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Information Architects Talking About Architects and Architecture

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info architect

It would be incredibly generous if you-all would look at and, if so moved, comment on a blog posting about how information architects are starting to become more interested in Architecture, and what people who design online user experience might or should learn from famous architects:

http://danklyn.com/blog/?p=495

merci!

dan klyn

 
Sep 29, 09 5:38 pm
liberty bell

Dan, I'll try to head off a slew of snotty comments about how hard you guys have made it for us all to look for a job by asking, politely, that my fellow 'nectueurs refrain from such comments. (Unless, of course, they can be said in a particularly humorous way, we can all sue a laugh about our job situation.)

I've never actively contemplated what the parallels might be between our two fields, because I've mainly been overcome by waves of the snottiness that I mention above. Reading the comments on your blog, I'll agree, right out of the gate, that the analogy can only be taken so far. That said, I know there really are parallels, and it would be interesting to try to dig a little deeper into them.

As someone very wise (beta) recently said to me, while I was struggling with water infiltration into a wall treatment, "all architecture, ALL, boil(s) down to this; how to manage nature's elements. if you can't keep out the water, then what have you got?"

Ultimately, all architecture (from the work of stars to regular old architects, as you distinguish on your blog post) comes down to material. Material of the structure, and material of the body that inhabits the structure. I'd be curious to know what do YOU see as the parallel "materials" of information architecture? Is it the user, whose body is not necessarily involved, and the hardware, or is it the code?

Sep 29, 09 8:14 pm
info architect

liberty bell: there are some people who're called information architect whose role in the creation of a complex website "inhabited" by 10s of 1000s of products or records or whathaveyou is one that's more like space planning in brick-and-mortar architecture. they create a design for what everything's called, and where everything goes. their softer, surface material is primarily language and their structural material is ontology and hierarchy. when they dial in a design, they optimize for usability and findability and faster comprehension and task completion. They don't necessarily stick around for the construction or maintenance phases of a project.

but then there are other IA's who have a broader pervue, who're designing user experience. they design and structure the sequence of interactions, and the proportions and placements of objects in "space", tailoring them for an optimal fit inbetween the user's delight and site operator's requirements. material includes language and ontology and hierarchy but also time (in the sense of choreography).

i'm not sure material is everything. space might be an alternate or additional everything. the famous information architect i mention in the blog posting, christina wodtke, noted recently that in her work back in the earlier days of the web the parallels between web design and architecture didn't feel as poingent as they do today, and that the thing that's different now is the social piece. sites where users generate content and structure. i was not there for the presentation where she made these remarks, but to me it sounds like "space" is the thing. or is now the thing.

Sep 29, 09 10:17 pm
jacob

I'm curious to know from InfoArchitect, (or other IA's, invited to lurk)...

What about Information Architecture deserves the title "architect"

as opposed to "designer" or "engineer"

From an etymology standpoint: Architect literally means "Master Builder"...something that's been passed down from the role of the same name that used to exist. Now, this would be some combination of a general contractor and the designer...something that few Architects (by title) are actually doing. So from a word choice standpoint, maybe none of us are actually "architects."

But this I think gets at Liberty Bell's thoughts on material (with which I agree ). If the architect differs from a designer in a specificity in understanding and using material. Experience, Narrative, Organization, Optimization, etc. play roles, but it's a dance for the Architects to deal with that while keeping some kind of relevance to the built world.

...although surely there are proposals and people who float outisde these boundaries.

Which brings up another interesting thought - and maybe this is my real question to Info Architect...

Although much of architectural thought and practice hinges on the real (dealing with clients, materials, how to get things built...) In academia and in the forefront of the theoretical discourse there are some pretty far-out thoughts. Are there parallels to this in Information Architecture? (for the non Architects, look up Archigram - a 60's avant garde group who mostly drew and thought rather than built...there are certainly other examples but this should be easy to grasp).

Does IA push any bounds beyond client concerns? Is there any artful or conceptual pursuit in the discipline that's not based on solving the immediate problem?

Like LB, I think this discussion could be really interesting...once we get a bit deeper.

Sep 30, 09 12:11 am
fays.panda

when I read the post title I was sure LB had already been there.

What worries me is your use of the word "inhabited" when you say "inhabited by 10s of 1000s of products or records or whathaveyou..."... i would add to beta's comment that ALL architecture needs to be inhabited by human beings in one capacity or another, and those capacities operate along a huge spectrum

interesting though

Sep 30, 09 6:21 am
aquapura

I'm going to piggy back on some of Jacob's comments, aka, Architect literally means "master builder."

My spouse works in IS&T and has become very sensitive to the widespread theivery of the title "Architect." Countless times I come home to learn of who has just decided to call themselves an "Architect."

I'm not trying to start a fight, but people from all corners of IT are abandoning titles like "admin" or "designer" for Architect. Hey, I get it. Database Architect sounds better than Administrator, etc. etc.

Although you might say there are some parallels between an IA designing a content management system vs. a real Architect designing a building I think it is a discussion that shouldn't leave internet message board chat. If and Architect and IA were to shadow each other at work for a day each one would be completely confused as to what the other is doing. The similarity would seem very removed.

Sep 30, 09 8:45 am
info architect

Andrew Hinton was asked to write an article for the journal of information architecture a few months ago and he's shared a link to the piece over in the comments on my blog:

http://bit.ly/FnUjm

In the article, Hinton talks about context and per liberty bell's question about the materials of the information architect I think "context" could be one of the materials that both kinds of architect understand and manipulate in the same way... or approximately the same way.

I've asked Mr. Hinton to join the discussion here on Archinect, not sure if he'll nibble

Sep 30, 09 9:30 am
vado retro

The oft bandied about title "Information Architect", was actually coined by the architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman in the mid 1970's. In his book, Information Architects, Wurman defines the term Information Architect as such: 1.) the individual who organizes the patterns inherent in data, making the complex clear. 2.) a person who cerates the structure or map of information which allows others to find their personal paths to knowledge. 3) the emerging 21st century professional occupation addressing the needs of the age foucused upon clarity, human understanding, and the science of the organization of information.

Sep 30, 09 9:34 am
info architect

hi vado,

for my opinion on wurman's invention of and approach to information architecture, skip to about the 5:00 mark here:

http://danklyn.com/si658files/class3.mov

the slides for this lecture are here:

http://si658.danklyn.com/#71784

i wheedled my way into a dinner party for RSW at my university last year, and was able to ask questions i'd been dying to ask about his work as an architect and protoge of Louis Kahn and how (if at all) that work informed his development and practice of information architecture. audio of my interview with RSW is here:

http://danklyn.com/blog/?tag=interview

what a remarkable man. a former student of mine was able to find a PDF of the 1976 AIA Conference program. i'd been searching for it forever. check it out:

http://danklyn.com/si658files/1976AIAconventionProgram.pdf

the architecture of information. which is not the same thing as information architecture :)

Sep 30, 09 9:50 am

info architect,
What's the difference between the architecture of information and information architecture

Sep 30, 09 9:57 am
info architect

in the advance program for AIA '76, wurman makes says that the architecture of information is about "about what spaces do as well as how they look" and about "people articulat[ing] their needs and respond[ing] to change". Elsewhere in the program it shows that RSW gave a talk called The Architecture of Information and it says there that Wurman's focus is on "the understanding, accessibility and description of urban phenomena".

i could say many things about my opinion re: the distinction between the A of I and IA, but i think the distinction that's most germane to the present discussion is that in its original context, the architecture of information was something that was posited as existing within the field of architecture. 20 years later, when RSW published Information Architects, I think he could still see the A of I as a reality that architects could and would continue to be aware of and conversant with. But by that time (1996), RSW had long since exited the world and practice of architecture and as I understand it, he would not have considered 1996's information architecture and information architects as being an extension of architecture. Making the complex clear. What that meant to and for Wurman in '96 was I think a wholly different "thing" than the similarly named things he was doing and interested in at AIA '76.

Sep 30, 09 10:15 am
info architect

Jacob,

With regards to who's deserving (or not) of the title "architect" and how people like me came to use the word, Andrew Hinton's article that I link to above would be worth your time to peruse. On page 44, he contends:

"... there's an honest intellectual origin for the name. That is, it wasn't appropriated merely to lend an air of gravitas to “website librarians” and pricey bohemian consultants."

This year at our annual conference, a prominent leader in our IA community declared that there's no such thing as information architects. There's information architecture, for sure, but the people who create and shape it, he contends, should be called user experience designers. You can see video of his stunning and awesome fusillade here:

http://alpha.theuxworkshop.com/10th-annual-ia-summit-plenary-speech-jesse-james-garrett/

In some ways, it would make things easier for people like me if we dropped the A-word.

Easy is overrated :)

Sep 30, 09 10:30 am
On the fence

I was once at a party, small get together of about 40 people, and I was introduced to this person. Later he told us he was something like a "systems architect" or some such nonsense in front of about 5 or 6 others (which impressed them of course) and went into what he did. Then somone asked me what I did and I told them I was an Architect.

That sure did drain a lot of the energy away from this guy and the few people around us. Especially when he asked what systems I worked on and responded with "Uh no, I mean I am a real architect." I didn't try to correct his job title or his misrepresentation of himself. I didn't have to. Everyone around knew.

Sep 30, 09 10:43 am
info architect

On the fence: that's an awesome anecdote. Like the difference between saying you're a security guard at the mall and then comparing that with someone who's a green beret ...

Sep 30, 09 10:50 am
architecture in cyberspace?

1999.09.10 10:23

Is the greatest architecture in cyberspace www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com and other such internet places?
Is it a fact that the greatest architecture in cyberspace thus far is not architect designed?
Will architects for the most part deny that amazon and ebay, etc. are examples of great architecture, or will architects come to realize that cyberspace is a whole new (additional) realm to [profitably] design within?




Architecture is a medium, a facilitator, and a container, and all reality is relative to the vastness of its container.
2001.01.15




'Architecture as delivery of content' describes precisely what I see as a big forthcoming issue for architects.
2001.09.23

Sep 30, 09 10:59 am

info,
Jesse Garrett's idea is interesting, however, in that sense wouldn't the idea also apply to Architects (i mean they design a user experience) just a physical world one.

Doesn't seem like it would clarify the issue.


In your interview with Wurman he stated(and i paraphrase) information architecture is about giving instructions....

From your perspective would this differ from Architecture of information in that the latter, is more about structuring the data and the user's experience of it, rather than giving instructions per se?

Or is that too literal of a reading of "giving instructions"???

Sep 30, 09 11:02 am

Another interesting point in Jesse's speech is when he asks the attendees, who in the room helps to create digital user experience's and then ask them who helps to create non-digital user experiences. The point being (it seems to me) that user experience (design) is non media specific.
If so it seems as if the last question could just as easily be applied to architecture/urban planning. For aren't they too, just creators of a user experience. Sure, the experience is a physically/materially shaped one as opposed to a print or digital media but within the framework of this argument isn't the user's spatial experience just as "designed"??? Senses, emotion, the body, perception aren't many of these issues the "traditional" domain of architecture?

Sep 30, 09 2:23 pm
liberty bell

nam, your last two sentences get to the point, but only halfway. Yes, user experience is the goal, and sense, emotion, the body etc. are all in play, but that's also true for product designers and fashion designers and graphic/wayfinding designers and movie sound designers etc.

Maybe architect shouldn't imply something bigger than any other kind of design, but both culturally and legally, it does. Or, it doesn't, but the word sounds so much cooler than designer that people (like Carolyn Richards, Chief Flavor Architect at Kettle Chips) prefer to use it to define what they (or others, in the case of news media calling someone "architect of the war", for example) do.

infoarchitect, your argument that space is primary over material doesn't hold for me. In architecture, space is made possible by material, and that includes light and sound, which are physical phenomena. In web design, I see the physical as the hardware that gets the information to me. But I'm really interested in whether the code can be described as physical. I one way certainly yes: it's electrical impulses that make the whole thing work, right? There is also the physical movement of the eye across the screen and the hand on the mouse, but honestly I see those things as very minimally physical.

Maybe I'm getting too caught up in the morphemes of the analogy. Yes, designing a "user experience" on a website is very similar to designing a "user experience" in a building. And certainly managing the quotidian realities of running a design business are similar no matter the area of design in which one operates.

sevensixfive, are you reading this? Didn't you have a definition of architecture both here and on your website that you brought up recently, a series of questions you asked?

Sep 30, 09 5:23 pm
dia

You can share a metaphor, you can't share a title.

