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Information Architecture Schools of Thought – Beta

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February 3, 2013

The DSIA Research Initiative is making part of it’s IA Schools of Thought research available as a free beta release. Despite its “beta” status, this release offers extensive information and insight into the evolution of Web-based IA framing that has become relevant within the past 15 years. Created by Nathaniel Davis, curator of the DSIA Portal of Information Architecture, this beta release does not include commentary, so you’ll have to come to your own conclusions for now. However, methodology and a few highlights are shared in this post.

Criteria

The criteria was simple. The research captured unique Web IA practice definitions and related concepts that have given shape to the industry. Works are cited because they have persisted and are actively endorsed, practiced or developed as an area of research and theoretical inquiry.

One or two blog posts don’t cut it. To make the list, contributors must demonstrate a commitment to their ideas, publish and continue to advance and provoke inquiry in the practice of information architecture in a formal context. There is a section on the poster that helps to show a contributor’s string of related works by graphically plotting corresponding publication dates.

Who Made the List?

As you might expect, the timeline for the research begins in 1998 with the first book dedicated to information architecture practice, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, written by Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. Rosenfeld and Morville, who remain active in the field, leave a respectable footprint across the IA framing landscape. However, their work is matched by a motivated group of contributing framers and honorable mentions.

Contributing Framers

  • Andrea Resmini
  • Andrew Hinton
  • Dan Klyn
  • Jorge Arango
  • Loca Rosati
  • Louis Rosenfeld
  • Nathaniel Davis
  • Peter Morville

Honorable Mentions

  • Andrew Dillon
  • Abby Covert
  • Argus Center of Information Architecture
  • Christina Wodtke
  • Don Turnbull
  • Earl Morrogh
  • Jesse James Garrett
  • Kate Hagedorn
  • Keith Instone
  • Jess McMullin
  • Marsha Haverty
  • Steve Toub
  • Wei Ding
  • Xia Lin

Contributing framers fully meet the criteria of original IA framing and support of said framing. Honorable mentions are individuals who have produced a significant work that relates to the particular framing of a contributing framer.

Coming to Conclusions

The commentary portion of this research is still in progress. However, if there is a single thread to what has been learned, it’s that the practice of information architecture may never possess a singular definition. Why? Because we are left to practice it however we choose? But, that doesn’t mean we must accept anarchy.

We can actually understand the range of approaches of information architecture practice by way of popular definitions. That’s what this research explores and, in doing so, further supports a running hypothesis of two schools of thought. A fascinating discovery of this research is that schools of thought have branches and sub-branches

What’s Next? Beyond the Beta.

As a beta this poster is open for refinement. Your constructive comments are welcome.

The beta version will always remain free to the public. The official release, on the other hand, will include extensive commentary and have the complete set of references for readers who wish to explore this subject in greater detail. The official version will be available at a nominal fee (under 5 bucks).

In the end, this research and its analysis are meant to be a light and informative educational resource for newcomers and seasoned practitioners who wish to possess a greater understanding of information architecture as a diverse and evolving field of practice.

Download and explore the IA Schools of Thought poster today and let us know what you think?

Return to DSIA Portal of Information Architecture

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s hard to take seriously a history of Information Architecture that begins in 1998. Much happened before then, most notably Richard Saul Wurman’s work. There was also Peter and Lou’s “Web Architect” column that I believe began in 1996.

    April 15, 2013
    • Thanks Peter.

      The language in this release and on the poster does appear to suggest a broader account of information architecture history. That was not the intent. This will be corrected.

      This research is NOT one of information architecture history. It is more narrowly focused on the framing of Web information architecture practice definitions and concepts that have persisted through the ongoing support by their authors or practitioner adoption. The Criteria section above expresses this intent.

      The timeline begins with the Polar Book because I found no single article in the Web Architect series that provided framing that would meet the criteria more convincingly than Peter and Lou’s first book. If you feel there is a published article that sets better precedents for Peter and Lou’s work, I would be glad to include it. I will also double check my research to make sure I didn’t miss something (which is quite possible).

      As for Richard Wurman (RSW), while he can be credited for popularizing the term and practicing in print and abstracting it as a model for promoting understanding, there is no record of any direct contribution, by Wurman, to information architecture as a Web-based practice that would be actionable. Any definitions he provided were broadly applied and were never expounded upon since his book, “Information Architects.” It’s quite possible to recognize that book as a related publishing (thus as an honorable mention) that was more provocative than it was formative to what we are trying to do today.

      Again, thank you. Your feedback was valuable.

      Nate

      April 15, 2013
  2. @keithinstone states on Twitter, “If school of thought is ‘The point of view held by a particular group’ then Peter/Lou/Argus school started before 1998.”

    For the purpose of this research, a school of thought needs to produce a manifesto or make some claim (like an IA practice definition) that is followed up with additional research, concepts, practice and publishing. Works by the Argus Center for Information Architecture (ACIA) seem to follow up to the polar bear book–not the other way around. I’ll be adding several papers and articles to the list of “Related Publications” that appear in the plotted diagram section. So, for now, Argus will have a footprint, but only through several related publications.

    Argus produced enough works to warrant consideration as a branch (defined on the bottom section of the poster), but they were never around long enough to coherently synthesize their work as a whole. In addition, no one is actively building on or contributing to any ACIA research.

    It is recognized that Argus started its business before 1998. However, for now, everything before 1998 is being viewed as an incubation period. If anyone can find any works by the Argus group, Morville and Rosenfeld that made claims about the practice of information architecture prior to 1998, please share.

    Thanks,
    Nate

    April 16, 2013
  3. Is there a reason why the poster can’t be printed?

    September 5, 2013
    • Jim, the rights granted for this beta are limited to viewing only. I hope to release a printable version soon.

      Nate

      November 25, 2013

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