This morning on the Twitter I saw Joshua Porter retweeting a link to a piece by Thomas Memmel which includes this prediction for Information Architecture in the new year (and beyond):
… I have the impression that in 2010 and in the subsequent years, too, there will be a consolidation of terms. I believe that information architecture (IA) will disappear from the scene, because the web becomes increasingly interactive. IA was especially associated with an expertise in building content and navigation structures that rather had a static form. Today, technologies like Silverlight, AJAX and Flash turn the web into a highly interactive media. Because the design of interactive systems is headlined with the term interaction design (IxD), it will absorb IA as a discipline.
I know what you’re thinking, but wait up – I don’t think Dr. Memmel’s observations can be dismissed as simply another prediction (or promotion of) of the death of IA. What he’s predicting is a functional consolidation of concepts – a roll-up of IA into what he thinks is a more appropriate construct. What I find particularly noteworthy in Dr. Memmel’s prognostication is the way he rationalizes this impending subsumption of IA into User Experience and/or Interaction Design on the basis IA’s aboutness being antithetical to interactivity(!). I believe he’s also arguing for rolling IA up into some other acronym or construct because, in his words “I think it is always difficult to convince a client of investing into your profession, if you are unable to explain your discipline in a few words.”
Many of my clients read and respect the reporting in the Wall Street Journal. Check out how WSJ explains UX:
User-experience design—a sort of architecture for information that Web viewers see—is another emerging field. Jobs there include experience specialists and product designers at firms ranging from computer-game companies to e-commerce Web sites.
Diana Middleton, Wall Street Journal 12/28/2009
Architecture is something that everybody understands at least a little. In the WSJ context above and I think in the rest of the “real world,” User Experience (and even more so IxD) is an over-broad, oddball concept that needs explaining by pinning it to something everybody already understands (eg Architecture).
I find Dr. Memmel’s observation about IA being an outdated idea now that the web is “interactive” to be preposterous. In many ways (and I believe Christina Wodtke agrees), the advent of the social web and the endless interactions it enables makes Architecture an even more compelling frame for how we approach and do this work than ever before.
I think Information Architecture is or can be a very crisp, graspable “thing.” The simplest way to define it is still the best: Making The Complex Clear. The problem isn’t with IA or with the words Information and Architecture. The problem, I think, is that people with non- or anti- IA agendas have had a free hand for taking pot-shots at and re-re-re-defining their disciplines as being more/better than IA in the vacuum created by DTDT fatigue within the IA community. Andrew Hinton said it very well: “[IA] is an entirely too convenient whipping-boy of late and needs to fight the hell back.”
I took a look at a 2003 survey by the IAI asking people to talk about the future of the profession 5 years out, and among the many ponderous notions in the list, this one stabbed me in the heart:
A practical compelling awareness among decisionmakers of what IA actually is
2003 IA Institute Future Of Information Architecture Survey Responses
As part of the prep for a class called “What’s Wrong With Information Architecture” that I teach toward the end of the term, I asked Twitter for ideas about what’s “wrong” with IA. Sadly the tweetstream for the hashtag #whatswrongwithIA has disappeared, but I screenshotted Peter Morville’s answer. It, along with Hinton’s, was the best of the bunch: