The Language of Information Architecture

Information Architecture has a language all its own. Understanding IA nomenclature can help you communicate with your intranet developer.

By Cathy Dew

Information Architecture provides the foundation of user experience (UX) design. So it stands to reason that understanding how and when to incorporate the principles of IA into your website, apps, intranet, and software development can make the difference between cyber-success and digital doom.

Many companies and nonprofits do not have a trained Information Architect on staff. Their best option, when embarking on an intranet design project, is to hire an outside designer to work with in designing, developing, and completing their intranet project.

Regardless of whether you create your intranet yourself or choose an expert to guide you through the process, it is critical that everyone involved is able to communicate --both internally and externally--about Information Architecture.

And to do that, you are going to need to become conversant in the language of IA.

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Information Architecture is deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.

Learning the IA lexicon.

To paraphrase philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, when you limit your language, you limit your world. So it stands to reason that if you really want to understand a new discipline without limitations, you are going to have to understand its language.

And like all disciplines, AI has its own lexicon.

While many of the words and phrases referenced in IA science also have common uses, their meaning can be altered when applied to IA. Other terms are unique to IA science.

Getting started with IA vocabulary.

Information Architecture, a term first coined by TED conferences creator Richard Saul Wurman, is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable. The Information Architecture Institute is, fortunately, gathering the terms and concepts that are critical to understanding the important role IA plays in design, and providing access to an IA lexicon list in its IA Resource Library.

Here’s a sampling to help get you started on a path to IA fluency:

  • Card Sorting: Research technique in which subject matter experts or users organize topics into categories that make sense to them.
  • Cognitive Science: Study of the mental processes involved in perception, learning, memory, and reasoning.
  • Controlled Vocabularies: Lists of words and phrases that are used to describe and organize (tag) content.
  • Faceted Classification: Classification system that organizes/describes a resource with a systematic combination of characteristics (facets) thereby creating more than one path of access.
  • Folksonomies: User-generated tags that are applied to a resource in order to describe and increase the findability of it.
  • Knowledge Management: Processes and technologies used for capturing, developing, sharing, and effectively using organizational knowledge.
  • Metadata: Structured information that describes, explains, locates, and facilitates retrieval of an information resource.
  • Ontologies: Collection of terms describing a subject and the relationships that exist between those terms.
  • Place-making: Establishing a sense of place through orientation legibility, and wayfinding.
  • Semantic Web: Development of standards to enable data to be linked from a source to any other source and to be machine-readable so computers can perform sophisticated tasks.
  • Taxonomies: Collection of terms describing a subject that have a hierarchical arrangement.
  • Thesauri: Collection of preferred terms describing a resource and the corresponding synonyms, antonyms, acronyms, and common misspellings of those terms.
  • Wireframes: Technique of creating visual guides that represent the skeletal framework of a website. 

2Plus2 speaks fluent IA

The UX design experts at 2Plus2 are experienced information architects, ready to help you navigate your way through your intranet, website, or other development project. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

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Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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