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Reframing Information Architecture


Information architecture has changed dramatically since the mid-1990s and earlier conceptions of the world and the internet being different and separate have given way to a much more complex scenario in the present day. In the post-digital world that we now inhabit the digital and the physical blend easily, and our activities and usage of information takes place through multiple contexts and via multiple devices and unstable, emergent choreographies. Information architecture now is steadily growing into a channel- or medium-aspecific multi-disciplinary framework, with contributions coming from architecture, urban planning, design and systems thinking, cognitive science, new media, anthropology. All these have been heavily reshaping the practice: conversations about labelling, websites, and hierarchies are replaced by conversations about sense-making, place-making, design, architecture, cross media, complexity, embodied cognition, and their application to the architecture of information spaces as places we live in in an increasingly large part of our lives. Via narratives, frameworks, references, approaches and case-studies this book explores these changes and offers a way to reconceptualize the shifting role and nature of information architecture where information permeates digital and physical space, users are producers, and products are increasingly becoming complex cross-channel or multi-channel services.
Andrea Resmini (Ed.)
Reframing Information Architecture
Information architecture has changed.
When the practice went mainstream in the mid 1990s, library and information
science, the core body of knowledge and expertise introduced by pioneers Lou
Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, seemed to be all that was necessary. Information
architecture was mostly seen as some sort of library science for the Web, largely
tackling problems of labeling, categorization, and ordering.
Today, the illusion of the Web as a library and the Internet as a different and
separated world have given way to a much more complex scenario. We live in a
post-digital world in which digital and physical blend easily, and the Internet is a
piece in a larger mechanism where our activities and our use, consumption and
production of information happens across multiple contexts through multiple
devices and unstable, emergent choreographies.
We moved from the screen to the world, to portable computing, smartphones
and ambient devices, and focus has necessarily moved away from the single
artifact, the website, to consider the entire product or service ecosystem as a
complex, cross-channel information-based beast, some parts of which might not
be online or might not even be digital at all.
Information architecture in the mid 2010s is steadily growing into a channel- or
medium-aspecific multi-disciplinary framing, with contributions coming in from
architecture, urban planning, design and systems thinking, cognitive science, new
media, anthropology, that have been heavily reshaping the practice: conversations
about labeling, websites, and hierarchies have been replaced by conversations
about sense-making, place-making, design, architecture, crossmedia, complexity,
embodied cognition, and their application to the architecture of information spaces
as places we live in an increasingly large part of our lives.
The narratives, frameworks, references, approaches and case-studies in the
eleven chapters that follow all vastly exceed in scope and complexity whatever
was in place in the mid 1990s: all the same, this is still clearly information
architecture, concerned with “structuring information spaces”, orders, and
Academia has been struggling to keep up, somewhat failing to offer the
closure, reflections and criticisms which are necessary to consolidate operational
praxis into a shared and cohesive body of knowledge: this book, presenting
contributions from both academics and practitioners as one continuing
conversation, is an invitation to acknowledge both the ongoing changes and the
mutual dependence between these two camps in the reframing of the field.
Table of Contents
Andrea Resmini
Flávia Lacerda and Mamede Lima-Marques
Information Architecture as a Discipline – A Methodological Approach
Terence Fenn and Jason Hobbs
The Information Architecture of Meaning-making
Duane Degler
Dynamic Information Architecture: External & Internal Contexts for Reframing
Sally Burford
The Interplay of the Information Disciplines and Information Architecture
Thomas Wendt
A Phenomenological Approach to Understanding Information and its Objects
David Fiorito
Information Architecture and Culture
Roberto Maggi
Towards a Semiotics of Digital Places
Andrew Hinton
What We Make When We Make Information Architecture
Dan Klyn
Dutch Uncles, Ducks, and Decorated Sheds
David Simon
Representing Information across Channels
Luca Rosati, Antonella Schena, and Rita Massacesi
Cross-channel Design for Cultural Institutions the Istituto degli Innocenti in

Chapters (10)

Since the establishment of information architecture (IA) as an area of expertise and research more than a decade ago, its community of scientists and practitioners has been seeking foundations to establish concepts, scope, relations with other disciplines. Some are motivated by the conceptual gap; others are also concerned about the lack of communication between theory and practice in the field. Attempting to find a scientific method to investigate questions arisen from information architecture, we suggest in this article the adoption of the Meta-Modeling Methodology (M3) by Van Gigch and Pipino (Future Comput Syst 1:71–97, 1986). We believe it can provide a comprehensive way to understand information architecture as a discipline, promote critical thinking and improve grounded discussions in the community.