Sep 30, 09 5:51 pm
simples

back in the mid 90's, there was a lot of pre-matrix virtual reality work happening in school - virtual cities, virtual data recycling machines, etc. during the digital design studio, we were asked to design a virtual library, or a library in a virtual world.

my design focused on the delivery of information to the user, outside any physical realm (unless it would aid on the perception of data itself).

i was purposefully asking the question of what is architecture without the "physical".

i believe the architecture we practice today, is inherently physical, and must remain so. but it is informed, and also driven by the non-physical, and these are not mutually exclusive. as technology advances, i think the way people interact with the physical world, will be changed by how people interact with the virtual world. we must be in touch with that.

i personally define architecture as a "conscious intervention of space", in which case "virtual" could also apply...

Sep 30, 09 6:03 pm
simples

as for titles though, i am not overly protective of the term, as long as it's prefaced with "information"

Sep 30, 09 6:11 pm
info architect

there's been some new commenting over at my blog referencing some of the conversation here on Archinect. a taste from one comment from Andrew Hinton:

"An interesting parallel: so much of what a good Architect does is invisible to the people who use the building. In fact, the better it’s designed, the less people tend to pay attention to it. They just go on with their work & lives. That’s so much like Information Architecture (of the UX flavor). One difference, though: physical building architects can resort to innovative aesthetics or exposed structural forms to make a statement (sometimes that’s all they do, but that’s another topic). IA, however, really doesn’t have that to lean on … aesthetic form is typically a visual designer’s job, and even that changes & evolves with such frequency, a particular form doesn’t have time to gain much cultural traction. A digital equivalent of Fallingwater or Centre Pompidou has been slathered with flash ads, re-tweaked by a new marketing manager, and gutted because of a business merger in the space of 24 months.

Our work is not only invisible, but somewhat ephemeral. Which, I think, explains why we don’t have Great Information Architectures to point to and say: wow, there go our forefathers. Plus, my god, it’s only really been in full swing for about 10 years… Vetruvius was still scratching parchments at that point in Architecture’s history."

http://danklyn.com/blog/?p=495#comments

Sep 30, 09 7:08 pm
trace™

"In fact, the better it’s designed, the less people tend to pay attention to it." - that's not necessarily true at all, just look at the stararchitects. They don't get hired because they make the architecture 'disappear'. Architecture combines so many things, it is not a one dimensional thing, which, imho, graphics/web are mostly (and I do those professionally).

If you want to make a parallel, then it would be engineering - a backbone/structure that supports the design.

But Information Engineer is not as cool sounding.






Sep 30, 09 7:39 pm
b3tadine[sutures]

dan, like trace, i must take issue with the point about "so much of what a good Architect does is invisible to the people who use the building. In fact, the better it’s designed, the less people tend to pay attention to it. They just go on with their work & lives." that particular sentiment could describe just about 90% of the architecture that the public engages. drive through any suburb, and i am willing to bet that most people couldn't tell one home from another. wasn't that part of the point - and frankly charm - of Edward Scissorhands

i would have to say that good architects are interested in engaging the user, and build on the differences that users bring to the experience of space. Peter Zumthor's spaces elicit certain response from one person, and different responses from others. after all, we are not a homogeneous collective, we are individuals with varying experiences...

that's why i think that, while our processes certainly are similar, and perhaps our ends may share some coincidental points of view, for the most part we are dealing with very different needs, and almost certainly come to different results.

Sep 30, 09 8:42 pm
vado retro

i am more of a disinformation architect.

Sep 30, 09 9:00 pm

Presently, I like to design delivery of content in the enfilade slash labyrinth style.

Perhaps, someday, I'll design some delivery of content following the architecturale promenade formula.

Actually, I've been struggling with a big design/renovation brief, the solution to which has been eluding me for well over a month now. Alas, today, while just stepping out of the shower, it finally dawned on me--delivery of content in the enfilade slash labyrinth style via bilocation.



















Is subtext actually text bilocated?

Sep 30, 09 9:33 pm
jacob

info architect (and other IA's lurking).

Nobody's mentioned it, but I feel it needs to be said...

Part of the reason I think many Architects are protective (and potentially hostile) towards the appropriation title of Architect is because it isn't a title that's easily attainable.

The title of Architect, requires liscensure - years of school, years of 'apprenticeship' and a series of regulated tests by a national board before one can claim the title (and physical "seal") of Architect.

