Do you remember when Coca-Cola redefined Coke? First, it was just called New Coke. Then, it was rebranded to Coke II. At the time, it was big news. Even without Twitter, word got out fast, and Coke fans worldwide let their voices be heard.
Somehow, the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) redefined Information Architecture while nobody was looking. This happened a few months ago, but it seems no one is talking about it.
How does this happen in 2016?
Perhaps it’s just an experiment and the IAI is waiting to see how the world responds. If so, they can thank me for getting the word out, because it seems no one else has noticed.
The old definition of Information Architecture (published by the IAI) was actually a list comprised of three definitions:
The structural design of shared information environments.
The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
In my experience, information architects often use all three. But, depending on the context, one is often better than the others – it’s like having three choices! Convenient? Yes. In the spirit of IA? No.
Information Architecture is about structure and consistency—which both contribute to findability and usability. The IAI’s new definition is refined and succinct.
The practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.
Initially, I was tempted to argue that “parts of something” could refer to non-information-generating things. Then, I realized everything we encounter, whether it be people, places, or things, generates some form of information—even if only in our minds. Mental models are at the core of IA, and this definition is able to capture that with far greater simplicity than the original definition(s).
So what does the new definition mean to you and your information project?
Unless you are the information architect, not much. For those of us who run IA projects, however, the new definition may require us to rethink the first few slides in our presentations. But reframing information is what we do. Creating new analogies to help people understand complex relationships is like deciding between New Coke or Coke Classic - easy!