Although information architecture may seem to be a high-handed and daunting term, it's really nothing new or mysterious. Think about it: why did the Ten Commandments come to us as two huge stone tablets? Perhaps Moses preferred a trifold design, or a portable wallet-size version, only to be overruled by his Project Manager. In any case, someone decided how to present the information to that audience of potential users milling about at the foot of Mount Sinai.
From clay-tablet scribes to medieval monks to the folks who organize your daily newspaper, information architects have contributed in subtle but important ways to our world. Information architects have balanced the whims of authority with those of unforgiving users of every stripe, while forcibly fitting their efforts into the constraints of the available information technologies. In many cases, information architects have been responsible for major advancements in those technologies.
The World Wide Web is the latest advancement in information technology, and, as with the previous innovations, certain principles carry over and others must be completely reexamined and overhauled. Because the Web integrates so many technologies and content types into a single interface, it challenges designers of web sites and intranets greatly.
0.1. Our Perspective
We believe that truly successful web sites, especially large and complex ones, demand the expertise of professionals from many different disciplines. Besides information architects, great sites also require the skills of programmers, graphic designers, technical specialists, marketers, copywriters, project managers, and others. This book concentrates on the skills needed for information architecture; although we discuss these other disciplines when we can, we are not graphic designers, programmers, or anything but information architects, so everything we say about those areas should be taken with a very large grain of salt.
As information architects, two major factors influence us:
Many librarians have responded slowly to new information technologies like the Web. Some librarians feel that their value as professionals will be diminished as "virtual libraries" supplant those filled with physical books and periodicals. Many librarians fear that the public will bypass them and go directly to the source via the Internet. The truth is, however, that skills in information organization and access are more and more necessary in this era of information explosion. We have found that the demand for our skills in classifying and organizing information in web sites has grown beyond our wildest dreams, so we believe that you, your sites, and their users will benefit from our profession's perspective.
Between us, we have many years of experience in creating information architectures for web sites and intranets. At Argus Associates, our consulting firm, we concentrate on this area almost exclusively, and we have helped lots of large clients develop architectures that provide firm foundations for high quality web sites. We also have the benefit of working with and learning from experts from other companies who have backgrounds in other disciplines (our joint venture is called, aptly, Allied Studios). Besides our positive experiences, being in the "business" has given us many opportunities to make mistakes and ample time to learn from them. We hope you will benefit by learning from our mistakes as well as our successes.
You don't need a library degree to be a successful information architect. Despite the requirements listed in some job descriptions, it's hard to have had years of experience within this fledgling medium. More important than either of these two factors is common sense, plain and simple. The Web is too new for anyone to feel secure in claiming that there is a "right way" to do things. Web sites are multifaceted, and can support many different ways of presenting information. This book clarifies different approaches to web site architecture, and provides you with the tools and concepts you need to determine the best approach for your site.
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