Using the title in an unregistered capacity in a professional sense; if I were to start "Jacob A*chitects Inc." (since I am currently unregistered) would result in possible lawsuit by the powers that be and prevention from me ever becoming registered (not to mention, it being illegal to design certain types of projects, etc). If I were, in my current unregistered state to start a firm that did interior "spatial/experiential design work" (almost exactly the physical parallel to what you're describing IA's as doing), it would have to be "Jacob Designs" or something to that effect and specifically could not use the word Architect in any professional manner.

So...

This may explain some of the intensity in defense of the title.

It's not just a trendy synonym for "designer," it's a regulated and administered title and with it, the responsibilities and rules of holding such a title (for instance...an Architect is liable for 15 years on buildings they produce...).

Obviously, this isn't going to change the reality of the title you hold (which may or may not be accurate) but this point had yet to be explicitly stated.

I'm still interested to know the answer to the question I posed above that got doged:
Is there any IA work that's experimental beyond the scope of what's contracted? Are any IA's doing work (academic or other) that seeks to push the boundaries of IA without being paid to do so? Is there any "art" (in a literal sense) to the discipline? (obviously, code takes problem solving and requires "creativity," but are there any examples of IA's really crossing this line and producing work that is foremost artistic?)



Sep 30, 09 9:41 pm
liberty bell

Thanks for the link, Steven. Here are 765's questions:

A sketch Registration Exam for (X) Architects
(where X is, for example, information, software, building, product, solutions ...)

Are you self critical?

Do you have a coherent set of ideas that parallels production and allows you to talk about why you make the choices you make?

Are you able to position those ideas relative to the ideas of other peers and define a space for conversation or debate?

Is the task large enough that it requires a division of labor, a split between concept and execution, and the continuous maintenance of evolving consensus between multiple stakeholders?

Do you contribute to the public realm?

Do you add more to the solution of a problem beyond the simple fulfillment of the brief?


These all seem very pertinent to IA work.

Sep 30, 09 10:25 pm
liberty bell

It's an interesting discussion over there, Dan, but I'm posting here because 1. Andrew said he's leaving and 2. I fear some of my questions are so ignorant that I'd rather make my mistakes here in the familiar surroundings of Archinect (and there I go, referring to this website as a "place", which it is, even though it's not physical).

Andrew said this: Physical building architects can resort to innovative aesthetics or exposed structural forms to make a statement ... IA, however, really doesn’t have that to lean on … aesthetic form is typically a visual designer’s job

That gets very much to the point of the discussion. I didn't realize there were visual designers who are different from IAs - so what exactly are the IAs designing? In building-architecture, the architect is in charge of everything - we coordinate the work of consultants like structural engineers, acoustic engineers, landscape architects etc. but ultimately the entire project falls under the responsibility of the architect.

So what exactly does an Information Architect do? Let's please use an easy example like a municipal website. Is the IA's role more like that of the structural engineer, making the invisible, functional underpinnings of the site: writing the code, organizing links, making sure they go to where they are supposed to, and the right images load when requested, etc., while someone else is in charge of what the content is and how it all looks?

I always thought of IAs as running the whole show. I guess I honestly don't know exactly what it is that an information architect does, though to be fair, the vast majority of the general public doesn't really know exactly what we regular architects do, either!

Sep 30, 09 10:40 pm

jacob: yes.

the conversation is great/interesting/whatever and lb and info architect are spurring just the right kind of dialogue that can root out the essence of the common ground as well as the distinctions between our professions. intellectually, this is a stimulating exploration.

ultimately, though, the bottom line for me as a professional architect is to jacob's point. before i got registered i had more right to call myself an information architect than i did to call myself an architect. there's a problem in there somewhere that we haven't been able to address satisfactorily as a profession.

Oct 1, 09 7:22 am
vado retro

Required qualifications for Technical Architect at FrogDesign...

Qualifications:
• 6+ years of professional experience designing and developing enterprise and consumer web portals and applications on a variety of technology platforms
• Proven record of successfully leading projects through an entire production deployment release and operations lifecycle
• Expertise in preparing and delivering technical presentations to all levels of a client's organization (including executives)
• Experience working within a variety of software development methodologies
• Expertise in UI software architecture, patterns, frameworks, and emerging standards
• Experience with object-oriented design and data modeling
• Experience with User Experience design principles and processes
• Proven ability to work and communicate with multidisciplinary distributed teams (including designers, developers, architects, QA engineers, and executives)
• Enthusiasm to define and document best practices and contribute to knowledge sharing efforts
• Exceptional written and verbal communication skills
• Bachelor's degree in the sciences, engineering, or a creative discipline is required

Oct 1, 09 9:34 am
info architect

This conversation has grown to be so awesome that it requires THREE blogs to contain it.

