The History of IA and Other Tales

Melissa Rach

This morning, while looking for a quote from Richard Saul Wurman (the guy who coined the term "information architecture"), I absentmindedly stuck "history of IA" into Google. I got—you guessed it—42,000,000 results on the history of Iowa. This exercise was a good reminder of three things I know to be true:

1. IAs need to speak English, not weblish.

The web industry, like any other, has its own language. The difference between a good information architect and a great one is often the ability to communicate with clients.  

We can start by keeping the jargon to a minimum and taking the time to define any necessary "weblish" vocab at the beginning of each meeting. Even when working with web-savvy clients, defining terms can eliminate misunderstandings.

More importantly, information architects need to remember that clients pay us to help solve business and user problems. When we structure conversations around client/user benefits—instead of IA theory—everybody wins.

2.  You don’t have to be a web genius to understand information architecture.

Richard Saul Wurman was talking about information architecture in 1975, years before the web was even a glint in Al Gore’s eye. The concept of organizing information effectively is a pretty easy one to grasp—and is in no way limited to the interactive world.

Still, if I had a dime for every time a client representative said, "We can’t show [insert executive name here] information architecture, because [he/she] doesn’t understand the web", I’d be rich. Well, I’d have about $24, but you get the point.

The truth is, when critical members of the project team do not review the architecture, the project often gets derailed at a later stage. An executive or critical stakeholder may not want to review a deck of wireframes, but they are certainly able (and usually willing) to review a summary of the important points and concepts. It saves time, money, and sanity. And the web site turns out better, too.

3. Picking on Iowa is fun.

As a Wisconsin Badger fan and Minnesota resident, I am obligated to dis Iowa. But, because I feel charitable around the holidays (and I sit dangerously close to Beth, Brain Traffic’s resident Iowa native), I’ll go easy.

Just to be neighborly, I'll point out that someone forgot to include the exciting parts of Iowa history on the web sites I visited. They make it sound like nothing interesting has happened in Iowa since Herky the Hawkeye was a chick. You Iowegians might want to head out to Wikipedia and set the record straight. (*Snicker.*)