More on the death… well transformation… of Information Architecture.
Porter, Joshue. “More Thoughts on the Impending Death of Information Architecture « Bokardo – Social Design by Joshua Porter.” Bokardo – Social Design by Joshua Porter. 1 Mar. 2007. Web. 19 Oct. 2010. <http://bokardo.com/archives/infoprefixation/>.
“Information Architecture at its most basic the wrong frame with which to approach design”
John Seely Brown and Paul Digaud have defined “infoprefixation” or being overfixated on information rather than focusing on people who use it to enrich their lives.
Everything is defined as if it has a relationship to information. University are Information Providers; libraries are Information Warehouses; books are Information Containers; etc.
Merely placing information in relationship to another ‘thing’ forces a certain abstraction on that thing. Information Architecture, as a main contender here, takes the once certain, solid, permenant aspects of Architecture and makes it incredibly conceptual simply by adding the modifier Information.
What’s worse is that IA has come to mean so much that it now is somewhat synonomous with Design itself. Porter writes, IA has recently been defined as, “The art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability…” and adds, “Sound familiar” afterward as if to distinctly point out that that definition was once 100% design and now is be pointed at IA.
infoprefixation is just that… prefixing a word to include info at the beginning. Porter critiques this because it “recasts human problems in terms of information.” The danger here is that the system, or system administrators begin to loose sight of why people were in search of that information to begin with. Emotion is left out and categorization and organization begin to reigh supreme. We are fixating on fitting a square peg in a round hole.
Porter goes on to say that loosing site of the users end goal defects entirely from the original value proposition of Design. Design is all about empowering users to succeed at tasks we set out for them, yet we have built IA up to the point where the definition is so vast that people believe it and design are the same as well as becoming overly fixated on generalizing the categories so that no user can hope to succeed.
The move from info-centric to activity-centric way of veiwing things.
Is Ontology Bad? A further case for the death of Information Architecture.
Shirky, Clay. “Shirky: Ontology Is Overrated — Categories, Links, and Tags.” Clay Shirky’s Internet Writings. Web. 19 Oct. 2010. <http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html>.
Shirky proposes that a lot of what we know of categorization is wrong. He discuss the idea that our methods of categorization, when applied electronically, are wrong and often now extensions of tested methods of organization rather in complete opposition to them. Shirky points our digital incorrectness to be due to the onset of links versus tags. Links can point to anywhere and tags help label those links. But the question arises: what does this have to do with the incorrectness of our categorization of the web? In the 1990’s the development of the web was directly related to the hierarchical system that supported it, i.e. files and structures. Similarly taken into account, library systems were marginally utilized as recommendations for organizing information on the web. Companies like Yahoo began categorizing by generalized titles. Unfortunately what was quickly learned is that with the insurmountably large data set that the web quickly became, there was less of a need to categorize and more of a need to search through mountains of information. Hence the development and success of search engines such as Google. The article goes on to discuss at length the structure of the periodic table of elements and several well know library systems. He defines ontology from several points of view and uses its inherent study of relationships and explicit specifications for conceptualizations as the basis for the incorrectness of these systems. Ultimate Shirky’s point is that the pre-organization of information into categories assumes that ontologists are mind-readers or that they can assume they know and understand what people will want to look for and how they will want it to be labeled.
Is Information Architecture Dead?
Porter, Joshua. “Thoughts on the Impending Death of Information Architecture « Bokardo – Social Design by Joshua Porter.” Bokardo – Social Design by Joshua Porter. 21 Nov. 206. Web. 19 Oct. 2010. <http://bokardo.com/archives/thoughts-on-the-impending-death-of-information-architecture/>.
This article discusses the overarching themes concerning the death of Information Architecture. Author Joshua Porter hits the nail on the head immediate at the beginning when he discusses that IA models information and not relationships. Porter goes on to say that with the onset of Google’s Page Rank Algorithm, the establishment of directories online were mostly, if not complete, nullified. Google had discovered that people’s own actions produced meaning more than directorial hierarchies (even flexible hierarchies). The author admits that IA may not be all bad, however, it implies, simple by its inherent organization and generalization, that information is static and change is unnecessary.
Committee Meeting & Discussion
I met with my thesis committee this morning and explained my new directional interests. Since I have no formal interest in Information Architecture it was impossible to explain my new direction but I could at least narrow the subject matter down well enough for explanation.