Over at the Interaction Design Association blog, they've been read into our discussion here and one of their members has a retort for Jacob:

> One could might as well ask the architect.

> "Does Architecture push any bounds beyond
> architects artistic ambitions? Is there any usable or useful
> pursuit in the discipline that's not based on
> solving the the artist ambitions, but in providing
> proper usage of your building?"

> Many architectural schools belong to the art department
> so they create architects who come out thinking
> they are artist who should create masterpieces
> and push the clients beyond the clients
> ambitions (which most of the times also means budget).

> They are like many visual designers caught between
> problem solving and aesthetics.

> But in the digital world, composition is death and
> the internet is the realization of post-modernism.
> To lend from architecture would be to move
> oneselves even further away from whatever service
> or product we are designing. Some areas of architecture
> such as landscape architecture are actually
> more important that the Frank Gehry
> types (although I am a big fan of their work)

> So if we are to lend from anyone it should be from areas,
> that don't see their work as a monument to be admired
> from afar but as a an environment to be actively used every day.

More of the IxD discussion is here:
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=46168

Oct 1, 09 10:33 am
med.

Info, you are NOT an architect and you never will be one. The sooner you can accept this, the sooner we can all move on.

Oct 1, 09 10:46 am
toasteroven

among what has been mentioned previously... and I think nam alluded to this on the other site...

"information architects" mostly only really design/guide the visual experience of the understanding of "information."

REAL architects have been historically engaged in creating spaces that we inhabit hapticly i.e. spaces that we experience with all of our senses and our bodies.

unfortunately, these days both kinds of "architects" are pretty close - creating prescribed flat visual experiences with only the individual in mind - however - academic information design has been slightly ahead in exploring multi-sensory experience in order to help facilitate the understanding of "information" or our environment.

personally, I think the two fields have potential to be complimentary.

Oct 1, 09 10:49 am
med.

As some have mentioned in this thread, I've also met quite a few douche bags who went around saying they were "architects" when really they were just computer nerds who practiced software engineering/programming.

Oct 1, 09 10:52 am
info architect

hey med. until i go back to gradschool and and pass the licensing exams you're absolutely right. i'm no Architect. and i may not even be a little-a architect.

the point of this thread, and of much of my work during the past year, is to enrich and inform the work that people like me do on screen with insights from what people like you do in meatspace.

richard saul wurman had the training and licensure and even a legitimate claim to having taken part in what we now call starchitecture via his tutelage under Kahn ... and he blazed a largely unfollowed (or perhaps unfollow-able) trail from architecture to information architecture.

i'm hoping to take part in a re-blazing of that trail and a re-mapping of the ideas and language of IA back to its original source in architecture. conversations like this one contain a wealth of meaningful notions that i hope start to use (and steal from) in order to pave the cowpaths between these worlds

Oct 1, 09 11:00 am

It turns out, for my design at least, that text is subtext bilocated.



Since I actually have two design/renovation briefs, the second project will be delivery of content in the enfilade slash labyrinth style via bilocation and the theory of chronosomatics.








Like 18 January 2005, 19 April 2005 was another trilocation day...

...already made provisions in case anyone attending the lecture comes down with trilocation-sickness.







Looks like there's now no denying that there are architects and there are appositional architects.

Oct 1, 09 11:31 am
toasteroven

additionally - "group" visual feedback - a virtual (visual) space (as designed by information architects) where we can converse and exchange ideas with one another - like this forum - is still just as isolating and alienating as stereotypical suburbia.

for example - Even though I share a lot of the same sentiments as many people on this forum, I still do not feel as connected to anyone around here as I do to my brother-in-law who I completely disagree with ideologically - just because I physically see him each week.

so - why does physical proximity in space have a much stronger effect on my feeling of connection to an individual than actual intellectual camaraderie online?

"information architects" are incapable of completely replicating the social connections that play out in physical space. This is where we as architects and designers of space have greater authenticity over social experience.

Oct 1, 09 11:40 am
pdxWebDr

Hey all, just thought I'd chime in. I find this conversation really engaging.

