Online universities in California cover a lot of subjects, but one area where they excel is in studying information and information systems. One growth area emerging from the vast landscape of information management is information design/information architecture. This is a critical facet of information that has gotten more and more attention as the ability to produce information exploded.

When the ability to amass and produce information explodes, being able to find specific information becomes extremely important. Information architecture/information design is the science of structuring information to make it both easier to understand and easier to move through. Information architects use a number of techniques to accomplish their goals.

Since information comes in mathematical and textual forms, the information architect uses different tools. For mathematical data, the challenge is to reveal the significance or patterns within those numbers. Edward R. Tufte’s “Visual Display of Quantitative Information” in 1982 revolutionized thinking on numerical data. Since readers are sometimes unable to understand the actual importance of long arrays of numbers, Tufte advocated graphic representations of data. Graphics quickly convey data’s significance. It is relatively easy to see upward or downward trends in numbers with a plotted line or bar graphs. Pie charts reveal percentages easily. Graphics “explain” the actual significance of numbers.

Another challenge to an information architect is that of how to rank, arrange and map large amounts of textual data. The same challenge presented by numbers is different with text. While the numbers have significance revealed by graphics, individual words have inherent value for the reader. The problem with text is how does the information architect make it possible for the reader to find things without diminishing the value of the text itself? In the case of text, the information architect has to create paths through text. These pathways are created in a variety of ways generally with tree structures and key words.

Tree structures are like maps. They show on what pages that key information is located. On those pages, the reader is further guided by key or highlighted words that lead to additional information.  Using these tools, an Information Architect builds access to specific information from any point. Because the process of making information accessible somewhat resembles that of indexing books within a library, information architecture was viewed as an extension of library science. There are those that believe that IA must be considered as more like computer science. In reality, IA requires a knowledge of both fields.

The best Information Architecture programs combine library science, computer science and graphic design. There are a number of online courses but there are also programs at UC Berkeley and UCLA. An interesting way to evaluate the value of these courses is their own user interface, the degree to which the course engages in its own information design and the degree to which all the various issues mentioned integrate within the course offering. Schools with more extensive offerings and integration between digital issues and library sciences are:

One of the more comprehensive offerings comprising all facets of information architecture and data is at California’s San Jose State University. SJSU’s Masters in Library and Information Science covers: the theory and technologies relating to the design, building, and management of Web-based information.

Association for Information and Image Management has a program that it offers are course in information architecture.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 5,300 more information architects needed over the next 10 years. These jobs pay handsomely with median compensations above $100,000.

So if you’re unsure of exactly what to study, maybe you should look into information.


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