Unhappy IAI Anniversary

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the dissolution of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI), the professional organization that was dedicated to the development of the practice of information architecture. The Institute was started by 14 thought leaders in 2002 and ended in 2020 as a result of thought-leadership abandonment, community ennui and the weaponization of the organization by a splinter group with intent to punish an individual.

During its all-too-short lifetime the Institute brought the concept of information architecture into prominence with focus on website structure and engagement. The Institute had a job board, membership directory and two conferences, the IA Summit (underwritten by the Association for Information Science and Technology) and the innovative IDEA Conference as well as an education curriculum. Sadly, professional management that enabled such growth ended due to financial inattention. Ensuing volunteer Boards were populated by individuals who did not have sufficient expertise or were more focused on personal agenda than the Institute’s continued growth let alone its survival.

I was elected to the IAI Board in the spring of 2018. Our goal was to return focus to creation of programs that would engage current membership and plant the seeds to grow the practice with new and innovative ideas. We struggled to address financial challenges long-ignored by those who preceded them. However hard we tried to stem the financial bleeding from an ill advised platform migration, expensive membership software and a nonsensical two-tiered membership offering it was not enough. These efforts were undermined by internal as well as external forces.

The IAI heir apparent World IA Day (WIAD) offers a single day global conference with presentations. The Journal of IA published its most recent article in 2022. It is no wonder that information architecture has a User Experience identity crisis.

You may wonder why this is of significance now. Information architects can bring essential skills to the design and development of artificial intelligence applications. These are information organization, ontology, taxonomy, information labeling, structure and, most important, context. There are information architects that combine these skills with system thinking enabling them to make significant contributions to the emerging intelligent information access landscape.

Sadly, there is no professional organization to shepherd the practice to its “next” level at a time when it is most needed and relevant. That does not mean that Next IA will not come into being. There are system-thinking IAs out there. Finding and organizing them will be harder and take longer than we may be able to afford.