2010. november 22.

On Information Architecture - Interview with Dan Klyn

Számítógépes nyelvészet: Please tell us something about yourself.
Dan Klyn: My name is Dan Klyn, and I teach the IA class at the University of Michigan School of Information. My primary research focus is interpreting the work of IA-pioneer Richard Saul Wurman. In addition to operating my own IA consulting practice I was also recently elected to a seat on the board of directors of the IA Institute.  I live near Lake Michigan on the West coast of the State of Michigan, and my first "real IA job" was at Allmusic.com in 1998.
According to Wikipedia "Information architecture (IA) is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems. Among these activities are library systems, Content Management Systems, web development, user interactions, database development, programming, technical writing, enterprise architecture, and critical system software design." Everyone who's ever made a website or blog did some sort of naive IA and almost certainly met the term IA, but does it have a kind of 'differentia specifica'?
I'm not sure that everyone who's ever made a website or blog knows about the term IA.  Especially in the USA I've observed a trend over the past 3 or 4 years where the use of the words "information architecture" or the abbreviation "IA" increasingly is supplemented with a diacritical mark ... often a 'slash' ... and the addition of "UX".  I think the definition you pulled from the Wikipedia is unclear and inaccurate, but sadly the discourse within the community of practitioners around the question of defining IA has been poisoned. There are many practitioners who used to self-identify as "IA" who're now using "UX." 
Many of those who've made the switch from IA to UX have done so in a manner that would suggest that the terms are by-and-large interchangeable, and if like me you take offense at the notion that IA and UX are interchangeable and if you push back on some of the folk who've made the terms interchangeable you're met with shrill objection and finger-pointing.  All of a sudden you're "Defining The Damn Thing" and the conversation is abruptly ended.
But to your specific question about different species of IA... the most helpful frame I've seen put on this question was done by Eric Reiss in 2008, when he gave a talk about "strategic IA" and "tactical IA" as diverging modes of IA practice.  In the past we'd talk about "big" and "little" IA but Eric's delineation is better.  Whether you're talking about Wurman IA or Polar Bear IA or User Experience IA, all of these can be reduced down into strategic and tactical roles. 
For me, It seems that IA is an answer to the problem of complexity. In software engineering programmers came up with design patterns to tackle with complexity and describe recipes to common problems. Those design patterns are dealing with 'non-technical' things, fostering re-usability, giving clues to people working in groups, and helping working in groups. Can we describe IA as a way to answer those problems that cannot be addressed by technical solutions, or shorter as a collection of 'common sense' practices?
Richard Saul Wurman once said that he did not believe that he held the "keys to the kingdom" of good design with the invention of Information Architecture, but that he did possess, by way of information architecture, the kingdom attitude.  And he went on to say that he believed that this attitude can be learned and shared.  Several years ago I had the good fortune to attend a dinner held in Mr. Wurman's honor after a talk he gave at my University, and he regaled the table with stories of the time he spent as Lou Kahn's protoge in Philadelphia.  One of the things he told us about was the love that he and Kahn shared for dumbness - for basic and fundamental observations that come from a place of total innocence and lack of preconception.  The approach to IA that I've learned from studying RSW's work relies upon finding those places of total innocence and lack of preconception.  It's an uncommon kind of common sense, this kind of IA.  The only expertise it requires is the ability to shed expertise.  And to understand what it's like to not understand.
There are three buzz words out there now; data, web n.0, and interaction design. We are living in the age of data, there are a plethora of data-driven stuffs around us from data science to data journalism, users are generating data by surfing on the net, and consuming data at the same time because of the other buzz word of web 2.0 using fancy (but sometimes useless) interfaces. Is there a place for IA in this triangle? Can it bring down to earth those ideas?
I keep going back to something Jesse James Garrett once said, where he differentiated IA and UX by stating that IA is about cognition, and that UX is about perception.  If you extend that analysis into the questions you're raising about "the cloud" and interaction design an what's happening at the bleeding edges of information and technology and design, IA continues to be an indispensable discipline because IA is the key that unlocks understanding. IxD and UX can't succeed in shaping perception without IA making the first move in terms of understanding.
 Is there any typical way to IA? What kind of route would you advise to a youngster who wants to be an information architect?
In the USA, the typical way to get into IA for many years was to enroll in a graduate program in Human-Computer Interaction, or Library & Information Science.  Up until 3 or 4 years ago, many of the graduates from these programs could exit academia and enter the job market with a job called "information architect".    Today I see fewer and fewer entry-level opportunities that are called "IA".  And even the ones that're called IA are often times more accurately called UX or IxD based on the work that is done.   So I don't know that there is a typical way to become an Information Architect anymore.  I would advise youngsters who want to be information architects to find a mentor who's successfully practicing as an information architect and then figure out a way to be indispensable to that person.  The IA Institute has a mentorship program that is available to all members, and some of the most compelling thought leaders and practitioners in the field give their time and expertise in mentorship to develop the next generation of IAs.  What's the old saying? "Fake it until you make it?"  I believe that IA's foundations are an alchemical combination of information science, graphic design and rhetoric.  You can learn that stuff in any number of academic programs.  The key is understanding how to combine the ingredients, and seeing how it's done.  My opinion is that mentorship and apprenticing are the best way to convey and learn the "kingdom attitude" of IA RSW speaks of.

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