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Oct 08, 2002: Yet Another Definition of IA

Posted the other day on SIGIA-L by Andrew McNaughton:

Information Architecture (n): A conveniently vague term under which a variety of disciplines meet to address the problems of organising large amounts of information on the web.

Well put, Andrew. I know that his tongue was at least lodged partially in his cheek, but I like acknowledging that our field is vague. And that this vagueness is, in a way, convenient. And maybe even good.

Information architects don't tend to be comfortable with vagueness. We tend to be disambiguators, foes of informational anarchy. As the new kids on the block, we're generally a bit freaked out about where we fit on our design and development teams, or where to draw lines of responsibility on our projects.

Those insecurities make us forget that IA really is and has to be somewhat amorphous. The end result of our work may be clarity, but are there many pursuits more unclear and vague to the outside world than organizing information?

We can and should try to clarify what IA is, but there comes a point where you just need to let go and surf the waves of disciplinary ambiguity. We're certainly not the only vague field out there. Take law, for example. What's the product? What's the process? The methodology? It's pretty vague really, even a bit mysterious to most of us, but law has been around for a while, and we don't question its validity. Well, not usually.

OK, apologies for such a, er, vague Bloug posting. I just want to throw in my $.02 that being a vague profession really isn't anything for any of us to be embarrassed about.

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Comment: Derek R (Oct 8, 2002)


"We now enter into the FIELD where ALL must be managed in relation to each other."

The mystery being to transform information with paths (to make data-clusters), "to string a kite with," so that 'every season may find its reason' -- so that the occasion arises.

"Presentation, not reference."

Comment: Debora Seys (Oct 9, 2002)

Just started reading "The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization" by Elaine Svenonius. She writes in the introduction, "...so too the design of systems for organizing information rests on an intellectual foundation." I'd suggest that lawyers practice law based on the principles of law. Information Architects practice IA based on the principles of information organization. The application of law (public defender, patent attorney, judge) and the application of IA (wireframe designer, taxonomist, navigation specialist) may vary dramatically - but the unifying principles remain the same.

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