Darren Hood’s Information Architecture & Information Design Book Recommendation List
by Darren Hood
Time for another book recommendation list (and this one’s overdue). As mentioned in a recent post, information architecture (IA) has been a forgotten and/or overlooked part of user experience for several years now. This is grossly inappropriate for several reasons. Most notably, in addition to serving as a core foundational discipline to what we now know as UX, its application is the only way to ensure optimization of findability and proper implementation of information design.
While there are some who still understand, embrace, and practice IA in their UX roles, this is still a new concept to others. In addition, it’s either not taught in many circles or it’s taught poorly. For this reason, to assist the masses, I’ve compiled a new book recommendations list that focuses on information architecture (and some covering information design as well).
Here’s the list:
- Information Architects
No book recommendation list about information architecture and information design is complete without including the works of the person who coined the phrase information architect, Richard Saul Wurman. According to Wurman, the information architect is the person who identifies and organizes patterns found in data. This book, only available currently in print, provides an extremely sound foundation for those looking to understand the discipline from its inception — a must have for any UX historian!
- Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond (aka “the polar bear book”)
Written by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, this book was initially published in 1998 and updated several times over the years. It has been a staple in the world of UX from the beginning. It is still used as a textbook in Kent State University’s Master’s of User Experience Design program. It is affectionately referred to as “the polar bear book” due to the illustration of the animal on the cover.
- Information Architecture for Designers: Structuring Websites For Business Success
Written by Peter Van Dijck, this was one of the first published on the subject in 2003. It was a personal favorite, serving as a foundational part of my development as an IA/UX professional. It was lauded by such UX and IA pioneers as Alan Cooper and the polar bear book’s authors, Morville and Rosenfeld.
- Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession
This book, published in 2002 and written by Earl Morrogh, didn’t just focus on the methods and methodologies associated with information architecture. It expanded by providing some visionary insights. This is another personal favorite due to its tremendous impact on development during the earlier days of my career. It’s a great book to have on the shelf, but it appears to be out-of-print. Unless someone is a dedicated historian, the current price on Amazon ($566.99) may extinguish such a desire.
- How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody
Per Abby, “There is information architecture in everything we do.” How right she is. This is a wonderfully practical work that took a great deal of courage to write, considering how many were straying from focusing on IA in 2014. It’s a must have and a great read.
- Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture
Another well-written book that focuses on the importance of context, perception, affordance, and cognition and the importance of these factors as they related to information architecture and UX design efforts. Some may find it a tough read at times, but persistence is rewarded for those who continue to press forward.
- Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences
This one is a personal favorite. It extends beyond standard information architecture topics to address the delivering of consistent experiences across various form factors.
- Reframing Information Architecture
Published in 2014 and edited by one of the authors of Pervasive IA, this work includes the works of 11 different authors. Want a diverse set of perspectives on IA, covering everything from the discipline in general to cross-channel engagement to various strategic factors? This book is for you.
- Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web
I consider this 2009 book to be one of the most practical and most cognitively supportive works across the entire UX books landscape. This book helps drive a strong understanding of UX principles by tapping into the familiarity of the need for organization.
- Ambient Findability
Peter Morville finds his way onto this list for a second list with another work from 2009. I love one of the quotes presented in this book — “No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.” This book deep dives into mindsets to help us optimize “the labyrinths” associated with findability, one of the most critical products of a well-structured information architecture.
- Information Foraging Theory
This one is an academic work. Because of the writing style, this may come across to some as being overtly and unnecessarily complex. This book, however, occupies a special place in my memory due to the fact that this was where I learned about information scents and the fact that it was discovered that humans search for information in the same way animals forage for food.
- A Practical Guide to Information Architecture
This book’s title is quite fitting. The author, Donna Spencer, does a fantastic job of approaching its presentation on IA from a very granular perspective, focusing on the understanding of users, content, IA patterns, and navigational factors. Unfortunately, this book can be difficult to find.
- Health Care Information Systems: A Practical Approach for Health Care Management
This book provides a niche look at information management, citing its purpose as “preparing future health care executives with the knowledge and skills they need to manage information and information systems technology effectively.” If you’re interested in looking at information management from the specified angle of health care management, you will likely find this tome to be of great value.
- Information Design Workbook: Graphic approaches, solutions, and inspiration + 30 case studies
Published in 2008, this book presents an very holistic look at best practices for UX in the form of information design, including a review of several related processes, various categories for design consideration and evaluation, and 30 case studies to help provide strategic insights. The helpful visuals and topic coverage make this book an absolute delight to peruse.
- Envisioning Information
This book, written by Edward Tufte, today’s foremost expert on information visualization, was published in 1990. It provides several guidelines and examples about how to best present data visually. While it may be an older book, it is important to note that while methods may chance, the human brain does not. Older works have a very long shelf life and help with innovation efforts when reviewed critically.
- Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories, and Best Practices Behind Effective Information Visualizations
Published in 2013 and building upon the works of Edward Tufte and (most recently) Colin Ware, this book takes a look at information visualization from structural perspectives — trees, networks, timelines, flows, maps, spatial, spatio-temporal structures, and textual.
- The Accidental Taxonomist
This book is promoted as being “the most comprehensive guide available to the art and science of building information taxonomies.” While I’m very hype-averse (re the word “most”), I recognize the need of UXers to be well-informed about taxonomies, the passion demonstrated by the author, and the expertise on display in the book. This is a must have and a must read for those interested in sharpening their taxonomy and IA acumen.
- Content Strategy for the Web
Content Strategy is a completely different discipline than information architecture, but it is related. Many IAs are called upon to provide support in this arena. In addition, many factors associated with content strategy are focused on information (in the form of specific content); hence, this book and the coverage it provides can easily be considered highly relevant from an IA perspective.
It’s very sad that information architecture is an overlooked and forgotten skill. Considering its main by-product, findability, and the fact that this by-product is at the core of EVERY experience, to lack IA acumen is to lack in UX acumen. In other words, the UX professional who lacks IA knowledge and skill is limited in value.
I challenge everyone reading this post to examine where you stand concerning this topic and seek to fill your knowledge and skills gaps. You will benefit. Your team will benefit. The discipline will benefit. Everyone wins!
Darren Hood is a 26+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), and Harrisburg University (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”