An exercise in clarity: Explain “Information Architecture” in 10 words or less 23 Sep 2005

77 comments Latest by Joe

What exactly is an “Information Architect” or “Information Architecture” ? Explain it in 10 words or less. And then, take all the words you need to explain the difference between an information architect and a designer (not an artist, but a designer).

77 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Nick 23 Sep 05

Information Architect: Determines what must go where and how it should function.

As for “designer” vs “information architect,” I think both designations rely on similar skill sets (organization, systems thinking, etc). One difference that exists is where these fields affect a site’s users (assuming we’re talking about graphic design here — and that is an assumption). Good IA will make you fall in love with functionality. Good GD will make you fall in love with “look and feel.”

Of course, both of these things should be so transparent that you have no idea why you’ve fallen in love with the site in the first place.

Mark Gallagher 23 Sep 05

Information Architect:

Takes complicated information, organizes it, and makes it useful.

(only 9 words ;-)

Joerg 23 Sep 05

IA is about organising information into a meaningful and intuitive structure.

Design influences IA further. It’s about creating an experience/tool to get to this information in a natural efficient way. This is best achieved by empathizing with the end user, and refactoring the experience and the IA as much as possible from there.

I think both disciplines try to model reality as naturally as possible. One leans more toward taxonomy, the other more toward experience.

Jaime V�squez 23 Sep 05

Arranges information in a logical way.

Dan Boland 23 Sep 05

Duh, an information architect designs building made out of words. =)

Minoru 23 Sep 05

Right information to the right people at the right time.

Megan Holbrook 23 Sep 05

Information Architect: Designs beautiful navigational structure which client then ruins (8 words!) ;/

Information Architect: Creates hierarchy of information to help visitors navigate websites.

An Information Architect creates the navigational structure of the site and hierarchy of information. A Designer figures out how to make the structure *visibly* hierarchical and highlight information in a way that both attracts, guides and informs visitors.

Tim Case 23 Sep 05

I don’t understand the whole information architect thing at all. In fact, so far the word architect applied to anything involved with building web applications or software just doesn’t sit right with me. We saw this with so-called enterprise architects where the word architect implied some sort of master planner who could create grand designs and blueprints that the peons would turn into a gold. It implied that but no one was really sure quite what they did.

I’ve read a few articles written by information architects and they seem to fall into this same ambiguity where the division of design and information (and programming) is something artificial. It’s a dangerous implication that somehow designers and programmers can be detached from the information they are working with because there is an information architect on site to handle those “pesky details” or that somehow the management of content is outside the job requirements of the designer and programmer.

In this day and age everyone who presents information for other people in any medium, but especially the web, should be an information architect whatever that names implies and just drop the useless title.

Tim Uruski 23 Sep 05

Making information more useful by way of accessibility.

Julie Horton 23 Sep 05

Ok, here’s two. I couldn’t decide.

Arranges and categorizes words, pictures, and flow for easy use.

Organizes, categorizes, and arranges content and flow for easy use.

While designers need to keep in mind design that is easy to use, their focus is more on the ‘look and feel’ and less on the workflow, process flow, structure, and organization.

Stephen 23 Sep 05

An Information Architect helps you get at your data.

Emily 23 Sep 05


Definition 1:
An information architect provides the blueprints for a website.

Definition 2:
An information architect determines the structure of a website.

Both definitions stem from modeling the job of a “real” architect to the virtual world, and are really not very relevant any more. We don’t deliver as much documentation as we used to (we build prototypes instead), and we don’t just determine structure. This really isn’t what real architects do either. They just don’t create blueprints - that’s their deliverable, but more goes into it. They don’t just arbitrarily determine structure, they make many more decisions than that.


An information architect keeps the website users happy.

This implies we really are “designers” - meaning we synthesize a lot of different inputs with the end goal of keeping the users happy - just like a real architect would - keeping the occupants of a building happy.

In fact, I really don’t call myself an information architect anymore. I call myself a designer.

Jason Rothstein 23 Sep 05

IA establishes data discretion and data relation.

