What is Information Architecture?

DSIA

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

Author: Nathaniel Davis
October 8, 2018
Last Updated: 1/29/2020

Information Architecture (Web Practice)

Information architecture is a practice for engineering the structure of application user interfaces. The practice includes defining and managing the conceptual models that express the core relationships of sustainable human interaction with technology. In a way, information architecture provides the conceptual “blueprint” [1] for application user interfaces

Information architecture is a practice for engineering the structure of application user interfaces.

When done well, information architecture helps to simplify how people navigate and engage with content presented in application user interfaces and across disparate and “shared information environments.” [2] That means delivering content to users when and how they need it.

The systemic perspective of information architecture practice makes it a vital factor for a coherent experience strategy, design ideation, and software development activities.

Other perspectives of information architecture to consider:

Information Architecture (Work Product)

The information architecture of an application user interface or system of interfaces functions as the governing framework for content behavior and user engagement. 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.

The information architecture of an application user interface or system of interfaces functions as the governing framework for content behavior and user engagement.

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 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 is a set of structural definitions that correlate to the concept and content constraints of a target environment. IA structural definitions result in diagrams and reference models that are shared with team members to help inform activities that involve strategy, interface design, and software development.

Information Architecture (Science)

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

Information architecture is a … science that studies the description and nature of information as a discrete phenomenon.

Traditional information science investigates information as an entity that can be originated, collected, organized, stored, retrieved, interpreted, transmitted, transformed, and utilized [3]. In this way, information is primarily a resource to be manipulated in the context of knowledge access and management.

Information architecture science explores the potential metaphysical, semiotic, linguistic, and ontological impact of information and the systemic information complexity that’s created when coupling human performance and cognition with the spatial topology of one’s inhabited environment. Hence, information architecture science tends to explore broader, experiential complexities of information-seeking behavior and the management of such environments.

These interests are primarily the result of the exponential rise in human-computer interaction since the advent of the Web graphical user interface in the early-1990’s. For this reason, information architecture science is related to academic study and research in information behavior and philosophy of information (PI)

Insight in information architecture science helps to improve the performance of human-information interaction and knowledge management in complex user interface environments.

[1] Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld introduced the “blueprint” analogy in the second edition of their best-selling book, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.”

[2] Rosenfeld, L., & Morville, P. (2007). Information architecture for the World Wide Web. Farnham: O’Reilly.

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