I come from the web design side of this; here are a couple thoughts based off my limited knowledge of and even less experience in IA:

1. WHAT IAs DO
Information Architects, to me, are in charge of setting up a system that displays the right information in the right context.

If we were to use Amazon.com as an example, things that an IA would provide would be setting the framework for product categories, subcategories and items, the last of which would have a set of elements such as description, 'users also purchased', reviews, etc.

These decisions would be made by an IA and implemented by other specialists. I've found parallels between this undertaking and the ideas espoused in A Pattern Language.

2. WHAT IAs DON'T DO
Generally speaking, IAs don't code - they designate. They outline actions like site navigation and relationships like 'other albums by this artist'.

Similarly, they don't generally provide the final site layout - they just block it out. In both cases, think more [element goes here] than an actual finished, usable page item.

3. MATERIALS USED
Here we need to not only define the materials but the context. Borrowing from Simples' excellent "conscious intervention of space" definition, I'd say the 'space' in this context is 'information' and the materials used to intervene are 'relationships'.

It's true that Architects create tactile, multi-sensory environments and IAs deal with something more one-dimensional, but it's only one-dimensional in the real-world sense.

Hardware such as keyboards, mice and monitors are just the plane of intersection for space and information. Information has many facets of experience just as our physical space provides the five senses.

If we were to take this to an illogical extreme, once could posit from a web standpoint that architecture is limited because it is only represented in flattened images.

4. NOMENCLATURE
I would never call myself and Information Architect because I'm not specialized enough in that field - it would be limiting to my skillset and disrespectful to the more prominent IAs.

However, it wouldn't be because I felt any slight would be dealt to Architects proper. Terms are borrowed and invented at an insane rate right now and employing a word like Architect to describe a position is not meant to be presumptuous - it's meant to quickly communicate a concept.

I understand the requirements for becoming a captital-A Architect are rigorous and I have respect for that title in its context, but I doubt any Doctors are losing much sleep over my company name or, say, the self-titled "Rug Doctor" cleaning service down the street.


Of course, this is all coming from an untrained, unlicensed web developer, so take it with the amount of salt you prefer. This is an excellent conversation and I just wanted to throw in my two cents!

Oct 1, 09 11:54 am
info architect

sidebar: richard saul wurman is giving a talk right now at a conference in chicago:

http://trex.id.iit.edu/events/drc/2009/speakers/richard-saul-wurman.html

Oct 1, 09 11:55 am
FrankLloydMike

As an unregistered, hopefully future architect who isn't even sure I am legally allowed to call myself an "intern architect", I completely agree with Jacob and Steven. The title of architect is protected (or should be) because of the inherent rights and responsibilities that accompany it, and because of the arduous process of achieving it.

It's been discussed elsewhere, but I don't think that any other licensed profession suffers from such rampant title appropriation. Sure, there could be a Lawn Doctor as soon as a Backyard Architect, but the title seems less disingenuous. When someone appropriates the title "doctor", it is usually in a playful manner, not meant to equate or associate the work with that of a medical doctor. This doesn't seem to be the case with the title "architect".

Not to demean the work that info architect does, which is valuable, but my feeling is that the relationship to the work of an architect is theoretical at best, and requires a liberal definition of the term. Moreover, I think in many ways the title Chief Flavor Architect is less problematic than Information Architect, because like Lawn Doctor, it is playful and no one would really confuse the work with that of an architect or presume an association to architecture.

Oct 1, 09 11:58 am
jacob

Info,

This retort is kind of disappointing as it's really just turning the accusation at the Architect. All I can say is that this seems to be an "Fountainhead" assumption of architecture schooling...

I type this from Cecil Balmond's class (and he's here...). Look him up. He's doing some really interesting stuff in algorithmic design and how it coincidentally relates to the needs of architecture and construction. It's very little to do with "artistic" endeavors and much more to do with discovery and anti-design in favor of adopting logical systems (until later..).

Look up Kieran+Timberlake, (another pair of faculty here at Penn) and who are significantly involved in both research (in a very scientific sense and not specifically promoted by the client) and practice

Check out others. Look at the PS1 competition winners over the last 10 years and what the proposals and built forms have been...it's a very experimental realm, paid from competition money (so there's no client) and it absolutely gets built....

Perhaps the best view of what discourse is going on in architecture can be found right here on the Archinect home page...through the links to new buildings and firms and in the school blogs.

