DonnaM » Blog Archive » Maybe we do need IA research

Maybe we do need IA research

Over the past year or so there have been a number of discussions about where the IA research is and whether we need it. One of the best is summarised on Peter’s blog (A research agenda for information architecture). My normal response to these types of discussions has been – we have HCI research and we have info sciences research; and given that IA is effectively a discipline about getting people in touch with information, we don’t need our own set of research.

Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and maybe am changing my mind.

We do have HCI research and we do have info sciences research. But I’ve been digging through these for the past couple of years now, and I’m still not finding a lot of great stuff that really examines how people and information connect. The HCI perspective is about people and computers (human computer interaction, not human information interaction), and the info sciences is more about the information aspect than the combined aspect (OK, I know I’m generalising).

I was also thinking about some of the interesting ideas that came out of the IA Summit. There were lots of good ideas, but in order to leverage many of them, we need to go beyond ideas and make sure that we know enough about what is happening. Sure, we will make some of it up as we go and see what happens, but that won’t give us the best solution.

So does this mean that, IA research is necessary? Well, maybe. I don’t have the answers about where this would be done, how it could be done quickly enough to be useful or how to get it back to practitioners, but just maybe we should think about it more seriously.

Along those lines, I’ve been thinking of some research questions that are core IA, not HCI or info science:


(see Peter’s genre posts for background)

  • What digital genres do people recognise
  • What are the defining aspects of various digital genres
  • Does using digital genre in an interface help people to make decisions about which information will be of most use to them

Cognition and categorisation

  • Following along the lines of Grant Campbell’s review of literature about Alzheimer’s disease and categorisation, what other cognitive impairments affect the way we categorise or understand categories
  • Just how do (or do) the concepts of basic level categories apply to information architecture. We categorise information, but the content we categorise is somewhat different to the objects or functions traditionally studied
  • Do people categorise differently if they are looking at a set of information from a task or a content perspective (aka is closed card sorting valid)


Most information architects think faceted browsing is pretty cool, but:

  • Do people have a mental model of what is happening in a faceted browse interface (and does it matter)
  • What interface elements do and don’t work

Re-finding information

  • What proportion of people’s activity on the web is looking for information they have already found
  • What do we need to know so we can design for it
  • (there is some work on this, but I’d like to see more)

I know this is a reasonably random list, and I don’t even know that it is a good one – it mostly covers things I’m interested in and wish I had better information on. It doesn’t even touch on some of the longer term aspects of our work – these are things we need now.

2 Responses to “Maybe we do need IA research”

  1. TC Makinen Says:

    Regarding how people use information, you might want to check out “The Social Life of Information” by John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, along with John’s website at (I like his self-assigned job title: Chief of Confusion).

    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  2. donna Says:

    Thanks for the reference – I have this and tried to read it but couldn’t get past it’s poor writing and rhetoric. Maybe one day