information architecture · UCD process

Information Architecture is in the DNA of Design (On Evolving not Dying)

Rumours of the impending death of Information Architecture have been greatly exaggerated, but I think it is true that the Information Architect you were five years ago is very different to what you’ll be in five years time. (In fact, it’s probably very different already).

These rumours seem to have been kicked off by ‘important people in IA’ seemingly rejecting the IA community by moving onto other things – starting a new company, being interested in things that occur off the screen, finding themselves doing more Interaction Design than IA, or more strategic business thinking than sitemapping.

These are important symptoms, but they’re not fatal. It’s more about metamorphosis, adaptation, evolution. And that’s exciting (and just a little scary, sometimes).

As I see it, there are three important trends impacting on Information Architecture practice today – the content and categories we work with, our relationship with our ‘audience’, and our work practices.

Technological empowerment has meant that our audience are now active producers of content and rather than trying to ‘hide’ inactive content, our biggest challenge is often to manage the incoming surge of content in all it’s formats.

We’ve moved beyond just text and images – now audio and video are commonplace content formats for IAs to address.

The rise of search has meant that traditional site structures have become far less relevant to findability, and metadata (in its various forms) is more important than ever.

The semantic web is awakening and wondering what role we’ll play in it’s destiny.

Location, physical space, is becoming a key factor in understanding and defining content more and more often.

Our audiences are actively involved in IA, labelling, categorising, creating content.

Information Architecture is becoming more interactive and dynamic than ever before. Many of the more ‘static’ tools are no longer as useful as they were before. New and different tools are being borrowed from different disciplines, evolved from older tools and methods.

Teams are becoming more cross skilled and agile. A ‘pure’ IA project is becoming rarer. IAs are becoming more involved in strategic decision making, but they’re also getting more involved in interaction design as Rich Internet Applications become more and more prevalent.

The diagram above shows the range of tasks and ‘practices’ that people who identify as practitioners of Information Architecture can and will often cross into. With the exception of Visual Design (which I stay well clear of due to accute lack of talent), I frequently use methods which range across all of the disciplines in this diagram. Similarly, tasks and methods have to be included within multiple disciplines.

Where do Personas and Scenarios live? You can’t exclude them from IA, ID or Research, which all use them frequently. Design does not reside only with Visual Design, but in almost all of these categories in one form or another. Although Research is a discipline of it’s own, most of these disciplines will use research in one way or another to achieve their outcomes/outputs.

Information Architecture is not dying. On the contrary, it is evolving and becoming more enriched as it becomes more inclusive of the various disciplines from which it’s practitioners originate.

Certainly in five years time there may be fewer people with the job title ‘Information Architect’ (and rightly so, if we’re doing more than that), but given the vastness of content that joins the web every day now, and the opportunities and challenges of the semantic web, the need for the skills and understanding of skilled practitioners of Information Architecture are more needed now than ever.

We’ll be very different IAs in a few years time, but I for one think we’ll have a more interesting, challenging and varied role to play, and personally, I can’t wait.

What about you?

Related reading on IA’s Recent Growing Pains

Adam Greenfield: IA or not IA (Don’t miss the comments on this one!)
Christina Wodtke: Why am I so angry?
Peter Merholtz: Tribeless
Joshua Porter: Thoughts on the Impending Death of IA
David Armano: Will IA go MIA?

4 thoughts on “Information Architecture is in the DNA of Design (On Evolving not Dying)

  1. Leisa,
    I’m in the evolution camp as you are. That’s why I think the “what IA’s call themselves” is a relevant conversation. It’s not about a job title as much as it is an outward manifestation that you are embracing and embodying the evolution you speak of here. I don’t describe myself as a Graphic Designer anymore. Part of that is because I am not as hands on as I once was. The other part is that the definition of Graphic Designer no longer applies to what I do and what I relate to as a professional andc individual.

    I think IA’s a grappling with similar issues to designers who started out in Graphic Design and evolved when interactivity, utility, and to some degree managing complexity (while understanding technology) all became part of the job. BTW, some Graphic Designers have not evolved and are still only concerned with making things visually appealing (this can apply to information as well). There is still a place for that. It’s called Graphic Design.

  2. Hi, am from bangalore, India and am an amateur web designer. i really liked the scribbled jpeg image on the site. Can you send me the complete uncropped one with all the scribbles. am using it understand the basic of design and IA. I assure you that the image required is not for commercial use.

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