We live in a world of increasingly complex, interconnected, societal problems. Design Thinking (DT), as an academic concern, and amongst other disciplines, has been grappling with such problems since the 1970s in order to solve the problems facing humanity and the environment. Initially, this paper briefly introduces the discourse of design thinking before describing in reference to selected theory from the field of design thinking a brief account of the characteristics of complexity and indeterminacy within the design phases of researching, ideation and prototyping. This paper then examines the ways in which the practice of information architecture (information architecture, IA) operates in some very similar ways and how this view reframes an understanding of the practice of IA. The paper will then present three ‘illusions’ embedded in the current view of information architecture that we believe account for its misconception. The reframing of IA presented here has implications for the field of information architecture, its theory, its practice and the teaching thereof, but perhaps more importantly also for other fields of design that stand to gain enormous value from the application of the thinking, tools and techniques of IA to grapple with the complex problems of our time.
Professional disciplines evolve in response to a changing environment outside and inside of the discipline, in order to remain relevant and provide value to the communities they serve. This paper contributes to the conversation within the information architecture community by reflecting on some of these forces and what they may imply for the discipline as it grows. An array of external drivers for change are introduced, including the expectations of the user, evolution in data and technology, and challenges in society that could benefit from information architecture engagement. Internal drivers for change are then outlined, including the relationship between information architecture and user experience, engaging the wider stakeholder community, the practice within development methodologies, and information architecture skills. The goal is simply to introduce these forces into the discussion for consideration as part of reframing information architecture.
This chapter considers the findings of studies of the situated practice of Web information architecture (IA) in organizations of varying size. The focus is on the work of web information architecture, with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of the practice and its influences. From the examination of the practice that surrounds the creation of an information-rich website, this chapter reports the disciplinary profiles of the practitioners of web information architecture and reveals the extent of the influence of the information tradition and discipline. It invites reflection on the consequences of these findings for future theory and a disciplinary base for information architecture.
This paper introduces a phenomenological understanding of information as it relates to technology use. Phenomenology is more commonly applied to the understanding of “things”—or the relationship between things, experience, and cognition—than it is to information studies, but there is much that phenomenological philosophy can contribute to understanding the interactions between humans and information. This paper will focus on how classical and contemporary phenomenological ideas influence our understanding of information, ultimately suggesting a deeper understanding of praxis-based organization and design.
In the course of a few decades, beginning in the mid-1970s when the first consumer-focused computers started to appear in homes, software has moved from being a curiosity embraced by a minority of early adopters to being a natural extension of human activity and a part of daily life in nearly every corner of the globe. In the mid-2000s, networked computing moved from the desktop and laptop computer and into the pockets of people the world over. While culture hit a flection point and technology was going through this burst of rapid evolution from desktop to mobile computing, the discipline of information architecture went through its own developmental challenges. The period from 2007 to 2009 saw the field change and face a sobering challenge to its very relevance, and the infusion of a new spirit and direction. This rebirth of information architecture has been marked by a renewed focus on the fundamentals of the discipline as seen in the work and research of Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati and their exploration of its application across the many channels through which we encounter information, in Andrew Hinton’s studies of the contexts in which people use the systems we design, and in the work of Dan Klyn. This chapter adds one more facet to this new spirit of information architecture—culture. Culture is a critical component: we design the tools that people will use within their own complex cultural contexts. New methods and approaches to our practice are needed, as those that we currently use lack a focus on culture and its dynamics: this paper argues that the academic practice of anthropology can lend information architecture those tools.
