Everything is getting more complex. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information we encounter each day. Whether at work, at school, or in our personal endeavors, there’s a deepening (and inescapable) need for people to work with and understand information. Information Architecture is the way that we arrange the parts of something to make it understandable as a whole.
Messes are made of information and people
A mess is any situation where something is confusing or full of difficulty. We all encounter messes.
Here are some of the many messes we deal with in our everyday lives:
- The structure of teams and organizations.
- The processes we undertake in working together.
- The ways products and services are represented, sold, and delivered to us.
- The ways we communicate with each other.
It’s hard to shine a light on the messes we face
It’s hard to be the one to say that something is a mess. Like a little kid standing at the edge of a dark room, we can be paralyzed by fear and not even know how to approach the mess.
These are the moments where confusion, procrastination, self-criticism, and frustration keep us from changing the world.
The first step to taming any mess is to shine a light on it so you can outline its edges and depths. Once you brighten up your workspace, you can guide yourself through the complex journey making sense of the mess.
How to make sense of any mess
- Identify the mess.
- State your intent.
- Face reality.
- Choose a direction.
- Measure the distance.
- Play with structure.
- Prepare to adjust.
Information architecture is all around you
Information architecture is the way that we arrange the parts of something to make it understandable.
Here are some examples of information architecture:
- Alphabetical cross-referencing systems used in a dictionary or encyclopedia.
- Links in website navigation.
- Sections, labels, and names of things on a restaurant menu.
- Categories, labels and tasks used in a software program or application.
- The signs that direct travelers in an airport.
We rely on information architecture to help us make sense of the world around us.
Things may change; the messes stay the same
We’ve been learning how to architect information since the dawn of thought.
Page numbering, alphabetical order, indexes, lexicons, maps, and diagrams are all examples of information architecture achievements that happened well before the information age.
Even now, technology continues to change the things we make and use at a rate we don’t understand yet. But when it really comes down to it, there aren’t that many causes for confusing information.
a) Too much information.
b) Not enough information.
c) Not the right information.
d) Some combination of these (eek!).
People architect information
It’s easy to think about information messes as if they’re an alien attack from afar. But they’re not.
We made these messes.
When we architect information, we determine the structures we need to communicate our message.
Everything around you was architected by another person. Whether or not they were aware of what they were doing. Whether or not they did a good job. Whether or not they delegated the task to a computer.
Information is a responsability we all share.
We’re no longer on the shore watching the information age approach; we’re up to our hips in it.
If we’re going to be successful in this new world, we need to see information as workable material and learn to architect it in a way that gets us to our goals.