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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Knowledge and Information Architecture
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 94]

Information Architecture appears to be tightly bound to web site design, but in fact it goes far beyond: it’s a fundamental part of the process of converting information into knowledge. 

According to the glossary of the Argus Center for Information Architecture (led by Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville) Information Architecture is “the art and science of organizing information to help people effectively fulfil their information needs” (The glossary can be downloaded in PDF format).

Richard Saul Wurman, who coined the term, defined it as ”The study of the organisation of information in order for the user to find their navigational way to the knowledge and understanding of information”. See InfoVis.net's glossary

There are many other definitions, some of them not so clear, others specifically bound to web site design, like that of Aaron West: “the practice of designing the infrastructure of a web site, specifically its navigation” See "The Art of Information Architecture"

Every day there are more “information architects” and the demographic explosion of web sites has made this speciality famous, something which was defined in 1975, quite a bit before the existence of the web. Maybe it appears that information architecture and web site design are two facets of the same thing due to the fact that precisely in a web site excellent information organisation is indispensable in order to avoid failure. Nevertheless IA is something essentially independent and has more to do with what Wurman calls “the business of understanding”.

Nathan Shedroff considers the process that leads to understanding as a continuum that begins in the data and ends in wisdom, going through information and knowledge. (See the book "Information Anxiety 2"  by R.S. Wurman, pages 27-29) Let’s summarise the main points

  • Data. Despite its abundance it’s not the driving force of our age. Data out of context is not information and, as such, is simply the raw material which we start with in order to reach understanding. A block of granite is not a sculpture until you take away all the spare stone, even though the shape “is there”. 

  • Information. It comes from the way in which data is presented and organised. This conveys, or lets it reveal, the meaning or, at least its interpretation. Going from data to information represents coming from sensory to conceptual. It’s data distillation.

  • Knowledge. What differentiates knowledge from Information is the complexity of the experiences that you need to reach it. In order for a pupil to have a good knowledge of a topic he/she has to be exposed to the same data set in many different ways, from different perspectives and he/she has to elaborate his/her own experience of the same. For this reason, according to Shedroff, education is a notoriously difficult task. Knowledge cannot be transferred from one person to another, it has to be built by the person him/herself.

    In this sense, Shedroff promotes “experience design” as the way to create the experiences that build knowledge in the most efficient way.

  • Wisdom. The ultimate level of understanding. With it we understand a broad enough set of patterns and meta-patterns in such a way that we can use and combine them in new ways and situations that are completely different to those that served us to learn. Wisdom is, like knowledge, something personal that has to be elaborated intimately, that unlike data and information, is bound to certain people and is lost when they disappear. For this reason it’s almost impossible to transmit it directly.

Information Visualisation takes place in the conversion from data to information acting as a vehicle for the construction of knowledge, by revealing the patterns that underlie the data.

Going from information to knowledge and then to wisdom, is our work and responsibility.

Links of this issue:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0789724103/infovisnet   Information Anxiety II
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