What is Information Architecture?


The following are draft DSIA definitions that disambiguate the term “information architecture” as it applies to application user interface design. These definitions are based on working theory and research in information science.

Author: Nathaniel Davis

Information Architecture (Web Practice)

In the domain of software development for human engagement, information architecture is the function that provides the conceptual “blueprint” for application user interfaces. This is achieved by defining and maintaining a model of the concepts, content, and situational factors that influence sustainable human interaction with technology.

When done well, information architecture helps to simplify how people navigate and engage with content that’s presented in application user interfaces or information environment. That means delivering content to users when and how they need it. And doing this effectively requires IA practitioners to produce compelling insight into an explanation of why users need the content.

This holistic (or systemic) perspective uniquely situates information architecture as a vital consideration for a coherent strategy, design ideation, and software development activities.

Other perspectives:

Information Architecture (Work Product)

The information architecture of an application user interface or system of interfaces functions as the governing framework for content behavior. It represents the aggregate of assumptions and governing conceptual constructs for assigning properties and attributes to content, and the endowment and evolution of conceptual and content relationships over time for a given context.

Information architecture is often misunderstood as a tangible design artifact like site navigation, the labeling with which a user might engage in a user interface, or the path that a user might take in order to navigate to desired content and functionality. In actuality, these are only parts to a greater whole.

The information architecture for an application user interface can be managed as a set of structural definitions (see List 1.0) that correlate to the concept and content constraints of a target environment. IA structural definitions are generally consumed as diagrams and reference models that are shared with team members to help inform activities that involve strategy, interface design, and software development.

List 1.0 – DSIA Structural Definitions that are considered when scoping and managing the information architecture of a given context

  • Base (page-level component) model
  • Business (Context) model
  • Concept model
  • Content model
  • Controlled vocabulary
  • Domain model
  • Entity model
  • Flow model
  • Information model
  • Channel mapping
  • Navigation
  • Ontology
  • Mental model
  • Sitemap
  • Taxonomy
  • Wireframe

Information Architecture (Science)

Information architecture is a relatively new information science that studies the description for and nature of information as a discrete phenomenon and takes interest in the properties and behaviors that information exhibits over time and space.

Traditional information science investigates information as an entity that can be originated, collected, organized, stored, retrieved, interpreted, transmitted, transformed, and utilized [1]. Information architecture science explores the possible metaphysical, semiotic, linguistic, and ontological impact of information and the systemic information complexity that’s created in the act of coupling human performance and cognition with the spatial topology of one’s respective inhabited environment.

Theory and practical insight in this area aim to extend the general objectives of information science into dynamic environments of human-information interaction and knowledge management.

[1] Borko, H. (1968). Information science: What is it? American Documentation, 19, 3.