What is Information Architecture?

I want to continue to build on the theme of Information Architecture which is being talked about a great deal at the Open Group Conference in Newport Beach. In my post, "A Quick Look At The Importance Of Information Architecture" I highlight the value of Information Architecture and put it into the  context of Enterprise Architecture. 

In this post I want to define it and continue to build on that context setting. The area of information architecture is still a bit fuzzy on what it really is. I think the confusion starts with the name. Is this topic called "Information Architecture" or "Data Architecture"? Once you decide on a term you like, typically off to Google you go for a definition on wikipedia or some other site(s) that will contain variety of different insights into the terms.

I have my own definition of what Information Architecture is, and yes, I locked in on what I prefer to call this aspect of Enterprise Architecture. But let's take a step back and look on the web at some definitions to see if there are some definitions that resonate.


Data Architecture

  • TOGAF Data Architecture - A description of the structure and interaction of the enterprise’s major types and sources of data, logical data assets, physical data assets and data management resources
  • Wikipedia - Data architecture in Information Technology is composed of models, policies, rules or standards that govern which data is collected, and how it is stored, arranged, integrated, and put to use in data systems and in organizations. A Data Architecture is often the design of data for use in defining the target state and the subsequent planning needed to achieve the target state. It is usually one of several architecture domains that form the pillars of an enterprise architecture or solution architecture.

Information Architecture

  • EIM Institute - Information Architecture is the function of defining and using master blueprints for semantic and physical integration of enterprise data assets (e.g., enterprise data model, enterprise data flows). These master blueprints provide a clear definition of how the data is structured, collected, shared, maintained, and stored from both the IT and business community perspectives.
  • Wikipedia - Information architecture (IA) is the art and science of organizing and labelling data including: websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability.[1] It is an emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing together principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.[2][page needed] Typically it involves a model or concept of information which is used and applied to activities that require explicit details of complex information systems. These activities include library systems and database development.
  • Web Monkey - Information architecture is the science of figuring out what you want your site to do and then constructing a blueprint before you dive in and put the thing together. It’s more important than you might think, and John Shiple, aka Squishy, tells you why.


Looking at these and it is really two ends of the extreme. So which one is right? 

Neither in my opinion, but some are close and I don't think these definitions do the space justice. I also want to be clear that information architecture is a lot like business architecture a few years ago. Not well defined, loose methods, models and a real lack of definition around roles. 

The definitions around data architecture seems loser to enterprise architecture, however, it is a very technical definition. One of which I am not a believer in personally. Just like with all aspects of architecture there is abstraction, I believe these definitions are correct but at a lower level of abstraction.

As you read the definitions of information architecture from most sites it is more centered around User eXperience (UX) rather than what EA's think of it. The outlier is the Enterprise Information Management (EIM) Institute, which has a definition that is closer to what I think the definition is. 

I like the marriage of the EIM Institute + TOGAF (and some parts of the Wikipedia definition). 

So here is the definition I land on:

Information Architecture is an aspect of enterprise architecture that enables an information strategy or business solution through the definition of the company's business information assets, their sources, structure, classification and associations that will prescribe the required application architecture and technical capabilities.


The core of this definition is switching from starting with the application architecture (and sometimes even the technology architecture) but rather to focus first on business architecture that will lead to information architecture and then the other aspects. Once you define the IA aspects your architecture will more reliably align to the business value realization goals. 

This is enabled by many different methods, models and tools. I will talk more about them in a separate post.