What is Information Architecture?

Information architecture (IA) is an emerging practice being integrated into multiple disciplines so it is hard to find one definition that multiple disciplines share. Below are three definitions. What is consistent is the idea that IA is art and/or science and IA has to do with organizing information.

Information Architecture Institute defines IA as:

  • "The structural design of shared information environments.
  • The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
  • An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape."

Wikipedia says IA "is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems."

Webmonkey IA Tutorial says IA "is the science of figuring out what you want your site to do and then constructing a blueprint before you dive in and put the thing together."

If you look closely, they each hint at the same thing but each leaves a lot to the imagination. If someone came up to you and asked if you could create the IA for a Drupal website, what would you say that entails? In order to answer this question, I created yet another definition but I am also providing what the definition means to me when it comes to planning a site.

I started with two definitions. Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings. Information is the collected facts and data about a specific subject. I combined these two definitions, sprinkled in a bit of website perspective and I got the following definition:

Information architecture is the art and science of designing the structure of collected facts and data about a specific subject for a system.

From the perspective of the site audience, I believe you see IA reflected in how the

  • content on the pages is grouped, labeled, and organized
  • content of the site is broken into site sections and subsections
  • content in one section can appear seamlessly in another section
  • content is tagged with keywords to help you find other related bits of information
  • navigation options change (or stay the same) depending on the topic of the page and the page content
  • URL path is configured (the use of words versus page numbers)
  • user is given multiple ways of doing or finding what he needs.

From behind the scenes, if you are using a content management system, you can see relationships between data tables. For example,

  • the user identification is related to the page
  • the list of tags is related to different types of content
  • one page is related to another page in a parent/child style relationship.

The requirements of your site are going to help you define what your architecture should be. The art of information architecture is coming up with a structure or model that allows you to grow and change as your content grows and changes. The science is grouping, labeling, tagging information correctly or accurately.