So what did I explain? Frankly, that I’m interested in Information Architecture. That, while working with a group of colleague students this summer, I visualized the process that the Nationwide usability team incorporates in every project. Through this experience, I determined that I was extremely interested in the area of Information Architecture.
However, as a designer, from the onset I could critique Nationwide’s IA as being rather technical. By that I mean, they used methods and materials which came from a non-design background and instead, used methods that developed from psychology and, possibly more specifically, cognitive engineering. While I have no proof of this, I am basing this on the preliminary research and literature review I’ve been doing for the last several months. I’d also like to point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing, rather an observation which surprised me since many of the IA’s at Nationwide had stepped into those positions from a design based backgrounds.
That being said, I was and am interested in Information Architecture but in reality it is the definition of that name that has provided some roadblocks. Information is what the area is all about, so it’s difficult to argue it’s validity. However, Architecture is some what of a misnomer. Architecture is about structure, but more importantly, about creating lasting structure. IA organizes structures of information but with little regard for time. The field developed for webdesign, and to organize large datasets where users are navigating at will through hyperlinked pages that are both non-consequetive and non-related. Thus architecture lacks much of the flexibility that the discipline requires.
From my committee meeting today, and after asking several questions about my new direction, we began on a course of conversation aimed at understanding the metaphor of the name, Information Architecture. If Information is acurate and Architecture is inacurate is there a better metaphorical word that works?
Why is this important, one may ask. Information Architecture as a discipline is concerned with the hierarchical, taxonomical, the structure of information. From that we can determine that the arrangement of information matters. It’s important. I translate that to the visual design of that information. So, is there a better metaphor that explains the field. Is it Information Theater? Information Directing? Information Management? Information Service Design? Information Story-telling? It could be anything.
I like to ‘do’ though. Sometimes reading just isn’t enough. As a next step it was determined I should establish and argue several of these metaphors. Compare Information Architecture and Information Theater. Map them on a graph perhaps that shows a spectrum of the technical end of the field versus the more graphical end.
That’s where I’ll start.
Definitions of Information Architecture
With a new direction in mind, the first question that comes to mind is: Why Information Architecture? To answer, in basic, because I do not know enough to answer thoroughly or complexly, because Information Architects are organizers. Let me extend that more formally and discuss definitions of Information Architecture.
In a recent Bulletin article, it was mentioned that the IA Institute (http://iainstitute.org/) defines information architecure as being the structural design of shared information environments. The also define it to be the art and science of labeling websites, intranets, online communities, and software to support usability and findability. Yet further, the IA Institute says info architecture is the emerging field of practice focusing on bringing design and architecture to a digital environment. (Haller, 2010)
Further in this same article, Thom Haller cites Dan Brown (no… not the guy who knows tons about Da Vinci, Catholics, and the Masons) as defining IA as “the practice of designing structures (2010)”. Later Haller ends his definition discussion with the simplest one: “[IA is] making yourself understandable”.
How varied are those definitions? I’d say considerably. One organization is cited with three unique definitions: the first broad, the second specific, and the third someone quaintly in the middle. And maybe Dan Brown should consider going in the same direction as his Da Vinci colleague because his definition is less clear that all of those from the IA, and, in fact, uses two general terms (‘design’ and ‘architecture’) to attempt at specifically explaining an emerging field.
Disappointing as well, is the lack of mention of the visual that is inherent in IA. I do feel that IA is about organization and about organizing information. Just as Authors give us structure by the confines of the book: covers, tables of contents, chapters, paragraphs, page numbers, etc. — information architects are charged with organizing information and images at once. They must consider the authors intentions and the artists intentions and meld them together in a way that helps viewers learn meaning quickly and often in a digital space.
Seeing that IA is vast and so current that it doesn’t have an acurate definition leads me to believe that additional information should be researched in order to form a good definition, but that a good definition is a great place to start.
Haller, Thom. Bulletin of the American Society of Information Science and Technology. Volume 36: Number 6. August/September 2010.
This past Summer Quarter (2010), was involved in an course experience that allowed me to evaluate and visualize the process of the Usability Team at Nationwide. The experience confirmed that my research interests are heavily related to technology, digital design, usability, and, particularly, information architecture (IA).
Why information architecture? From this experience, I learned that their primary role on project development teams is, in a sense, the project manager of design or the person who’s role it is to oversee the design team. While that’s extremely generalized, it really hit him that I’d like to align my skill-set with that position.
As of this Autumn Quarter (2010), I am beginning to research and redefine my thesis direction to focus more in the area of IA, digital design process concerning IA. I will as rapidly as possible add notes here.