You now know that information architecture is something that can be seen, if you know what to look for. But it’s important to understand that information architecture is often invisible. For example, Figure 4-6 shows some search results from the BBC’s web site.
Figure 4-6.BBC's search results include three "Best Links"
What’s going on here? We’ve searched for “chechnya,” and the site has presented us with a couple of different things, most interestingly three results labeled as a “BBC Best Link.” As you’d imagine, all search results were retrieved by a piece of software—a search engine—that the user never sees. The search engine has been configured to index and search certain parts of the site, to display certain kinds of information in each search result (i.e., page title, extract, and date), and to handle search queries in certain ways, such as removing “stop words” (e.g., “a,” “the,” and “of”). All of these decisions regarding search system configuration are unknown to users, and are integral aspects of information architecture design.
What’s different is that the “Best Link” results are manually created: some people at the BBC decided that “chechnya” is an important term and that some of the BBC’s best content is not news stories, which normally come up at the top of most retrieval sets. So they applied some editorial expertise to identify three highly relevant pages and associated them with the term “chechnya,” thereby ensuring that these three items are displayed when someone searches for “chechnya.” Users might assume these search results are automatically generated, but humans are manually modifying the information architecture in the background; this is another example of invisible information architecture.
Information architecture is much more than just blueprints that portray navigational routes and wireframes that inform visual design. Our field involves more than meets the eye, and both its visible and invisible aspects help define what we do and illustrate how challenging it really is.
Please check back next week for the conclusion to this article.