Information architecture is an applied art that solves the “problems arising when we need to manage, produce and consume large amount of information” (Resmini, Problemi dell’Informazione, 38:63–76, Resmini 2013). Information architecture reflects upon complex systems of signs, understanding their mutual relationships and finding the best way to organize them. This chapter introduces a number of theoretical tools from semiotics that are relevant for information architecture, in particular for tracing cultural phenomena down to the specific information architectures of specific digital places, and reflects upon the role of information architecture in the creation of a sense of place in digital space. A definition of digital place and of the forces acting upon it is offered, extended to cross-channel ecosystems, and then applied to understand the way we inhabit platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Key factors in the creation of place information architecture impacts upon are subsequently introduced, and then a few conclusive remarks close the chapter.
This paper proposes a starting point for understanding the material of information architecture practice, by answering the question, “What are we architecting when we practice information architecture?” I propose in summary form some ideas about how information architecture’s medium, information, can be usefully described in three modalities (physical, semantic, and digital), and how a full understanding of embodied cognition and affordance theory can help us connect the abstraction of language with structuring concrete, bodily experience.
On what basis can and ought one assess the relative merits of a given work of information architecture? In 2009, Jesse James Garrett pointed to the non-existence of such a normative theory and the community of practice’s consequent inability to indicate “what good means” as evidence that information architecture is not a proper discipline. Garrett’s rallying cry was for a wholesale reframing of that community in terms of User Experience Design, with human engagement as its center. In this chapter, I draw from the work of architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi to counter-propose a co-occurring reframing of the mostly-digital sense- and place-making work of information architecture in the normative terms of architecture, where the appropriate interplay of meaning and structural form comprises the basis of what good means.
Substantial progress has been made in using information architecture for different mediums and across different channels. NPR’s COPE System—Create Once, Publish Everywhere—is just one example of creating flexible content for cross-channel ecosystems, spanning data entry to presentation layer. In this position piece, I reflect on the relationship between content presentation and evolving hardware. I posit that information architecture is a key practice in rendering device agnostic content, exploring the ways in which the structural design of information helps to bring into being a near seamless experience for users mentally navigating different environments. I use three specific case studies from three different organizations—Amazon, NPR, and Facebook—so as to illustrate how the structuring of data was a critical aspect in representing information across channels.
... Information architecture provides underlying structure for designs situated in any domain, but, to be effective, IA theory and practice must keep pace as domains innovate. By the mid-2000s, IA had incorporated so much new thinking around crosschannel experiences (McMullin & Starmer 2010; to keep pace with ecommerce in particular, that the field acknowledged the need for a larger frame (Resmini 2014). It is around this time that placemaking becomes a central concern at least for a part of the community (Arango et al 2011;Resmini 2021). ...
... Today, not only do we have practices such as transitional design or systemic design (Irwin 2015;Jones & Kijima 2018), but we see systems approaches applied in many areas of digital design, from content strategy (Wachter-Boettcher 2012) to responsive design (Hay 2013), as noted in Fitzgerald (2013). In information architecture, the systems approach is acknowledged as a core concept (Resmini & Rosati 2009;Morville 2011;Morville 2013;Resmini 2014;Rosenfeld, Morville, & Arango 2015). ...
In the field of information architecture, practice keeps pace as the domains and supporting technologies for digital design expand, leading to occasional updates of theory to account for change. Pervasive information architecture expanded tenets of clarity and findability from classical information architecture to account for placemaking as information began shape-shifting across devices and situations. This article suggests that, building on classical and pervasive information architecture, the field is ready to expand to ecological information architecture. This time, in addition to situational changes (new technologies and domains), the discovery of more facets in information as the raw material of design, and information behavior, drawn from adjacent fields, play major roles. Even as ecological information architecture is introduced, glimmers of what the next reframing must address are already surfacing. As information architects, we welcome this ongoing discovery as we look to situate designs coherently within our actors’ shifting surroundings, and engage them with information in ways that feel deeply human.