Designers develop affordances for altering and exploring data and their relationships.

Good design can’t overcome bad IA. Good IA can’t overcome bad design either, but good IA can make bad design easier to fix.

Emily 23 Sep 05

..and I really didn’t answer the question, because you were asking for the definition of INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE, not ARCHITECT.

“Information Architecture is the discipline of providing website blueprints”

“Information Architecture is the discipline of determining website structure”

“Information Architecture is the discipline of keeping website users happy”

DaveMo 23 Sep 05

Information Architect: Librarian

Designer: The person that creates the bookcases.

Not meant to be derogative of either IAs or Librarians, just analogous situations.

Emily 23 Sep 05

Sorry - 1 more thing…

and the reason that the definition has greatly expanded (from just structure to overall user experience) - is that the PEOPLE who originally did the documentation and all the detailed work (those putsy pershnikety people) - were the same people who ended up being the user experience people. It’s a personality thing. Good with details, big bossy people.

…my option. i’ve got lots of them. especially when it comes to IA.

Andy 23 Sep 05

Information Architect:Urban Planner::Designer:Traditional Architect

DD 23 Sep 05

10 words:

I don’t know, but I’m sure the information architect does.

sloan 23 Sep 05

Recently, for me, it has meant doing project management! Damn.

Nollind Whachell 23 Sep 05

Structuring information in a usable and efficient manner.

Garrick Van Buren 23 Sep 05

Since information architecture is what I do I like to say:

A website’s information architecture is its skeleton, muscles, and joints.

Chris S 23 Sep 05

An IA organizes information optimized for managing said information.

An Interface Designer maps the information to a virtual architecture optimzed for the user.

Owen Waring 23 Sep 05

Hmmmm, I like that last one:

IA is Skeleton, Muscle, Bone
Design is Skin, Face, Hairstyle
Development is Nervous System, Brain

sixtoe 23 Sep 05


misuba 23 Sep 05

Paid to like Jakob Nielsen so designers don’t have to.

Carlos Porto 23 Sep 05

IA - Organizes and gives clarity

Design - Gives Passion to organization

10 words for both of them.

Carlos Porto 23 Sep 05

I forgot to mention, I think both fields are like ying and yang. Both can co-exist seperately but together they balance each other.

nickd 23 Sep 05

Information architecture: the infrastructure by which information is organized, retrieved, and perceived.

There is a broad line between an information architect and a designer because their skill sets - and the parts of a site that they work on - can overlap so much. The places where I see the clearest division, however, are the database backend (information architect) and the aesthetics or organization of the front interface (designer). I have always seen an information architect as more of a computer programmer or engineer, whereas a designer is more concerned with refining outward image.

Keith 23 Sep 05

Organizing information so people can find it and use it.

georgivar 23 Sep 05

IA: Makes properly obvious the different elements of the system and the relationships between them. (9!?)

IA vs. designer - the designer does the same but in greater detail.

gsh 23 Sep 05

Information Architect: Increasingly outmoded job title for designer of experiences.

Information Architecture: Where do we put stuff so customers can find it?

Difference between the above and designer: not a damn thing. My new job title is Senior Interaction Designer—I still deal with the same problems but now, I no longer have to limit possible solutions to websites, email or banner ads. For me ‘Designer’ indicates that my job is to keep thinking until the best approach has been found. ‘Interaction’ reminds me that there are people on the other end of whatever approach I recommend so I better be sure that they are never made to feel stupid or frustrated when interacting with Thing X.

Arthur Clemens 23 Sep 05

Well, every definition will leave out essential elements and can never be totally right, but here it goes:

Information architecture: creates a compelling and clear-cut visitor flow.

Obviously ‘compelling’ and ‘clear-cut’ depict the main forces that are at the same time conflicting and conciliatory. ‘Visitor flow’ describes the structure from the visitor’s point of view, as experienced in time; all top-down structures/hierarchies only exist to facilitate this experience.

There is nothing technical about that, its more conceptual. And an information architect or interaction designer will always need other experts to make their ideas seeable and livable.

