Information architecture

Publication Date01 Jun 2004
AuthorMartin White
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
Information architecture
Martin White
The author
Martin White is Managing Director at Intranet Focus Ltd,
Horsham, UK.
Information, Design, Internet
Information architecture has gradually crept into prominence
over the last few years as one of the new buzz words in Web
design. This article examines the definition and history of
information architecture.
Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is
available at
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at
Information architecture (IA) has gradually crept
into prominence over the last few years as one of
the new buzz words in Web design. Yet even IA
practitioners would have difficulty in describing
just what they mean by “information
architecture”. Like “taxonomy” and “metadata” it
creeps into conversations and presentations with
the user hoping they do not get asked to define it!
Information architecture arguably started with
Argus Associates, a consulting company set up in
1994 by Joseph Janes and Louis Rosenfeld, who
were in the faculty of the School of Information
and Library Studies at the University of Michigan.
The company was involved in a range of Internet
and Web developments, and started to use the
architecture metaphor with clients to highlight the
importance of structure and organisation in Web
design. Web Review magazine started a column
entitled Web Architect, authored by Rosenfeld,
who was subsequently joined by Peter Morville,
also a graduate of the school and the first employee
of Argus Associates.
In 1996 Richard Saul Wurman published a
book entitled Information Architects, in which he
claimed to have invented the expression
“information architect” in 1975. This book took
an information design approach to information
architecture, whereas Rosenfeld and Morville
came at the issues from a library and information
science approach.
To many information professionals information
architecture dates from 1998 and the “polar bear
book”. By this time Argus Associates had built up a
considerable reputation for their information
architecture expertise, and Rosenfeld and Morville
were commissioned by O’Reilly Publishing to
write a book that subsequently became Information
Architecture for the World Wide Web, a second and
much larger edition of which was published in
2002. All the O’Reilly books have very distinctive
covers, and the series in which the book was
published used line drawings of animals. The
drawing on the Rosenfeld and Morville book was
of a polar bear!
In 2000 the American Society of Information
Science and Technologyorganised the first of what
has turned out to be a series of information
architecture summits, and this event further
catalysed the development and visibility of
information architecture. The dot-com debacle of
2001 saw Argus Associates fold, but by then
information architecture had moved into
mainstream Web design, and in 2002 a number of
books were published that shed new perspectives
on this emerging discipline.
So is there now an accepted definition of
“information architecture”?
The Electronic Library
Volume 22 · Number 3 · 2004 · pp.218-219
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited · ISSN 0264-0473
DOI 10.1108/02640470410541606

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