... In recent years, the increasing complexity deriving from the ongoing blending of digital and physical (Institute for the Future 2009) and the emergence of a postdigital culture (Kirby 2009;) have challenged the current procedural relationship between problem and solution as the preferred approach to solve complex problems, spurring a resurgence of interest in systems thinking and of its role in design theory and practice. This renewed interest has manifested itself in approaches focusing on the dynamic commingling of digital and physical (Benyon 2014), entirely novel perspectives such as systemic design (Jones 2014) and transition design (Irwin 2015), led to new methodologies such as giga-mapping (Sevaldson 2011) and to the conceptual reframing of existing fields to address said complexity (Resmini 2014). ...
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System space is introduced as a conceptual design space and as a distinct space from that traditionally addressed by most design processes. The paper intends to address the increasing complexity deriving from the ongoing blend of physical and digital in a postdigital culture and contribute to the current understanding of the effect of “systemic” ways of thinking in design disciplines. We argue that a systemic perspective cannot simply be “added” to the design process and that addressing postdigital complexity, that is, producing solutions to contemporary design problems, requires instead its own conceptualization, in its own space, to be acknowledged, practiced, and formalized as a different way of thinking. We propose that system space lives in a dialectical relationship with design space within the space of the experience and that it provides a way to escape the cognitive traps in design space. We posit that the relationships between system space and design space can be apprehended by means of an exo-process adapted from systems thinking, and that the exo-process provides a supporting structure for the intentional and necessary movement between the different spaces, scales, and modes of thinking required by contemporary design work. We then illustrate such a dialectical relationship through the analysis of three different cases and draw final considerations.
... Examples of such efforts have included, but are of course not limited to: the Journal of Information Architecture; the various Academics and Practitioners Roundtable workshops held annually at the ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit between 2013 and 2019 and at the IA Conference afterwards, and the books "Reframing Information Architecture" (Resmini 2014) and "Advances in Information Architecture" ; the annual research grants awarded by the IAI. ...
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The article “Re: The Future of Information Architecture” was first published on September 24 2019 (Hobbs 2019). Although written in relation to the dissolution of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI), its content presented a reflection on the field at that time with an eye to the future. The present article serves three purposes: preservation and historic record of the original text; documentation of concerns facing the field at that time, with regards to its institutional status; and as a commentary and further conceptual elaboration roughly two years post the dissolution of the IAI.
... The internet has become considerably more than just a knowledge library. It is the place where we produce, deliver, and consume information across multiple contexts and devices (Resmini, 2014). Following this shift, Resmini argues for a post-digital world in which a blend between digital and physical create a new place for experience (2014). ...
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Overall traffic in Germany is constantly increasing. Automobiles account for 57 percent of all trips in the country (BMVI, 2018). Steady population growth, urban agglomeration, and sprawl of cities contribute significantly to this trend. Simultaneously, the rise of digital services is progressively complementing travel by route planning, navigation, and ticketing. Therefore, a redesign and reinterpretation of the traditional understanding of the mobility landscape is required. The purpose of this work is twofold. First, to investigate the effects of digital transformation on people’s mobility behavior in public space, arguing for ecosystems in blended space being a consequence of the digital transformation at large. Second, to explore how social participation can lead to societal change for sustainable travel in the context of digital transformation. Digital technology has blurred the boundaries between physical and digital. Although physical and digital spaces are treated as separate parts, the former relates to the success of the latter. Qualitative interviewing was applied to systematically create an understanding about key actors’ roles and interdependencies as well as their perspective on how digital technologies modify today’s mobility landscape. This work concludes that the digital transformation allows individuals to influence travel demand purposefully. The system’s underlying structure reveals travel as purposive demand, a pattern extending the understanding of travel as a derived demand and valued activity. The Multi-Layered Participatory Process (MLPP), developed on the basis of the study’s findings, provides means to enable large scale social acceptance for sustainable mobility behavior.
