But they are placed in a situation where they have to make design decisions every day. They're doing "HCI" but they're not HCI experts necessarily, though lots of programmers have evolved into very valuable HCI experts. The important thing is that when doing something, one do it consciously using the best tools and knowhow available.

As a discipline IA is just beginning -- a discipline is a community-based understanding of best practices & evolved knowledge (or more literally, a set of rules or methods; or a branch of knowledge or teaching). IA is very new because massively shared virtual spaces (what i've been calling "shared information environments") are relatively new in our history.

Considering how to structure a virtual space for users to collaborate and communicate so that it supports the goals of those people and their respective organizations is not something that I see covered by the typical writer, editor, design, illustration or photography job description. Interaction design, for example, is typically more concerned with what happens in the screen or the page, not the overarching structure. I was actually hired as a copywriter at my current company, but my job evolved into being an IA. Those jobs are extremely different (although they're both very involved with language).

One of the things the Institute is trying to do is to help others understand that IA is indeed an important and specialized part of the design of shared info environments. It's not something that just sort of happens as the result of programmers and designers getting together. It is best done on purpose using methods and knowledge that is rich enough to warrant its own discipline.

Now, does that mean that if you aren't called an Information Architect at your company that you're not one? Absolutely not. Does that mean that you should be scared to even try to do anything IA-ish without a "certified IA" in the room? No. But it does mean that there is a growing body of knowledge and a living body of practitioners that are collectively serving as a resource that others in complementary professions can use.

As for the difference between IA and Library/Info Science -- here is my opinion, though it's not necessarily shared by everyone: If IA is nothing more than "library science for the web," then it really doesn't need to be called anything different. Let's just say it's Library Science for the Web.

The difference, however, comes in considering that we're not talking about a controlled information environment of physical resources with info-based navigation (a bunch of books with an online catalog). Who designs the physical structure of a library? Librarians? Well, one would hope they'd be consulted, but a good library is going to have a good architect involved. There hasn't been much need, however, for architects who are experts in libraries, because frankly they're not built that often.

With the advent of the Internet, and especially in the last 10 years with the Web, suddenly there is a HUGE need for architects who also understand libraries, but weird libraries that are hyperlinked and somewhat amorphous (and to some degree they have to understand elements of interaction design and writing -- since layout and labeling are so central to making IA happen -- and they also have to know the right stuff about information science, since search & retrieval & relational database technologies are the blood and nervous system of the 'net). Now every time we create a website, we're creating a little (and sometimes huge) library, because (as David Weinberger so astutely pointed out in his latest book) there is now little or no distinction between documents and buildings. The documents ARE the buildings, and vice-versa. That is a fundamentally NEW situation that needs new skills, albeit skills derived from and influenced by those found in established professions.

So....the Internet has become the natural habitat for IA to be practiced. But that doesn't mean it's the only place. Before there were cities, there was no urban planning. But now that we have cities and urban planners, urban planning principles and theories have become very useful for lots of other things -- like how to design a school campus, for example.
posted by andrewhinton at 2:15 PM on November 5, 2002


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