The Scope of Information Architecture

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Robert N. Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.
www.lasotell.com.au

An Information Architect is a high-level designer who uses information as building material. Every time someone says “I could not find/use the information I wanted,” it points to an information design flaw. It is just the same as “No Step Here” is an engineering design flaw.

How Can You Avoid Information Design Flaws?

First, you can avoid information design flaws by recognising there are three types of information architecture:

  • Enterprise Information Architecture: identifies the information needs of business functions as part of enterprise-level IT planning (based on the US National Institute of Standards and Technology model)
  • Web Information Architecture: focuses on the Web site blueprint upon which all other aspects are built—form, function, metaphor, navigation and interface, interaction and visual design (from HotWired)
  • Everything-else Information Architecture: all the other information-based activities that need to be resolved in a cost-effective manner—meaning someone should specify the structure of the components and their relationships, together with the principles and guidelines governing their design and evolution over time before any money is spent on software/hardware (based on IEEE STD 610.12)

Second, you can avoid information design flaws by realising that Information Architecture is about what information you need and what needs to happen so you can use that information. Figure 1 shows the primary functional views of any enterprise—notice that there is not a direct connection between the

[6] Business View and the [5] Technology View. That is why the [2] Information View and information architecture across all the views are so important (especially in successful Business Intelligence activities).

Functional Views
(derived from the US DoD Technical Architecture Framework for Information Management, TAFIM)

Specific purpose information architectures start with questions such as: What are you trying to do? What do you have to deliver? What information do you really need? What will you do with it when it is available?

These questions apply to a wide variety of business activities, such as process and procedure re-engineering, introducing organisational change, developing products, producing reports, developing user documentation, and so on. And the questions point to the most fundamental aspect of all information—understanding and defining who is going to use it. If that step fails, everything else is a waste of time and money.

Specific Information Architecture Skills and Functions

Here is a list of some of the skills and functions that an Information Architect is expected to have, regardless of the type of information architecture:

  • project-based information architecture consulting
  • specifying the relevant aspects of client organisations, their goals, users, and content requirements
  • designing and specifying organisational, structural, functional, and business requirements for information projects (including for Web and multimedia access)
  • preparing, writing, and presenting architecture process documentation such as blueprints, storyboards, and flowcharts
  • detailed organisation of large volumes of information
  • project managing the production phase
  • working with designers to develop intuitive visual interfaces and user-friendly, interactive structures such as forms and shopping carts
  • conducting usability testing
  • after launching the information solution, working with Quality and Help Desk personnel to conduct root cause analysis of user-related problems and corrective actions

Information Architecture and Technical Writing

From this brief description of the scope of Information Architecture, clearly Information Architects and experienced Technical Writers can work side by side in a number of ways. In fact, Technical Writers can quite easily grow into the Web-type information architecture role. With the right blend of business and technical experience they may also be able to grow into the other types of information architecture.

 

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