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Lessons from World Information Architecture Day 2016 @ Ann Arbor

A buddy and I stopped by the University of Michigan this past Saturday to attend Ann Arbor’s World Information Architecture Day. The all-day event was full of enlightening talks and generous giveaways. Below are the tweets I was able to send out before my phone died, as well as others’ tweets that I found enjoyable or insightful.

The day’s schedule:

Understanding how each part of UX fits together… as a unicorn!

On the “IA Wall” outside the auditorium, attendees were encouraged to write on a Post-it note what information architecture means to them. Perhaps the most satisfying moment of the day was this appreciation for my contribution:

The Structural Integrity of Meaning

I don’t plan on going to graduate school immediately after earning my bachelor’s, but I still often find myself reading about the universities whose programs I’m considering. When one of these schools tweeted a video of the full introductory lecture of their “Information Architecture” course, I wasted no time bookmarking it for later. It’s long (three hours if you combine both parts), but what I’ve seen so far has answered a couple long-standing questions I’ve had about IA. And – as any good lecture should – it’s led me to a couple more.

The biggest question is, of course, “What is Information Architecture?” (I must admit I’m a bit relieved that even at the graduate level this is still a question that’s being asked.) The lecturer, Dan Klyn, offered a definition that’s a bit of an improvement over the usual “information architects are the guys who design the wireframes.” Klyn said (in what are apparently someone else’s words),

“Information Architecture is about the structural integrity of meaning across contexts.”

How can a message be communicated not only through the information itself but also through the way it’s organized? Information architecture, as I understand it, is about structuring meta-meaning around content.

The definition of IA was further explored in an exchange that happened later on in the lecture. A student in the audience asked something about how content strategy fits in with IA (I think – it’s hard to hear anyone other than the lecturer in the recording).

Klyn responded by saying that, in his mind, IA and content strategy are one and the same. That was the first time I’d heard such a comparison. Are they really equal? One prominent (female) content strategist, according Klyn, sort of agrees. She says, “content strategy is just information architecture for chicks.”

Well… that’s not the sort of thing I expected to hear. And not something that Klyn is onboard with, for more than one reason.

But let’s put aside that (admittedly unconfirmed) definition for another day. Does all of this mean that content strategy is, in turn, also “about the structural integrity of meaning across contexts”?

Well, I’ve got a lecture to finish watching.

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