... Resmini (2013) definiuje AI jako multidyscyplinarny konstrukt kulturowy, którego przedmiotem jest integralność znaczeniowa w złożonych, wielokanałowych ekosystemach informacyjnych 3 . Koncepcja ta została rozwinięta w postaci zbioru artykułów opublikowanych w pracy zbiorowej pod redakcją A. Resmini Reframing Information Architecture (Resmini, 2014). Publikacja ta jest o tyle istotna, że przedstawione teoretyczne rozważania na temat AI ewidentnie wskazują jednak na jej transdycyplinarny charakter (Lacerda & Lima-Marques, 2014, 4). ...
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Cel/Teza: Celem artykułu jest próba charakterystyki architektury informacji (AI) z punktu widzenia możliwości zastosowania hermeneutyki jako teorii, która może wyznaczać pewne ramy interpre­tacyjne dla tego obszaru badawczego oraz dać jego podstawy epistemologiczne i metodologiczne. Punktem wyjścia do rozważań jest teza L. Rosenfelda, P. Morville’a i J. Arango o roli rozumienia i interpretacji w projektowaniu architektury informacji.Koncepcja/Metody: W warstwie metodologicznej artykuł opiera się na interpretacji modelu ar­chitektury informacji autorstwa L. Rosenfelda, P. Morville’a i J. Arango z punktu widzenia założeń hermeneutyki H. G. Gadamera oraz cyfrowej hermeneutyki R. Capurro.Wyniki i wnioski: Zastosowanie podejścia hermeneutycznego zarówno do projektowania jak i badania architektury informacji wyznacza określoną postawę poznawczą, w której przyjmuje się założenie o kulturowych i kontekstualnych determinantach organizacji wiedzy oraz wprowadza się koncepcję przed-sądów, które tworzą horyzont rozumienia użytkowników informacji. W takim ujęciu AI wiąże się z projektowaniem pewnej oferty znaczeniowej, której środkiem ekspresji są systemy organizacyjne, etykietowania, nawigacji i wyszukiwania. Proces rozumienia tej oferty polega na hermeneutycznej koncepcji fuzji otwartego horyzontu rozumienia użytkownika i zamkniętego i zaprojektowanego horyzontu systemu informacyjnego. Proces rozumienia zachodzi w trakcie specyficznego rodzaju konwersacji użytkownika z systemem, którego ramy wyznacza model interakcji.Oryginalność/Wartość poznawcza: Postawy poznawcze charakterystyczne dla hermeneutyki i fe­nomenologii hermeneutycznej widoczne są w dyskursie w ramach architektury informacji. Mają one charakter raczej heurystyk, nie zaś spójnej refleksji teoretycznej. Zaproponowany zarys hermeneu­tycznej koncepcji architektury informacji może stanowić punkt wyjścia do dyskusji nad teorią AI, szczególnie w kontekście prób uczynienia z niej dyscypliny akademickiej.
... In this paper, it is argued that a renovated PSM could provide affordances and tools for the Internetand especially in social mediaaccording to its traditional values, yet with updated goals. Drawing from insights on information architecture [41] and nudge theory [42], a review of current examples of browser extensions, aggregators and tool that empower users is done 3 . On the one hand, in fact, information architecture is a primary contributor to the shaping of the dialogue between the digital and the real and, thus, it is an ideal starting point to frame the concept of meta-design. ...
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The paper questions the role of public service media in the digital era. The Internet has in fact disrupted previous patterns of production, distribution and consumption of information. Concerns arose on social media effects on well-being and how mainstream platforms design affects information consumption. The paper is an interdisciplinary contribution structured as follows. Firstly, it critically analyses the risks resulting from social media’s usage, with a special focus on personalization practices. Then, it explores the development of Public Service Broadcasting and questions the role that Public Service Media (PSM) has to sustain media quality, information diversity and, more generally, its traditional values. Thus, arguments in favor of a renovated and proactive role of Public Service Media are provided. In particular, an agonistic approach to social media, an ‘architecture for serendipity’ and the role of attention management are advocated. Finally, drawing from information architecture and nudging theory, the paper introduces the concept of ‘meta-design’ as the ability to re-shape a digital environment by browser extensions in order to change design choices as well as to inform and educate users. The conclusion is that improving user experience by meta-design can actually represent a novel experimental role for PSM and, eventually, a soft regulatory tool for sustaining individuals and the general public interest.
