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World IA Day: Walking tour of downtown highlights information architecture event

The library auditorium while under construction in 1966

Local residents are familiar with parking in the Poe Garage in downtown Tampa to get to the Straz Center by crossing West Cass Street through the glass-encased walkway next to the John F. Germany Public Library. But are they acquainted with the library's auditorium? Not so much.

Downtown drivers have probably noticed the tall Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse on District Court on North Florida Avenue. But have they paid much attention to the Robert L.Timberlake Jr. Federal Building at 500 Zack Street? Probably not.

And when some come to The Portico at North Florida Avenue and East Tyler Street for open mike night, or youth activities, they might notice the old pipe organ. Yet they probably don’t remember the old church steeple that was a downtown landmark before the old Methodist Church building was demolished there in the 1960s.

Similarly, Tampa Bay residents are familiar with architecture and even landscape architecture. But they may have not heard of Information Architecture, an information age term first introduced in 1975 by Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED Conference.

The Internet made information architecture more relevant -- and it garnered more of a following with Peter Morville’s book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, which he co-authored with Louis Rosenfeld and Jorge Arango. It’s now the focus of World Information Architecture Day, a global event which began seven years ago in 14 cities including Ann Arbor, MI; Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Vancouver, Sao Paolo, Bucharest and Johannesburg.

The free event, held in conjunction with the Grand Rapids, MI-based Information Architect Institute, first came to Tampa four years ago. A Tampa team led by Amy Espinosa and Carlisle Stoup has been preparing the next program to be held Saturday, Feb. 24, at the downtown library’s auditorium at 900 N. Ashley St. Featured are Dan Klyn, president of IAI; Gus Paras, one of the library auditorium’s architects; and Arango, a partner in the Oakland, CA. consultancy Futuredraft.

“Now that technology has progressed so rapidly, and we have information being consumed all the time, there’s more of a need than ever to recognize it [information architecture],” Espinosa says.

Although the late 1990s book was launched for the digital age, the concept has evolved since then. “Digital and physical worlds are merging -- machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented virtual reality. Now we are organized,” explains Espinosa, a Tampa consultant and self-taught information architect. “Information architecture is in a new space.”

The Tampa Bay program, which kicks off with registration at 10:30 a.m., features a two-mile walking tour including the riverfront and some of downtown Tampa’s less talked about sites like Franklin Exchange block, Tampa Police Department block, and Tampa municipal building block. Participants are encouraged to bring a water bottle and comfortable shoes for the walk from 1:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

While there’s concern for older buildings like the Tampa Theatre, built in 1926, which is being refurbished, newer buildings may be torn down or drastically altered to meet current needs. Concern about the future of the library buildings helped prompt the tour in an attempt to bring awareness to structures built between 1940 and 1989. It’s also an opportunity to share stories about the people and culture of Tampa, as well as buildings that existed downtown at some point.

“We wanted to do something a little unique this year,” Espinosa adds. “That’s why we decided to focus on preservation and do a walking tour.”

She’s been interviewing people to put together a book about the city’s history as well.

Part of the goal of the day is to teach others what information architecture is. “We want people to be interested in information architecture,” says Espinosa, who has a background in digital and software design.

IA involves organizing information by location, alphabet, time, category, and hierarchy, according to IA expert Chris How, in his video “Yippee-IA: All You Need To Know About Information Architecture In 10 Minutes.” It’s useful in different professions because they involve information being shared with students or customers.

Espinosa says the day’s theme this year is “IA for good.” “The question is how can IA help protect people from misinformation?” she continues. “Cities around the world will be tackling this topic in their own way.”

Tampa’s goal is to stress the importance of learning and researching to find the truth. “That is what we feel will help people protect themselves from misinformation,” she explains.

WIA Day is for those who are interested in learning about Tampa and about information architecture. Interested parties can register online; the event ends with a 5 p.m. Happy Hour.

In case you’re wondering, information architecture is a “high-paying” career, Espinosa says. But it’s not widely known. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook refers to the field of Information Architect Librarians under the category Librarians; in fact, there aren’t many colleges with an information architect degree, although there are information and library science and design curriculums.

“The educational system hasn’t caught up,” she says.

Read about the Tampa Theatre renovation project.

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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