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The Definition of Information Architecture

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  • Peter Morville
    The Definition of Information Architecture (November 14, 2002) http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000010.php ... The recent unveiling of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 14, 2002
      The Definition of Information Architecture (November 14, 2002)


      The recent unveiling of the Asilomar Institute for Information
      Architecture provoked two predictable reactions:

      Is this yet another attempt to define IA?
      What is IA and why have I never heard of it?

      These questions obviously come from two different audiences.

      IA insiders, who have lived through a decade of definitional debates
      and are tired of arguing over minutia.

      IA outsiders, who constitute the vast majority of people on this
      planet and have never heard of information architecture.

      What's scary is how many IA outsiders exist inside IT. On
      MetaFilter, a person with 20 years of large-scale IT systems
      experience asks:

      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?

      Is this widespread ignorance of IA our fault? Are we really such
      lousy communicators? What's up?

      Small Voices in a Big World

      We've actually done a pretty good job explaining the substance and
      value of IA. Collectively, we've made thousands of presentations in
      public and private venues, authored hundreds of articles for print
      and online publication, and written several books on the topic.

      And a few thousand professional information architects prove their
      value every day in the trenches by contributing to the design of
      more useful, usable, and desirable systems and products.

      We feel we're failing to spread the good word because we're living
      in such a big world. 6 billion people. 3 billion URLs. Growth
      outpaces our ability to count. The U.S. Library of Congress holds 18
      million books. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes 770
      occupations. But the United States represents only 4.5% of the world

      A Megaphone for the IA Community

      If nothing else, AIfIA presents an opportunity for us to join forces
      and speak out. We must focus our message. We must carefully select
      our target audiences. And then we must speak loudly and clearly.

      But we hope to go much further than that. If we listen carefully to
      people's reactions, if we involve outsiders in the discussion, if we
      make connections to other communities and disciplines, then we can
      learn how to improve the practice of information architecture.

      Ultimately, our greatest challenge will be execution. Good
      intentions will carry us only so far. In the coming months, to focus
      our collective energy, we'll be developing a business plan for AIfIA.

      We'll be speaking out. We'll be listening carefully. And we'll be
      shaping a strategy and a plan for this new organization. Now is the
      time to enter the conversation. Become a member, a partner, or a
      volunteer. Or simply challenge us by asking difficult and
      provocative questions.

      We hope you'll add your voice to the growing numbers of people all
      around the world who are defining the past, present and future of
      information architecture.

      Appendix I. Information Architecture Definitions

      From the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture:

      The structural design of shared information environments.

      The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets,
      online communities and software to support usability and

      An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of
      design and architecture to the digital landscape.

      From Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (2nd Edition):

      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.

      For more definitions, see Defining the Damn Thing on Elegant Hack
      and the IAwiki.

      Appendix II. Five Facts About AIfIA

      A week after going public, AIfIA has 163 charter members
      representing 120 organizations in 13 countries.

      AIfIA was born at Asilomar but incorporated in Ann Arbor.

      According to our bylaws, we can add another 15 members to the AIfIA
      Leadership Council.

      Starting next year, our members will elect the Leadership Council
      and the Leadership Council will elect the Board of Directors.

      Currently, AIfIA is an all-volunteer organization with no paid

      Appendix III. Potential Partners

      We're collaborating with a few partners, and we're particularly
      happy to be working with ASIS&T on the IA Leadership Seminar.

      A number of organizations are on our radar as potential partners.
      They include: ACM-SIGCHI, AIGA, Information Today, New Architect,
      STC, and UPA.

      But we know there are many more organizations around the world that
      could be great partners. Please, tell us who they are.

      Appendix IV. Quotable Quotes

      Some memorable responses to the public launch of AIfIA:

      Well, folks this is the who's who of IA. I would seriously urge all
      IAs and those in tangential fields to consider getting involved.
      This organization will do great things! Challis Hodge

      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.
      Fuzz on MetaFilter.

      The inmates are running the asylum. Or at least they've gone and
      built their own asylum, somewhere nice, by the sea. Matt Jones
      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. Stan Chin on MetaFilter.

      What's the difference between IA and Information Science as
      practiced by librarians, records managers, and other professionals?
      IshmaelGraves on MetaFilter.

      I worry that AIfIA is good-intentioned, but the motivation will
      wane. unless there's real money being thrown around, where the
      people working with AIfIA have a salary imperative to keep things
      going. Peter Merholz

      Ever since the demise of the ACIA there has been no focus for
      information architecture research and best practice. A year or so
      ago...I suggested that what was needed was an Institute for
      Information Architecture, and without any effort on my part this has
      now been formed with the launch of AIfIA. The people behind the new
      organisation are the leading authorities in the field. There is also
      a distinguished Leadership Council, though somewhat biased towards
      North America. Martin White

      This initiative is probably the best thing happening to IA for a
      long time. Consolidating IA is a key step towards making IA a well
      respected and highly valued profession. Gunnar Langemark on SIGIA.

      To learn who else is talking about AIfIA, see the AIfIA Referrer Log
      or wade through the several hundred Google Hits.

      Appendix V. Information Architecture Books

      If you're still confused about the definition of information
      architecture, buy a book:

      Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
      by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville.

      Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web
      by Christina Wodtke.

      Practical Information Architecture by Eric L. Reiss.

      Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession by
      Earl Morrogh.
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