To devide the roles: the information architect foresees and plans the experience into rather abstract ideas; the designer empathizes with the ideas, translates them to something that can be experienced and be emersive. Obviously the designer needs to be a good storyteller/painter with empathy and a lot of attention for details.

Ed 23 Sep 05

concise answers to vague questions

Michael 23 Sep 05

An information architect is someone working with a meaningless title.

Eugene Chan 23 Sep 05

IA: normalizes content for usability, understanding, and elegance

sosa 23 Sep 05

“IA: Arrange informatios loggically . Does’t really care about aesthethics or branding…. whoa!”

A designer has to care also about aesthethics and branding and color and all that superfluos details that makes life more valuable.

Information Architecture is like a too-pragmatic subset of design. Web designers make mockups, IA does wireframes

charles lacy 23 Sep 05

Information Architecture is:
feng shui for data

A designer is:
feng shui for the visuals of the data

Christian Romney 23 Sep 05

Student of human behavior paid to improve software.

Phil Boardman 23 Sep 05

A creator of systems for data management and storage

Satya 23 Sep 05

Content organization

Ben Askins 23 Sep 05

Information Architect (noun): title invented by web designers desiring a software engineer’s salary ;-)

haydesigner 24 Sep 05

IA is a subset of what graphic designers had done online for years.
Admittedly, not always very well, but still….

haydesigner 24 Sep 05

As a honest attempt at a short answer:

Information Architect - Information Organization
Visual Designer - Information Presentation

Beckie 24 Sep 05

in general
information architect = someone who’s specialized in information as production factor

more specific
information architect = (structural) designer of (shared) information environment(s) for realising goals

Anonymous Coward 24 Sep 05

Information architecture = “A designer’s job”
Information architect = “A bullshit job title”

Daimon 24 Sep 05

Information Architecture can be defined simply as: the logical design of information.

Good visual communicators can be good designers and thus good information architects. Designers focus more on the branding elements of the screen whereas Information Architects focus on creating logical constellations of controls and information elements that allow the user to easily complete a task.

Anonymous also 25 Sep 05

Information architecture is how one orients users to concepts and information.

Anonymous also 25 Sep 05

Why would we spend time talking about differences - what about the things we have in common?

Derk 25 Sep 05

The (Dutch) pay-off of our company is: filters the essence. I think that describes in three words what a information architect does.

greg 25 Sep 05

The guy who has final say over the database design.

greg 25 Sep 05

sorry, that was Information Architect:.
Information Architecture: The final (or current) database design.

Peter Boersma 25 Sep 05

This is a trick question, sir! Are we talking about little IA or Big IA here? See Peter Morville’s article ( for the difference. Then come back to read this:

Little IA: define(s) underwater information structure to allow creation, indexing and finding.

Big IA: define(s) front-end information structure to allow selection, understanding, and actioning.

Nowadays, I call Big IA “UX” (user experience). Jens Meiert already linked to my T-model where I describe why.

torresburriel 25 Sep 05

“Make websites and allow browsing”

Pete Ottery 25 Sep 05

an information architect: organises and assembles information so humans can interact with it.

a designer: creates an aesthetic that supports and improves the way those information relationships are represented.


do what i do when anyone gets introduced to the team and asks who does what…

“these guys *points to information architects* draw boxes. Then i colour them in”


Michael 26 Sep 05

IA is where library science meets web design.

Stuart 26 Sep 05

“Information architects optimize the availability and presentation of information, and how!” There, 10 words exactly.

Andres 26 Sep 05

That’s a loaded question. An Information Architect is a type of designer, just as Graphic Designers, Technical Designers, Database Designers, Furniture Designers, etc. are types of designers.

All designers take a problem and come up with a solution using the means and tools they have. The focus of each will be different, because most of the time they try to solve different problems.

In bigger web teams, problems can come up when one type of designer tries to tackle more than his area of focus and goes over someone else’s territory. I personally prefer Information Architects to be called Interaction Designers as I prefer to call “designers” graphic designers, but that’s my personal battle.

