Tag Archives: information architecture

Information Architecture


Andrew Dillon and Don Turnbull


information architecture, web design, world-wide web, interaction design, user experience, information design

Cite As

Andrew Dillon & Don Turnbull (2006). Information Architecture. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, 2006 Edition. Taylor & Francis.


Information architecture has become one of the latest areas of excitement within the library and information science (LIS) community, largely resulting from the recognition it garners from those outside of the field for the methods and practices of information design and management long seen as core to information science.

The term, information architecture (IA), was coined by Richard Wurman in 1975 to describe the need to transform data into meaningful information for people to use, a not entirely original idea, but cer- tainly a first-time conjunction of the terms into the now common IA label. Building on concepts in archi- tecture, information design, typography, and graphic design, Wurman’s vision of a new field lay dormant for the most part until the emergence of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, when interest in information organization and structures became widespread. The term came into vogue among the broad web design community as a result of the need to find a way of communicating shared interests in the underlying organization of digitally accessed information.


Research Issues in IA

Pure research in IA is rare, the field borrowing more from outside as needed than tackling research ques- tions directly. However, as the process of IA has become structured and recognized, dedicated research for IA is beginning to take form, driven largely by practitioners seeking answers to design questions.
The major theme in IA research is the study of navigation and how people find what they are looking for in an information space. From concerns with labeling and menu structures to the development of models of navigation behavior there are now significant research publications dealing with topics of direct relevance to IA.[10,11] True, most of this work is still borrowed from outside, but this is subject to change as more academic researchers become involved in the field.

There is also significant work that extends examina- tions of navigation into areas such as the perception of information shape or the emergence of web genres and their exploitation for design.[7,12] This research aims to uncover the interaction between various structural forms of information space and the user, employing a socio-cognitive based analytical approach to explain- ing and predicting use.

Another central theme for IA research is search behavior and the underlying design of efficient search mechanisms. Again, this research not only draws on the history of such work for information retrieval but also contains new contributions dealing with faceted metadata and image databases.[13–15]

Indeed, it is difficult to bound work exclusively as the province of IA because concerns with organization of information and user search and navigation of information spaces have such a long history. It is likely that for the foreseeable future, IA will remain a net borrower of intellectual research from other disciplines until such time as dedicated venues for IA research publications emerge. That said, the need to understand how best to design and implement IAs will remain an important driver of research work.

References in this publication

  1. Rosenfield, L.; Peter, M. Information Architec- ture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large- Scale Web Sites; O’Reilly & Associates, Inc.: Sebastopol, CA, 2002.
  2. Wurman, R.S., Bradford, P., Eds.; Information Architects; Graphis Press: Zurich, Switzerland, 1996.
  3. Dillon, A. Information architecture in JASIST? J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Technol. 2002, 53 (10), 821– 823.
  4. Weibel, S.L. The Dublin Core: a simple content description model for electronic resources. Bull. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Technol. 1997, 24 (1).
  5. Beckett, D.; McBride, B., Eds.; RDF=XML Syntax Specification (Revised): W3C Recommendation 10 February 2004. World Wide Web Consortium, Cambridge, MA., http://www.w3. org/TR=2004/REC-rdf-syntax-grammar-20040210/ (accessed Mar 29 2005).
  6. Instone, K. Fun with faceted browsing. American Society of Information Science and Technology Information Architecture Summit, Austin, TX, Feb 28, 2004.
  7. Dillon, A. Spatial semantics: how users derive shape from information spaces. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 2000, 51 (6), 521–528.
  8. Nielsen, J. Designing Web Usability; New Riders: Indianapolis, 2000.
  9. Helander, M.; Landauer, T.; Prabhu, P.V. Hand- book of Human Computer Interaction; North- Holland: Amsterdam, 1997.
  10. Jacko, J.A.; Slavendy, G. Hierarchical menu design: breadth, depth and task complexity. Percept. Motor Skills 1996, 82, 1187–1201.
  11. Pirolli, P.L.; Fu, W. SNIF-ACT: a model of infor- mation foraging on the World Wide Web. 9th International Conference on User Modeling, Johnstown, PA, Jun 22–26, 2003.
  12. Kwasnik, B.; Crowston, K. A framework for creating a faceted classification for genres. Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science (HICSS 04), Los Alamitos, CA, Jan 2004.
  13. Bates, M.J. The design of browsing and berry- picking techniques for the on-line search interface. Online Rev. 1989, 13, 407–424.
  14. Yee, K.; Swearingen, K.; Li, K.; Hearst, M. Faceted metadata for image search and browsing. Proceedings of CHI’03, Annual Conference of the ACM SIGCHI, New York, Apr 2003; ACM Press: New York, 401–408.
  15. Wildemuth, B.; Marchionini, G.; Yang, M.; Geisler, G.; Wilkens, T.; Hughes, A.; Gruss, R. How fast is too fast? Evaluating fast forward surrogates for digital video. ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, Los Alamitos, CA, Jun 2003; 221–230. I
  16. Berners-Lee, T. The World-Wide Web. Commun. ACM 1994, 37 (8), 76–82.
  17. Lyman, P.; Kahle, B. Archiving digital cultural artifacts: organizing an agenda for action. D- Lib Mag. 1998, 4 (7); http://www.dlib.org=dlib/july98/07lyman.html (Apr 5, 2005).
  18. Berners-Lee, T.; Hendler, J.; Lassila, O. The Semantic Web. Sci. Am. 2001, 284 (5), 34–43.

