Before the widespread adoption of computers, individuals were limited to some degree by the physical space needed to store paper-based information. With digital information, this is not the case, and the volumes of information to which users have access can be enormous. Furthermore, people have many different options when it comes to the ways in which they access information, ranging from closed private systems to open Web-based systems to wireless networks. As diverse as these many different systems are the interfaces individuals use to select and retrieve data.
Information architecture (IA) is an emerging field in an increasingly information-based age. At the core of IA is the concept of creating information systems (including applications, databases, and complex Web sites) based on the unique needs of those who use them. Therefore, effective information architecture involves professionals—who may or may not officially carry the title of information architect—focusing on the needs of customers or users first, and then on the information used to create an application or system. This allows for the development of systems that are logical and useful.
Although IA pertains to Web sites used during e-commerce, it also applies to other valuable systems including intranets (private areas of the Internet), digital libraries, and knowledge management systems. Because of its broad scope, information architects often bring varying degrees of different skills to the table, and no one job title (like Web designer) adequately covers all of the responsibilities these elements require. According to Louis Rosenfeld, who at one time operated a leading IA consulting firm, the field of IA draws on the skills and abilities of a wide variety of different fields including design, anthropology, computer science, library science, information retrieval, human-computer interface engineering, interface and interaction design, markup and data modeling, and technical communications. In addition to skills in one or more of these areas, common sense, logical thinking, and good communication skills are critical for information architects.
One example of the issues information architects face is exemplified in a report issued by Forrester Research called The End of Commerce Servers. The report predicted the demise of the servers (computers used to host Web sites) being used for e-commerce in the late 1990s. It described "scenario servers," capable of delivering more interactive and personalized experiences than existing technology was delivering at that time. The new kind of server also would integrate more fully with companies' back-end systems (such as accounting, shipping, and customer service) to deliver more seamless experiences. Information architects could play key roles in making such technology a reality.
Dillon, Andrew. "Practice Makes Perfect: IA at the End of the Beginning?" Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, April/May 2001.
Peek, Robin. "Defining Information Architecture." Information Today, June 2000.
Wiggins, Richard W. "Argus Associates, Inc. Closes Shop." Information Today, May 2001.
SEE ALSO: Auction Sites; Business-to-Business (B2B) E-commerce; Electronic Data Interchange (EDI); XML (Extensible Markup Language)