Anonymous 26 Sep 05

Sitemap Putter Togetherer

Roope Rainisto 26 Sep 05

Information architect - Providing relevant information and task flows based on user needs.

Commenting other definitions, although many are quite good, I would really like to see the word “user” and “user needs” there more. Information can be provided in many ways, but the only “correct” or “incorrect” means are based on what the users are and what they want. Information purely as such has no optimal form or design.

(As a sidenote, my current job title is “interaction designer”, and I much prefer that title to “information architect”.)

spark 26 Sep 05

’ draw boxes to show where users are, what they doing ‘

mnicona 27 Sep 05

draw better boxes than spark for a happier end user

Brenda 27 Sep 05

Information Architect is a term used to describe what we do. It helps companies list open positions for what we do and it helps us find those jobs.

The difference between IA vs. designer is completely contextual. It depends on the makeup of the team, as well as who you’re talking to. If my grandma asks what I do for a living, I’m gonna say “web designer”. If I’m on a team with a library science IA hired to manage a taxonomy, I’m going to be the “interface designer”. If I’m the only person on the team charged with being the user advocate and structuring information, I’m gonna say I’m the Information Architect.

Discussions about titles are a silly territorial argument. IAs took on the title just to get people to shut up about it and get on with our work. So… let’s do that.

Ed Dowding 27 Sep 05

Makes the complex simple and intuitive (6)

Noah Mittman 27 Sep 05

Information Architect: An unfortunately ambiguous title that has yet to be outmoded.

adam 28 Sep 05

Information Architecture: Converting data into knowledge through organization and experience.

IA vs. Designer: Ideally there shouldn’t be a difference. It should be that IA and Design are thought of as one and the same. the iPod/iTunes combination is a perfect example of this. Both the IA and Design come together in one package where the two disciplines can not be separated easily…nor will the average user even attempt to make this separation.

To a degree, this is reiterating the Little IA / Big IA theory…I actually prefer to think of all of this type of work as UX work

Melon 28 Sep 05

Information Architect: Geek librarian.
Information Architecture: Internet & Information Science (IIS).

Don Schenck 28 Sep 05


Avinash Patel 29 Sep 05

IA converts data to information and categorize information according to need.

Frank Star 29 Sep 05

communication > design > information architecture
communication > design > visual design
communication > design > interior design
(o jeah, ‘communications’ is a highlevel branch of ‘human life’)

dsh 29 Sep 05

Information Architecture: the persnickety rigorous job of figuring out WHO needs WHAT, WHY they need it, WHEN they want it, and putting it WHERE they’ll find it.

It’s funny. I too now call myself an Interaction Designer or a User Experience Designer, but back in, um, 95, I was adamant about being called an IA. And I think it was because, at that time, we desperately needed to be taken seriously by developers.

The best products are those where visual design and interaction design are in a symbiotic relationship, focused on the motivations and needs of the guy who’s gonna use whatever it is you’re making.

Suzanne 29 Sep 05

IA: Strategy and Structure for Websites and Web Applications

Websites and Web Applications are just software. Software as been around for a long time. Software architects for complex applications have been around for a while also. So have Systems Engineers.

Designer wasn’t a term I heard until working with Web companies that had no software experience or expertise. It’s a very generic term with lots of different meanings. Some places I work, the designer is the graphics designer. Other places, it’s the html/css/javascript writer.

Back in the software development world, a lead software developer writes functional specs for all subsystems (including the user interface), models the database and directs the developers in their work coding and testing.

So, an IA is
- a software architect (blueprints and high-level specifications for the site sections and subsites)

- with some bit of system engineering work (interpreting the end user needs, verifying the requirements with business user flows, fitting them into existing systems when needed, transforming them for technical development)

- and lots of lead developer work (writing the functional specifications, developing wireframes, spec’ing search functionality, spec’ing web applications with page mockups and diagrams such as activity, sequence, navigation maps, etc.).

Lite 29 Sep 05

The organization of information, taxonomy and data to convey information.

IA 30 Sep 05

Makes people less stupid in front of a PC (9 words)!