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Quantitative Information Architecture recommended reading

Here is a brief list of recommended books from my Quantitative Information Architecturetalk at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit that review many aspects of quantitative thinking (both good and bad) that relate to using mathematical methods to as a toolkit for information architecture issues.

Quantitative Information Architecture Books

Many of these books are non-fiction favorites. I’ve used them in courses I’ve taught, relied on them for research ideas and used them to convey how quantitative innovation is pursued.

  1. The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society by James Beniger. Nearly encyclopedic in its coverage of the Industrial Revolution’s impact on creating the Information Age, where economic forces accelerated collecting, storing and capitalizing on data. Particularly interesting (truly!) are insights about the railroad industry and information technology (e.g the telegraph).
  2. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein. Just thinking about this book makes me want to read it again. It’s a swashbuckler of a story of the history of people using mathematics to tame the world. (Well, at least to me.) Bernstein’s style is surprisingly readable with narratives that keep you engaged.
  3. Excel Scientific and Engineering Cookbook by David M Bourg. A great (but aging) overview of doing statistics in spreadsheets, including regression and time series analysis. Not for beginners, but a good reference and reminder of the power of Excel for almost all manner of analysis. (The only downside to Excel is its limit for working with very large datasets.)
  4. The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century by David Salsburg. Another fun read, a glance through the history of some of the more famous statisticians (my favorite being Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov and a partial history of Soviet science).
  5. Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart by Ian Ayres. The most readable (and current), with some basic introductory ideas presented in the context of how organizations such as Netflix, Southwest Airlines – and of course Google use numbers and industries including baseball and wine-making are impacted by quantitative work.
  6. The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900 by Theodore M. Porter. This book is mostly thematic, covering the rise of statistics and their influence in the social sciences. A bit dry (and poorly typeset) but a foundational study. (Feel free to rely on the Index to jump around to people or topics you might be more interested in.)
  7. When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700-1850 by Daniel R. Headrick. This book was a quick read, suggesting a number of common themes such as the rise of the Age of Reason and the parallel development of scientific instrumentation. As empirical sciences progressed, a resulting increase in collected data brought forth the origins, expansion and professionalization of many kinds of information systems including graphs, maps, encyclopedias, the post office and insights of key scientists of the age (e.g. Carl Linnaeus). Not as grand in scope as other recommended books, but focuses more clearly on types of information that are often the focus of IA efforts.
  8. Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell. A somewhat stilted (written in the 1930’s) biographical walk-through of many storied mathematicians (i.e the people’s names you hated to hear in 10th grade Geometry), that reveals the history of quantitative analysis and the intellectual vigor (did I just say that?) of those like Gauss or Lagrange. Even if the math itself is not your normal interest, this book is an index of obsession, diligence and ingenuity.
  9. The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty before 1900 by Stephen M. Stigler (not shown). I have not finished this book, and there is a lot in it that I do not have much interest in, and have put it down several times (it is a bit dry). However, the integration of how different statistical measures were built progressively is interesting. Also, one of the better sets of discussion about Karl Pearson.

Quantitative Information Architecture Books

    Two books illustrate the downfall of quantitative hubris (among other things) and both are fun to read.

  1. When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein. This book narrates the catastrophic failure of Long-Term Capital Management, the fabled sure-bet genius-powered hedge fund that boasted two Nobel laureates among its partners and how they nearly crashed the entire world financial system with this overconfidence in 1998.
  2. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves by Andrew Ross Sorkin. A detailed (600 page plus) report of the nearly minute to minute recent financial crisis and an indictment of over-reliance on trusting abstract mathematics without (any?) explanation or validation. Worth remembering when confronted with abundant or seemingly infallible data-driven results that we should not be intimidated and remember to ask Why? and How?.

Metropolitan Information Architecture at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit

My other presentation at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit in Phoenix this week is with the formidable John Tolva at IBM and is focused on city-scale information architectures, the data we swim through in urban settings and how designers can and should lead in shaping this information’s collection, use and display in the system that is a city.

Metropolitan Information Architecture – Don Turnbull and John Tolva

2:00 – 2:45PM on Sunday, April 11 in the Phoenix Room

If the future of the world is cities, how can we design user experiences at
city-sized scales? With digital interaction, are we all living in facets of the
same virtual city or does location still constrain us?

