Information Architecture and its purpose

Flavio Santana
5 min readNov 21, 2020

Information Architecture is a very important part of the UX Design process. If we go back to the past, we will see that the term was coined by Wurman in 1976 and is based on the organization of information within visual space. The study of this discipline also provides that information must be accessible and easy to find in computing environments such as web sites, software applications.

“Information Architecture is about making the complex clear. R.S Wurman”

R.S Wurman

The Timeline of Information Architecture

Following the history, historical milestones helped define what we know today as Information Architecture:

  • 1964: Publication of the article “Architecture of the IBM System/360” where “architecture” is cited as: “the conceptual structure and functional behavior, differentiating itself from organization and data flows and controls, logical design and physical implementation”;
  • 1970: The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) research labs bring together a group of scientists who develop technologies to support an “information architecture” applicable to the company’s products;
  • 1976: Richard Saul Wurman, coined the term “information architecture” when he delivered his lecture at the Conference of the American Institute of Architects, whose theme was “The Architecture of Information”;
  • 1998: Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld publish the book “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, also known as the book of the “polar bear”;
  • 2006: “Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing” by Adam Greenfield is published, which inserts the concept of ubiquitous or pervasive computing within the discipline of Information Architecture.
Source: Laasyapriya Malladi

The three generations of Information Architecture

Information Design

1st generation — 1970 and 1980
It focused on systems such as applications that did not run on the Web within individual organizations.

Main points:
- Clarification of the need for an architectural approach;
- Analogies with building architecture;
- Simple 2D diagrams or frameworks providing an initial view of the architecture;

Design and Analysis of Information Systems

2nd generation — 1990
It focused on Web systems as integrated sets of components within individual organizations.

Main points:
- Extensions and adaptations of diagrams of 1st generation architectures;
- Set of frameworks with industrial reference models;


3rd generation — After 1990 and 2000
Information as a corporate resource with IT and technical support tools.

Main points:
- Explicit definition of principles and basic theory;
- Development of multidimensional architectures;
- Customization of information frameworks for the needs of individual organizations;
- Standards and generic information maps.
The ecology of Information

The Ecology of Information

Source: WebVine

As the image shows, the context, content, and user build Information Ecology.

are the users of the information. Who they are, what their standard information search behavior is, and what their needs are;

Assignments of an Information Architect
- Searches with users;
- Definition of user needs;
- Personas;
- Ethnography;
- Task analysis;
- Usability tests;
- Documentation;

comprises the policies, culture, business objectives, mission, strategy, processes and budget of an organization;

Duties of an Information Architect
- Definition of business requirements;
- Definition of the project scope;
- Project management;
- Business analysis;
- Definition of ROI;
- Management of customer expectations;
- Definition of basic restrictions;

includes the documents, images, media, graphics, spreadsheets and metadata that users routinely use or need to find;

Assignments of an Information Architect
- Indexing and cataloging;
- Analysis of XML formats, and metadata;
- Development of thesaurus;
- Mapping of sites;
- Content management;
- Analysis of tasks;
- Usability testing;
- Navigation and labeling;

Information Architecture as a Factor of UX

Still, in this perspective, findability precedes usability, that is, the data and, information in which the user searches have to be easy to access before being used in his need.

The IA professional must have enough knowledge to understand in which scenario he is inserted and what the company, organization, or service needs is solving the problem that was proposed to him.

Information Architecture has the objective of positively influencing the user’s experience so that he/she searches and finds the necessary information to perform his/her task or learn something new.

Source: Human Thinking

The IA system can be classified according to Reichnauer and Komischke and Rosenfeld and Morville in:

  • Organizational systems: based on this line of reasoning, people tend to organize information to have control of their own world. And with that, the way information is organized is better understood by other people. It also involves the classification of words and concepts in a heterogeneous and ambiguous way.
  • Labeling systems: the way information is represented in computational and physical environments so that the cognitive need and space where the information will be shown is the least possible. It is also how the information is grouped so that they are organized and build navigation systems facilitating the recognition of information.
  • Navigation systems: as the name itself says is the ability to give a sense of direction in the environment in which the user is inserted. The navigation system is extremely important for the user to identify where he is and where he can go.
  • Search system: it aims to provide tools and means for the user to find information in a clear and objective way. Nevertheless, the navigation system does not solve all the problems alone, because the environment must provide relevant content and resource to the user.
  • Taxonomy: is defined as the categorization of hierarchical relationships as well as equivalents that are useful not only for search systems but also for effective navigation hierarchies.

To conclude

The discipline of Information Architecture is very rich in theory and practice. It is up to the architect of information through study and good practices:

  1. Determine the needs of the client;
    2. Elaborate on the project for the development of solutions;
    3. Develop wireframes and/or prototypes;
    4. Apply usability tests
    5. Implement the solution;



Flavio Santana

Product Designer at @volkswagen and co-creator of @coletivoux