Defining information architecture

A few year’s ago, I made a pass at defining information architecture from a technical communicator’s perspective, which described how I morphed from a technical editor into an information architect, and which was mostly based off of Peter Morville’s work. This morning, I ran across UX Booth’s “Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture,” which is more based on Richard Saul Wurman’s work and Dan Klyn’s as well. Klyn’s video that introduces IA is embedded within this guide, and in just 4 minutes, you are taken from Wurman, to Morville, to his own definitions of IA.

There are a few things that I want to muse upon, extending my own initial attempt at defining information architecture, as my definition and my tasks as an information architect are definitely more in line with what is presented in this UX Booth guide.

From a technical communicator’s perspective, I feel that there is a continuum of IA work: UX to IA to Content Strategist. When describing the tasks that an IA does, this guide talks of user research and analysis, which to me falls more in the UX space. So, IAs partner with UX to contribute to and benefit from any user research and analysis. Another set of tasks is navigation and hierarchy, and also wireframing, which really seem to be shared tasks between UX and IA, with either one leading or driving this effort. Then, we venture into the true IA baileywick with the tasks of labeling, taxonomies, and metadata. (I think it is here that technical editors start to become IAs or interact more with IAs, because of the focus on language and meaning inherent in each of these.) Finally, the last task that they describe is content modeling, which to me falls more in the content strategy space, with the IA partnering and contributing to the modeling. While an IA can certainly do all of these tasks, I think it is important not to think of these tasks as only a part of IA. Much like technical communication, information architecture is a broad field that crosses into many other realms; many different professionals DO information architecture.

I’m now going to cycle around to Klyn’s video, and the three things he includes in his definition of information architecture: ontology, taxonomy, and choreography. I loved his definition of ontology, which I took to mean “the rules and patterns that govern the meaning” of something. And, his for taxonomy, he nailed it again with “systems and structures for what everything’s called.” Then, for choreography, which I thought was a very interesting word choice, he essentially was referring to the human interaction with things. He summarized his definition by returning to a definition within Wurman: Making the complex clear. It’s no wonder so many technical communicators start to call themselves information architects, because making the complex clear is also at the heart of our own realm.

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