... More recently, a "third wave" of Information Architecture has revisited Wurman's architectural perspective, concerning itself primarily with the relationship between embodiment, spatiality, and the pervasiveness of information spaces (Resmini, 2014). Hinton (2015) suggests we use information "to create architectures -environmental structures that shape the experience of place". ...
Conference Paper
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Recent developments in information and communication technologies have left interaction design and human-computer interaction (HCI) with something of a conceptual gap. The distinction between physical and digital spaces is increasingly blurred. Cloud-based services have enabled a separation of information content from device so that content can be accessed and manipulated across multiple devices and locations. The user experience (UX) frequently needs to deal with activities that transition across physical and digital spaces and ecosystems of devices and services. Designers can no longer prescribe the journey or curate experiences simply as isolated interactions. Instead, UX must be consistently spread across touchpoints, channels, and device ecosystems. Our contribution to the development of UX, interaction design, and information architecture is to appeal to the notions of cross channel user experiences and blended spaces. Information architecture is the pervasive layer that underlies interactions that cross services, devices and blended physical and digital spaces. Information architecture is the structure within which the UX unfolds. From this perspective, we highlight the importance of creating meaningful places for experience and navigation through blended spaces.
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This research project explores the use of Information Architecture (IA) in Design Thinking for the purposes of ideating solutions to wicked problems. A constructivist account of IA is advanced in this study offering new perspectives, distinct to those offered by the mainstream IA employed in digital design, heralding from Library and Information Science. This reframing of IA creates a new space to explore what value may be found lying dormant in the relationship between IA and DT, and Design in general. The Research Through Design (RTD) methodology serves to support the constructive nature of this inquiry. In RTD, the researcher operates both in the role of designer and researcher, executing and critically reflecting upon a design project. For this study, a design project was conducted to address the complex social problem of addiction as it manifests in Johannesburg, South Africa. A new form of IA, Conceptual IA (CIA), is notionally developed to observe and discuss IA when enacted in Ideation following the DT process-method. The findings and conclusions offered emerge from qualitative analysis of observations and reflection upon the design project’s enactment. Within its scope, the study reveals that IA, as reframed, can be understood as operating tacitly within design (and the world) as that which contains and transmits socio-ontological meaning, decoded, recoded and encoded in design. Explicit use of IA methods, tools and techniques greatly enhanced synthetic cognition across the whole of the DT process-method enacted. Furthermore, CIA conducted in Ideation provided the concept for a social systems solution central to a strategy design which synthetically resolved the challenges presented by the wicked problem of addiction. IA and design developed to realise the concept, as blueprints, describe how use of the system in the world triggers a transformation and transcendence of this concept: in use, the IA of the concept being embedded within the structural form of the designed object, comes to be a new socio-ontological phenomena. In this way, a (speculative) theoretical account is given for how an instrumental / ontological mediation of social reality may occur, at scale, by IA employed in Design.
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This chapter frames the ongoing epistemological evolution of information architecture as a shift, under the pressure of social and technological change, from the “classical” information architecture of the 1990s and early 2000s to a “contemporary” information architecture. It then establishes a differentiation between the two, modeled in accordance with the conceptualization of innovation in fields of knowledge offered by Van Gigch and Pipino’s Meta-Modeling Methodology.
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This text documents a line of thinking regarding the relationship between Classic IA and Design. These notes emerged as unfinished thoughts written for inclusion in a chapter for the forthcoming book ‘Advancing IA’ (Resmini, Rice and Irizzary eds. to be published by Springer). Alas, the chapter was never submitted and remains uncompleted.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.