What Does an Information Architect Do?

April 28, 2018

Information architects provide architectural guidance and the blueprint for shaping application user interfaces and experience strategy. To do this effectively, information architects must define the underlying conceptual and content structure surrounding the targeted application interface/s.

According to the first book written on the practice of information architecture [1], the information architect is one who:

  • “Clarifies the mission and vision for the site, balancing the needs of its sponsoring organization and the needs of its audiences.”
  • “Determines what content and functionality the site will contain.”
  • “Specifies how users will find information in the site by defining [systemic frameworks for how site content is navigated, organized, and related]”
  • “Maps out how the [structure of any conceptual construct such as a website] will accommodate change and growth over time.”

The modifications made to the original text attempt to maintain the text’s underlying meaning while promoting greater clarity. The word “structure” is added because defining structure is a core value proposition of IA practice. Additionally, the term “conceptual construct” is used to suggest how IA practice is not limited to a single medium or subject matter. Finally, “website” is referred to as an example medium because it was and is still the primary domain for which information architecture is practiced. However, this could change in the future as information architecture practice is extended into other domains.

Application user interfaces and the information environments that they create are becoming increasingly complex for users and teams that must manage them. As a result, two decades after the role of the information architect was described, it remains to be an effective approach in the assessment of strategy and creation of digital products and services.

Curator of the blueprint

Information architecture (IA) is the best approach for bringing coherence to complex website user interfaces and digital products. Information architects are adept at modeling contextual assumptionshuman behavior, and content (artifacts) of an environment as a way to articulate the strategy and structure of user interfaces.

The resulting artifacts of IA modeling provide the official “blueprint” for design requirements and functionality.  Common models include, but are not limited to sitemaps, and models for concepts, content, user experience, and flows. These and many other models are used to provide alignment with “owners” and clear instruction for design and development teams.

“information architects must define the underlying conceptual and content structure surrounding the targeted application interface/s.”

In smaller Web-based environments that appear to be less complex, the information architecture strategy (often referred to as “the IA”) can be rationalized with less formality. In such cases, documentation may be minimal and the IA solution will likely be defined by someone who is not an IA specialist. However, complex information environments will typically require the collaboration of many “stakeholders” such as business, product, marketing professionals, and a diverse team of HCI (human-computer interaction) practitioners. In this case, the information architect must work to integrate the concept- and content-dependent artifacts of each discipline to establish a sustainable and flexible site structure that correlates to the strategic intent and a set of anticipated usage patterns.

When an application user interface is not the end objective, information architecture analysis can be used to assess the underlying patterns of any target domain in order to rationalize a structure for strategy and/or implementation.

[1] Morville, Peter. Rosenfeld, Lou. (1998) Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. First Edition. Oreilly & Associates Inc.