in·for·ma·tion ar·chi·tec·ture n.
- The combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within an information system.
- The structural design of an information space to facilitate task completion and intuitive access to content.
- The art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information.
- An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
The Information Architect analyses the product’s intended purpose, objectives, audiences and content in order to devise an appropriate solution - this will typically include organising content within the product, specifying navigation and functionality, and designing the layout of user interfaces.
The Information Architect must consider the product’s likely content, and plan ways to structure it logically so that it is easy to find. This may involve devising metadata schemas for classifying content, specifying file-naming conventions, and deciding how navigational links and buttons should be labelled.
He or she is also responsible for devising intuitive user interfaces that will allow the product’s users to find the information they need, or carry out tasks, as quickly and easily as possible.
This may involve thinking about typical users, analysing the different ways they might use the product, and mapping likely journeys through its content. Depending on the type of product being developed, the Information Architect may also need to decide – in detail – how end-user features, such as web forms or login procedures, should operate.
This involves designing systems to ensure that the product always responds appropriately to user interaction, and may involve writing copy for error messages and other notices.
The Information Architect usually documents his or her design decisions in the form of site maps, wire-frame diagrams and written specifications.
These may serve both as a brief for the Designer and as a blueprint for technical development. The Information Architect will often also be closely involved in prototyping and usability testing.
Typical career routes
The job tends to be divided into various levels of seniority, based mostly on experience. As a general rule, junior Information Architects will usually be mostly concerned with content, typically developing site maps and classification systems. In more senior positions, the role is also concerned with interactivity and system functionality.
There are no typical career routes, but Information Architects generally come from a background in a discipline such as interaction or graphic design, library and information science, computer science, usability engineering, journalism, marketing or psychology.
At least two or three years’ prior experience in interactive media, typically in a Designer or Developer role, is usually required. Experienced Information Architects may progress into Producer roles or may move into broader product design work.
Essential knowledge and skills
Information Architects need to have extremely strong analytical, organisational, communication and documentation skills. They must also be able to think creatively and generate original ideas.
They need to be able to work with specialists from other disciplines, particularly Designers and Developers, and should be able to communicate complex processes clearly. A solid understanding of the principles of interaction design and of users and usability is essential.
They must understand the inter-relations between content, technology and design, and have a pragmatic outlook in balancing technical constraints with the product’s purpose and the expectations of its intended users.It is often a client-facing role, so good presentation and communication skills, and a certain amount of diplomacy, are required.
Key Skills include:
- good problem solving skills;
- knowledge of diagramming;
- good knowledge of technical authoring;
- good verbal, written and interpersonal communication skills;
- good presentations skills;
- attention to detail;
- ability to manage time, prioritise tasks and work under pressure;
- knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures. Training and qualifications
Most Information Architects will have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, often in a traditional arts or humanities subject.
However, because the interactive media industry is so young, and information architecture is a relatively new field, many have picked up the necessary skills through experience.
This tends to be valued more highly than specific qualifications, and being able to provide examples of previous interactive media work is essential.
Because the role requires combinations of creative and technical thinking, studying for a dual- or multi-subject degree – especially one that combines arts, humanities and science faculties – can be highly worthwhile. Specialist degree courses in information architecture are also becoming available.