What Does an Information Architect Do?

Information architects are known to provide architectural guidance and the “blueprint” for shaping application user interfaces and experience strategy. To do this effectively, information architects will define the underlying conceptual and content structure of a targeted application interface.

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] will accommodate change and growth over time.”

Information architects are known to provide architectural guidance and the “blueprint” for shaping application user interfaces and experience strategy.

The modifications that I’ve made to the original text preserves 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. [2][3] 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 architects attempt to bring coherence to complex application user interfaces and digital products and are adept at modeling contextual assumptionshuman behavior, and content (artifacts) of an environment as a way to articulate strategy and define sustainable UI structures.

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 instructions 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 collaboration with many “stakeholders” such as business, product, marketing professionals, and a diverse team of HCI (human-computer interaction) practitioners. In this case, the acting 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 architectural intent and a set of anticipated usage patterns.

When a digital 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.

[2] Davis, Nathaniel. “Getting Your Web Site’s Structure Right.” UXmatters, 22 Apr. 2013, https://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/04/getting-your-web-sites-structure-right.php.

[3] Davis, Nathaniel. “Transforming Our Conversation of Information Architecture with Structure.” Association for Information Science & Technology, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 21 June 2013, https://asistdl.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bult.2013.1720390510.