The Lost Information Architecture
Last year I was unable to complete the chapter I was meant to contribute to the collection Advances in Information Architecture: The Academics / Practitioners Roundtable 2014–2019 (published earlier this year). This was partly because I lacked the resources to divide my brain between the book chapter and finishing my dissertation. I think I was also unable to commit to saying anything of great importance in the chapter until I was clear and confident in what I’d done for my Masters research study. In which case, why write the chapter?
Regardless, there was some writing I’d done for the chapter which I could share, so I put it online as an essay called Thoughts on Information Architecture as it Relates to Design: The Lost IA (DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14131.04642). Three significant contributions from the essay (amongst other things said) include:
One, that a designerly IA, associated largely with web design in the late 1990s, was ‘lost’ in the wake of what came to be the dominant conceptualisation of IA (related to digital design) being the Library and Information Science (LIS) IA of Rosenfeld and Morville’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (aka Polar Bear IA; aka Classical IA).
Two, that although Classical IA enjoys the benefits of loosely being considered a form of Design, it is not. By way of an argument, I map Classical IA back to Information Science using the M3 Model recommended by Flavia Lacerda and Mamede Lima-Marques (also see). I chose to use the M3 Model because it has served as the conceptual framework for discussing IA, in disciplinary terms, throughout the history of the Academics / Practitioners Roundtable workshops and in Advances in Information Architecture.
And three, the ‘lost IA’ is mapped to a diagrammatic representation (see below) of a description of composition and architectonic in relation to design objects provided by Nelson & Stolterman in The Design Way (2012). I deviated from continuing use of the M3 Model because in the form given, it is unable to capture what praxis means in Design or Design’s particular intellectual culture (as described by Nigel Cross in Designerly Ways of Knowing, 2006, p. 2), being distinct to that found in the sciences (and humanities).
Visualisation of Nelson and Stolterman’s discussion of ‘compositional wholes’ (The Design Way. 2012, p160)
About the diagram: (Quoting from the essay)
“…[T]he area in pink is that area where the Lost IA operated. IA deliverables such as sitemaps, task flows and wireframes represented the conceptualisation of substance (i.), that is content and functionality, and intrinsic ordering system (ii.), being the structure”.
“Utility…[is] not mentioned in the quote by Nelson and Stolterman…but warrants inclusion…because structure doesn’t actually exist in IA during the process of designing, accept [eish!] conceptually. Otherwise, articulation of structure is always retrospective. Structure is an emergent quality, inseparable from those things which both define it, through the negative, and through which it speaks, such as interface, content or technology.
And yet, without its constant consideration through the design process as the single and only compositional force, anything of experiential value cannot manifest. There is literally no aspect of digital design, or UX, which does not touch or is not touched by the compositional structure [iii.]. If there is, then the design has not been compositionally resolved.”