This panel will review and discuss recent research and some upcoming designs
that are only beginning to unveil how our interactions with both digital and
physical environments are changing including:

  • How does the actual architecture of information & design synchronize
    with urban architecture?
  • What city constraints including urban decay, congestion & energy
    consumption affect design and how can design improve them?
  • How does mobile communication and web culture impact the streetscape?
  • What can designers leverage from virtual worlds, augmented reality, MMO
    games and urban design?
  • Who are the people and cities that have embraced data/networks as
    matters of physical design (rather than value-add services to residents)?
  • Is geography fate? What does location mean for UX?
  • When does social media start to change digital & physical social spaces
    of the urban network?
  • What will metropolitan experiences be like in 10 years? 20?

The twitter hashtag for this talk is #metroia. Feel free to send me questions directly via twitter/donturn too.

Originally, I wanted to call this talk Cosmopolitan Information Architecture, inspired by Wynton Marsalis’ definition of cosmopolitan as meaning “you fit in wherever you go”, which should be a goal for anyone shaping experiences for living in a community.

Quantitative Information Architecture at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit

I am presenting on two different topics at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit in Phoenix this week.

The first talk is a set of ideas related to the work I’ve been doing recently, building data structures, crafting algorithms and designing user experiences that are powered by quantitative data.

Quantitative Information Architecture – Don Turnbull, Ph.D.

10:30 – 11:15AM on Saturday, April 10 in Ellis

Why quantitative information architecture? Why now?

You don’t have to be RainMan or Stephen Hawking to use numbers to get things
done. Quantitative methods are applicable for IA thinking be it for hypothesis
generation, instrumentation, data collection and analysis of information at
scales never before possible with insights that are comparable over time,
generalizable and extensible.

Quantitative skills can allow IAs to interpret and analyze others’ designs and
research more readily, as well as combine methods and models for meta-analysis
to help IAs move from description to prediction in designing and developing
future interfaces and architectures.

This presentation will review why you should use quantitative methods and
discuss both foundational and emerging ideas that are applicable for content
analysis, behavioral modeling, social media usage, informetrics and other
IA-related issues.

The twitter hashtag for this talk is #quantia. Feel free to send me questions directly via twitter/donturn too.

Quantiative Information Architecture slide deck from the 2010 IA Summit

Get ready for the 2008 Information Architecture Summit

On another IA note (can you tell I’m working through my inbox?) it’s time again to start thinking about the 2008 Information Architecture Summit in Miami, Florida on April 10-14 2008.

The Information Architecture Summit is the premier gathering place for those interested in information architecture. The 2007 IA Summit attracted over 570 attendees, including beginners, experienced IAs, and people from a range of related fields.

The 2008 theme of “Experiencing Information” shifts the focus back to users. A user experience exists only to allow people to “do things” (in the broadest sense … buying books, sharing photos with friends, looking something up on wikipedia, etc).

Call for Proposals

The summit is a great opportunity to share your experience and thoughts on a topic you feel passionate about – and for the first time – presenters will receive complimentary registration! (to keep costs manageable one complimentary registration will be given to each regular session slot and panel moderator/organizer).

Proposals for the following are due October 31, 2007:

  • Presentations
  • Panels
  • Posters
  • Management Track
  • Pre-conference workshops

Submissions of peer-reviewed Research Papers are due November 30, 2007.

(Note that I’m a member of the IAI Advisory Board and will be a reviewer for Proposal and Research Papers. If you have any questions about the proposal process, the IA Summit or the Information Architecture Institute just ask.)

Information Architecture Institute Progress Grants

I’m pleased to announce (or remind) that the Information Architecture Institute is accepting applications for the Information Architecture 2007 Progress Grants

The Information Architecture Institute (IAI) will award two USD $1,000 Progress Grants for 2007. The purpose of the program is twofold:

  • to encourage researchers and practitioners to investigate IA-specific issues
  • to publicize useful work that furthers the information architecture body of knowledge

Applications should propose work that will forward the theory and practice of information architecture. This can include original research, a synthesis of important existing research, or the development of an innovative new technique.

The IAI Progress Grant Committee will review the proposals and select those with the highest potential to benefit the information architecture field. Half of the grant amount will be awarded when the grant recipients are announced and half when the work is completed. Progress grants will only be awarded to proposals of sufficient quality, clarity, and originality.

Work supported through this program will be published on the iainstitute.org website, but it should have relevance beyond the Tools and Library collections. For instance, the work could inform future IAI workshop curricula, tie in with potential Institute publishing projects, be responsive to issues raised by members in the email discussion list, or support other Institute activities, such as Local Groups and International initiatives.

The application deadline for applying is October 15, 2007

Applications should be 2,000 words or fewer and must contain:

  • Description of the problem or hypothesis
  • Methodology to be used
  • Explanation of how the resulting work will forward the theory or practice of IA
  • Conditions under which others can use the results (e.g. Creative Commons license)

(Note that I’m on the Awards Jury Committee for this grant.)

Learn more about the Information Architecture 2007 Progress Grants now.

IA Templates for Visio & OmniGraffle