There is certainly non client based research in architecture and very few architects have the luxury to consider a building as a monument (and fewer of the architects designing monuments are even doing this).

Architecture is more than people named Frank.

Oct 1, 09 12:01 pm
FrankLloydMike

Also, I agree with LB's realization that this forum is a place in a sense. People can interact, we can get a sense of each other's personalities, and so on. But the experience is entirely different than a place in any other sense. I find it very hard to believe that many of us would consider ourselves to inhabit this space--we visit and browse websites, remember--our memories of it relate to information and dialogue we exchanged, but not of arriving, departing, inhabiting, or even, I would guess, experiencing.

This place may have a visual design, which we can sense, but it has no smell, no acoustics (and in the case of this site, no sound whatsoever). We cannot sense the time of day in it, or the season, or even the deterioration or aging of its elements over time. We cannot overhear a thread in the next room, nor the approach of another user.

This is a place, for sure, and an important one, but it cannot give us shelter, and it does not offer us a sensory experience. It's a place we can go, but certainly not a place we inhabit the way we do architecture, good or bad.

Oct 1, 09 12:07 pm
pdxWebDr

FLM -

When you say

"I agree with LB's realization that this forum is a place in a sense. [...] the experience is entirely different than a place in any other sense."

I'd be curious as to how you would define that sense.

Think of someone who's said to "live in his own head". That description communicates a concept we all can intuitively grasp, but also implies there's a sense of identity untethered from our actual physical embodiment.

Not to get too philosophical, but I consider that "unbodied self" to be the primary audience in website design, as the "bodied self" is to real-world design.

Oct 1, 09 12:22 pm
architecture in cyberspace?

1999.09.15 12:37

First, I said, "I'd hate to see the virtual merely become a reflection of the real." This means I'd hate to see architects/designers/theorists neglect an investigation of the inherent qualities of the virtual/cyber realm, where they can find virtual/cyber's own "natural" order. For example, one huge difference between architecture in the real world and architecture in cyberspace is that in cyberspace actual buildings are redundant, indeed a real auction house that does what eBay does couldn't even be built. Another difference between real architecture and cyber architecture is that one goes to real architecture whereas cyber architecture comes to you. It may simply be that "real" architects have to begin also thinking about what it means to design architectures that go to people.

On a personal level, I like that www.quondam.com is a museum of architecture that is not a building, and, moreover, a museum of architecture that goes all over our planet. Yet, I also like that Quondam originated from a modest rowhome in a borderline poverty neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Perhaps the purest architectures of cyberspace are precisely those architectures that can't be built [except in cyberspace].

Oct 1, 09 12:36 pm

So what can a virtual museum of architecture be that a real museum of architecture can not be?
2000.01.08

Oct 1, 09 12:44 pm
jacob

Info,

Could you post/host any examples of IA "work"?

I'm sure you must have diagrams, flow examples, etc...(or whatever you produce? sketches? etc? Vado mentioned "outlining action")

As much as the almost-mud-slinging is fun (and wholly crap..way more rampant and bullheaded on IXDA), I think it might be really interesting and useful to move this discussion further to actually exchange some work and get to the thinking process and compare notes there.

I'm interested to see some of the thought processes and methods that IA's use and how those might relate to methods that architects use to both solve problems and deliver solutions.

Oct 1, 09 12:52 pm
info architect

jacob: here's the only example i have at hand that lends itself to being disguised enough for me to honor my NDA with the client

http://nowthatiseeit.com/iaexample1.pdf

i'll try to dig up some other examples.

Oct 1, 09 1:17 pm

Perhaps then information planner is an more apt description.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/planner

Oct 1, 09 1:42 pm
jacob

Thanks info.

The first page and the logic seems interesting to me -- (how cliche...the blueprint) -- but going through it I can begin to see the logic to it.

So if I understand this correctly...you as the IA would design the system for how the interface works...and present this as a deliverable to the client...who then passes it on to the coders/graphics/visual people?

I'm curious to know what of this example you do, what you do that you can't show us and what other inputs-and-outputs you're dealing with. Are you in charge of (for instance) creating the system of questions for somebody beginning a plan? Or are you only looking at the role of the questions within the questionnaire in the system of access? (or..does it depend?).

..And then from this, who does this go to or what information do you get from people to start? - essentially...where in the chain of creation do you as the IA lie?



Oct 1, 09 1:56 pm

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