For the Nerd People TL;DR

The paper maintains that in the epistemological shift from postmodernism to pseudo-modernism, technological, economic, social, and cultural elements of change have thoroughly transformed the scenario in which information architecture operated in the late 1990s and have eroded its channel-specific connotation as a website-only, inductive activity, opening the field up to contributions coming from the theory and practice of design and systems thinking, architecture, cognitive science, cultural studies and new media. The paper argues, through a thorough discussions of causes and effects and selected examples taken from the practice, that contemporary information architecture can be thus framed as a fundamentally multi-disciplinary sense-making cultural construct concerned with the structural integrity of meaning in complex, information-based cross-channel ecosystems1

Well, on the train I decided to tl;dr this academic paper by pal resmini for pal nick because reasons.

Only by leaving palaces2 behind and becoming “a mirror of the times” would architecture fulfill its role for the creation of a “human milieu” (Le Corbusier, 2007, Introduction).

To Le Corbusier, this meant privileging function over form. He saw architecture stagnating in perpetuating ideals stemming from “cursed enslavement to the past”, turning “eyes that do not see” to the industrial dynamicity of modern life.

And yet, after ninety years, the single most powerful statement that still emerges clearly from “Vers une Architecture” is that “(u)n esprit nouveau souffle aujourd’hui”, that “(t)here exists a new spirit”, and that this spirit was a spirit of change. It was there for everyone to see it.

As a result, a rather large fraction of the current scientific literature on information architecture is either produced within the boundaries of other disciplines, with all negative consequences that usually carries along in the heavily compartmentalized academic discourse, or sadly out of touch with much of what has happened in the practice in the past 6-7 years and with the new, multi-disciplinary framings coming from architecture (Norberg-Schultz, 1971; Ferschin & Gramelhofer, 2004; Klyn, 2012; ), urban planning (Lynch, 1960; Jacobs, 1992), cognitive science (Johnson, 1987; Dourish, 2004), design and systems thinking (Meadows, 2006), new media (Norman & Lucas, 2000; Manovich, 2001; Tryon, 2009) that are reshaping the theory of information architecture.

Information has gone fully mobile, and constant access, either through personal mobile devices or public ambient systems, has drastically changed the patterns of consumption and production that were established in the 90s. Smartphones first and tablets second have especially transformed our relationships with information (Mueller, H., Gove, J. L. & Webb J. S., 2012).

Information is also being embedded in physical space, augmenting our in-place experience of a certain location (UrbanFlow, Layar, Shadow Cities), providing us with forecasting or planning abilities (GPS, Google Maps), or adding a variety of in-context social capabilities through map-like applications (Path, FourSquare, StreetView). We have created an unexpected, layered and uneven but very real version of what we believed “cyberspace” ought to be (Institute for the Future, 2009).

The downside of being “always on” is fragmentation, a general sense of non-belonging, and loss of meaning (de Ugarte, 2012).

As for how, this being channel- or medium-aspecific is probably the largest difference between contemporary information architecture and classical information architecture. I argued before (Resmini et al, 2012) that this is not a difference in nature. Rather, it reflects the primary attention to the working practice of classical information architecture: instead of focusing on the sense-making framing that Wurman originally formulated, information architects chose to define their discipline through the artifacts of the practice. In the specific parlance of the late 1990s, websites. Through the years, what was a perfectly acceptable way to frame a practical problem (what do you do?) became a paralyzing identification between a discipline in the making and some of its deliverables, methods, or tools (you are what you do). Information architecture is labeling. Information architecture is card sorting. Information architecture is wireframes. Which, as it is plain to see, is not far from maintaining that photography is but films and printouts. Boundaries that were incidental and serendipitous were turned into absolutes.

Very much alike, the deluge of reality tv shows and their cultural derivatives8 is an expression of the rapidly decreasing centrality assigned to the Author that marks Pseudo-modern. In the late 1990s or late 2000s, “the emergence of new technologies re-structured, violently and forever, the nature of the author, the reader and the text, and the relationships between them” (Kirby, 2012)9: while Postmodern narrative, with its over-conscious sense of self and history, attention to intertextuality, and often overused pastiches (of styles, times, genres), still remains an authorial affair10, Pseudo-modern “fetishes the recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it” (Kirby, 2012).

A sense of detachment is also another primary aspect of Postmodern that Pseudo-modern rejects, favoring a visceral, raw, uncut, first-person immersions within what appears to be, legitimately or because of careful directing and editing, the unfolding stream of events11. Detachment is a consequence of acute self-consciousness. David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, or Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” resort to playing with mirrors and layers and narrative into narrative to regain a pristine voice12: most often, citations or parodies provide a simpler and generally very successful way to achieve the same effect (Rombes, 2009). The “Shrek” movie franchise is a good example: detachment, irony and re-composition (de Ugarte, 2012)13

The primary artifact of information architecture, unlike other fields of design, is abstract: it is this “sense-making” – the arrangement and organization of the information structure that in its truest form exist primarily in the mind of the user as a conceptual model. Physical elements of the information architecture such as navigation, or search, are akin to signs in a way-finding system: parts that participate of the whole, but that even when fully collected still fall short of “being” the whole16. The design artifact here is the specific journeys, the specific structures, that the actors in the system design for themselves, as they orientate through a service or series of connected services. It is a process of sense-making and place-making in digital and physical space.