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Chapter 15: Information as Architecture focuses on the movement in the digital era toward using information itself as a framework for its organization. The birth of the World Wide Web created a massive repository of information with little organization. Designers have adopted structures that collect this information into related contexts and control the flow of information from its seemingly unlimited source in the internet. Semantic elements are used as a major tool for creating these structures. The most popular structures are maps, which Hinton explains further in the following chapters.

Contemplating "Cyberspace" Edit

Hinton begins the chapter with a brief definition of what cyberspace represents as an object, along with a short historical perspective of the comeuppance of the term in its contemporary state. The simplest model the section outlines paints cyberspace as a sort of incorporeal junction between nodes of physical space, resting ambiguously in the collaborative area between digital media devices. Many statements point to cyberspace acting not as some distant singularity that defines the future, but as coexisting peacefully with the present day. Hinton explains this stance by saying “It's just a way of talking about how information has become disconnected from physical objects” [1]. The concept of cyberspace represents a web of information sources that interact with users but have no specific sources of interaction. Instead of the traditional object-oriented approach to architecture, cyberspace must be considered as a separate plane that can flow through multiple unrelated outlets.

The section ends with a brief list of influential works on the architecture of cyberspace, detailing the growth of the idea of information architecture from cyberspace to literature. Over time cyberspace evolved and interwove with the environment, appearing almost everywhere in the physical dimension, no longer being just a place of its own. The concept of cyberspace has been questioned by many people in the past and present, its definition evolving as more studies and works come to make sense of it.

Architecture + Information Edit

This section retreads some of the history of information architecture, which it defines as a systematic structural approach to sharing information. The section details the brief panic as the freshly-minted World Wide Web showed signs of becoming unmanageable even as it became a necessity for organizations and users. The linear approach to structuring the web was not enough to maintain order and usability. In this context, information architecture is used to define the underlying structures necessary to share information on the web. Many people gave their own definitions of information architecture, starting with places like IBM and evolving as more people began to define it. Hinton details information architectures as “…[T]he practice was less about designing the visual 'pages' of the Web than what was “between” those pages – the paths and nodal structures that made up entire Web environments” [2].

Hinton concludes this section by mentioning the book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (O’Reilly) because it introduced the concept of architecture for a more understandable and navigable Web. Architecture had to adapt from a single nodal approach - here a self-contained website - to an expansive network that encompasses many nodes and how they interact. This paradigm shift was the birth of the modern information architecture movement in web design.

Expansive IA Edit

Hinton outlines that the practices of information architecture are much less narrow than once thought. The sheer volume of information on the web requires the application of a big-picture approach to unify the disparate systems previously thought to be adequate. Hinton voices this approach by saying “Rather, an expansive view means looking beyond the myopic focus of neatly contained systems of organization and arrangement” [3]. The architecture used here must be adaptable to many situations, and not just an individual case, or the practice of architecture design risks becoming as unmanageable as the information it hoped to organize.

Before, information architecture was used in the Web to organize information and make it clear and more understandable. A movement has grown that has expanded information architecture to deal with challenges that people have to deal with beyond websites. This architecture strives to make the complexities inherent in a system much clearer and more understandable as a means to improve relationships between sources. This view is shown to be valuable in Chapter 17: Virtual and Ambient Places by creating a guideline for interactions that did not yet exist. Though there are few written resources on the matter, many sources now recognize the value of the field as a multi-layered construct – whether they refer to it as the same field or not. Fields like software design and environmental design aim to complete the same goals of forming a structure to contain an ambiguous system.

About Definitions Edit

In this final section Hinton finally gives a concrete definition for information architecture as "the structural design of shared information environments" [4]. He then provides more definitions borrowed from the Oxford dictionary to explain the words used in the previous definition. For example, structure is stated as "[T]he arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex" [5]. Hinton rests this section on the claim that “The central concern of information architecture is how information creates environmental structure and supports environmental understanding[6]. This chapter focuses on the definition and how environments, which may not be fully understood, can be supported and explored by applying an architecture.

Information architecture relies on language as a fundamental element in both its expression and its understanding. Careful word choice and comprehension is important to sharing the elements of architecture and keeping complex systems from becoming unapproachable. Information architecture is supposed to make the environment easy and beneficial for users to traverse. It should lead users to where they need to go no matter what they need to do. This approach is seen in Chapter 20: The Materials of Semantic Function where architectures must be pivoted around labels and flexible to accommodate user interactions.

Analysis Edit

This chapter essentially functions as a historical perspective and extended definition of architecture and why it is relevant. Though few ties are made to design practices and solving problems, it serves to lay a groundwork for understanding the methods in later chapters. Information architecture is particularly important in Chapter 20: The Materials of Semantic Function, where the semantic focus of the structures is required to create a flexible yet dependable frame for systematic understanding using language. This framework is further leveraged to explain tacit design methods as explained in Chapter 5: Attention, Control and Learning and later applied in Chapter 22: Models and Making.

Architecture is a common element in all the models the book describes for understanding context, as no organized system can exist without structure. Cyberspace has “… become so interwoven into our environment that there’s hardly a dividing line between one dimension and another” [7].  Everyone and everything seems to be connected in some way, and information is constantly flowing to and from people.  An environment that has been growing and evolving for generations to become what it is today. Many different mediums are used, each with their own unique protocols and audiences and information architecture affects all of this.

A strong understanding of architecture is therefore required for expert application of the models in the book to solve any writing problem. One of the first steps in many of these models is establishing how the architecture can be represented to answer the questions posed by the model. Some models, like those in Chapter 16: Mapping and Placemaking are nothing more than visualizations of the underlying architecture of a system.

In many ways, this chapter resembles the information in Chapter 9: Language as Infrastructure. The information in these two chapters is again related to Chapter 20 and semantic systems, and reflects the author's preference for language-based systems that account for word choice at every step. Chapter 22 also refers to language as fundamental for immersion-based context explorations, and is thus a powerful method of understanding context. This turns out to be very valuable for approaching writing problems, as language is also the fundamental element of written communication.

Writing problems in information architecture can be expressed as establishing clear and present links between sources through the medium of semantics. Elements such as hyperlinks are direct connections between information sources, and are established and explained through the words that surround them. Designs must reside within the architectures expected by users, or they risk alienating users before they even experience the system. Writing on a digital medium without consideration to digital architecture will most likely lead to a confusing and disorganized mess that will leave users unable or unwilling to read it, no matter how amazing the underlying message may be. Systems like search engines use hyperlinks as a fundamental relation between information sources, and also serve to expand the information architecture available on the web by allowing for new relationships between labels. The methods used by search engines change the content of websites by filtering traffic through specific checkpoints marked by term usage. This creates a predictable environment pivoted around a common structure. These structures are necessary for understanding and communication.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 255 
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 257 
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 258 
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 259 
  5. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 260 
  6. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 262 
  7. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 254

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