The Architects of Information

I’m a member of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) but I’m still not really sure why.

I joined about a year ago, although I’d been following the website and reading articles in this area for some time before that. During that time I developed a sense that, at a fundamental level, there is a lot of crossover of knowledge and approach between practitioners of Information Architecture and those of us in the land of technical communications.

The IAI website states that:

As the information age rolls forward, our businesses, markets and societies are being transformed into adaptive, connected networks. The Internet of today only hints at the ubiquitous communication infrastructure of tomorrow. The construction of this brave new world requires a new kind of architecture, focused on digital structures of information and software rather than physical structures of bricks and mortar. As we spend more time working and playing in these shared information spaces, people will need and demand better search, navigation and collaboration systems.

Whilst a lot of the work of an IA is focussed on the web, the basic principles of good design hold true regardless of the medium. Given that many technical communicators provide online help which may, or may not, be delivered in a web format or via the web itself (as opposed to viewed locally in a web browser) those same principles can be used here. Even if we consider the production of information for print, the same considerations of information access and structure, personas and task analysis, require a level of understanding and design in which both IAs and Tech Writers specialise.

As an aside, this type of thing is one reason why you should hire a professional Technical Writer and not rely on other people in your organisation “filling the gap”. They may be able to write acceptable english, but information is next to useless if badly structured.

Looking further into the lair of an IA, we find many are now involved in what is commonly known as the “social web” (aka Web 2.0). With information being shared and promoted across many different areas, both geographical and social, the structure and usage of that information needs to be careful considered, and with more and more information sources moving from traditional outputs (print) to modern outputs (web), then the modern day technical communicator has, essentially, become what is now known as an Information Architect.

Strictly speaking it’s more another ‘hat’ for a Technical Communicator to wear but the idea is the same. As well as writing, design, illustrating, and doing everything else that is involved with creating technical documentation, now may need to consider an additional mode of usage, one which has grown rapidly in the past couple of years.

The more I learn about Information Architecture, the more parallels I find. Designing information structures, leveraging an ever increasing set of tools, is fast becoming part and parcel of our jobs (well, ok, MY job at least). Add in the fact that we are, frequently, the people populating those structures then it’s easy to see that there are many lessons we can learn from those in IA.

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