Information Architecture: Building Our Practice

By Levine, Emil | Information Today, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Information Architecture: Building Our Practice


Levine, Emil, Information Today


As information architecture (IA) becomes a bigger part of the overall business plan in commercial organizations, the role of information architects is also moving to strategic levels. This movement was one of the trends presented at the Euro IA Summit held Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2006, in Berlin.

The summit, sponsored by the American Society for Information Science and Technology (http://www.asis.org), the Information Architecture Institute (http:// www.iainstitute.org), User Intelligence (http://www.userintelligence.com), and FatDUX (http://www.fatdux.com), was Europe's second IA conference. According to the organizers, the first summit (which was held last year) was so successful that "it was obvious we had to organise another one this year."

While conference organizers acknowledged there is no definitive definition of IA, most definitions have common qualities: a structural design of shared information environments; methods of organizing and labeling Web sites, intranets, and online communities; and ways of bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

The 162 conference attendees arrived in Berlin from 18 countries (the U.K., Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands amounted to about 70 percent of the total), representing an increase of 50 percent from the previous meeting. Attendees said the conference's popularity for Europeans was fourfold: easier travel arrangements for European participants, multilanguage capabilities (more than 20 national languages in the EU alone), new technology for alternative interfaces (phones, PDAs), and European perspectives (seeing the world a bit differently than in North America).

Conference chairman Eric Reiss of FatDUX in Denmark said he expected IA's role to expand as Web sites are more involved in multimedia, noting that customization will be replaced by personalization (e.g., saving logins, suggesting additional books at Amazon, etc.). He also said that although IA is not always part of a job title, it is quickly becoming a strategic component within businesses. In Reiss' estimation, information architects have moved from "geeks to gurus" in this decade.

Keynote Speaker

Keynote speaker Peter Morville of Semantic Studios, LLC in the U.S. kicked off the meeting by saying that although 70 percent of information architects have degrees in library and information science, much of the work in this field is being accomplished by those who do not know much about what IA actually is. Morville, who is the author of the bestselling Internet books Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Ambient Findability, provided case studies showing the impact IA has on Web sites. In a study of the National Cancer Institute Web site, he found 70 percent of the queries did not involve the single term "cancer" since the majority of the searches are more complex. Morville encouraged users to create "bigger needles" for the growing haystacks using IA processes. He said the next challenge will be searching audio and video files.

Strategic Implications

Opening day sessions covered a range of topics, from strategic steps to social tagging. In the Strategic IA session, Olly Wright of Media Catalyst in the Netherlands outlined steps that information architects must take to understand and reach a strategic level in the operation. The biggest mistake, he said, was "going in with an agenda, then making your agenda the agenda. Find out what they want."

Ariel Guersenzvaig of Claro Studio in Spain talked about the "capability of an online presence to bring a user into action and convert [him or her] into a customer" in the Persuadability session. Getting the user to click on the right link is the very essence of persuadability. This conversion, which is the sum of several micro-actions, is supported by IA's use of consumer psychology, user experience, value proposition, and marketing strategy.

In Virreal Architecture, Almar van der Krogt of VIRVIE in the Netherlands contrasted the tasks of the conventional architect and the information architect: The former is faced with overcoming the forces of gravity and the latter with overcoming the forces of irrelevance. …

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