Architectures of Meaning

Detail, Chambered Nautilus Shell, Jitze Couperus

The practice of information architecture (IA) as “the structural design of shared information environments” has been changing in the past few years under the influx of media convergence and ubiquitous and pervasive computing. IA is today uniquely positioned to help improve the design of successful user experiences and customer journeys in pervasive, cross-channel environments.
An upcoming workshop will introduce the grounding concepts of classical IA, the shift to pervasive information architecture and cross-channel UX, how this shift ties into the general ideas of convergence, cross-media, and systems thinking, and try to move the discourse on IA towards indeterminate problem solving to establish a renewed common language and grammar for both practice and research in the field.

Information architecture has always been primarily concerned with “sense-making”. Traditional forms of IA, although deeply concerned with the experience of the user, have resorted to defining that experience in relationship to the artifacts of the practice. For example, with web sites.
But the primary artifact of IA, unlike other fields of design, is abstract: it is this “sense-making” – the arrangement and organization of the information structure that in its truest form exist primarily in the mind of the user as a conceptual model. Physical characteristics of information architectures such as navigation, labeling, search, or site maps, are akin to a sign in a way-finding system: elements that represent a whole idea, and that even when fully collected still fall short of “being” the whole idea.

Pervasive information architectures introduce an added layer of complexity: the systemic approach which spans channels redefines the base IA artifact to be designed. The artifact is no longer a pervasive service, nor is it merely the service touchpoints that the user will encounter on their journey through that service. The design artifact in pervasive information architectures is the specific journey that users co-design for themselves, as they orientate through a service, as a process of sense-making and place-making in digital and physical space.

If you want to participate to the conversation, join me, Terence Fenn of University of Johannesburg and Jason Hobbs of Human Experience Design in our workshop at Pervasive 2012, June 18 2012, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Read the Call for Papers and send your contribution.

Maps & Common-sense

Original map from the Ultima games

Way-finding is one of my pets. Actually, way-finding and the concepts of space and place in information space are, but that sounds a bit pompous, so let's stick to way-finding.