Context is all around us. It shapes the meaning in all types of communications. Without context, you can’t communicate effectively. Without context, you can’t understand meaning. Context is fundamental to the way we come to understand people, situations, and ideas. Context inspires feelings, thoughts and beliefs of groups and individuals. It is the background information that allows people to make informed decisions.
Why is context relevant to information architecture?
As information architects and designers, we study the context, content, and users. We need to research the context of what we are architecting: Who is it for? What are they using it for? Why, when, where, and on which devices or channels? What are their expectations, experiences or values?
When we understand the context, we make strategic decisions: We draw lines (seams, borders, edges) between content and context: What do we focus on? What is «inside» and what is «outside»? When we work on detailing the objects in our focus, we’re still always keeping an eye out for the context. The context can change the meaning of the content. The context itself can change, thus having an impact on our information architecture.
Maybe we’re not even trying to architect the content, but rather the context, e.g. to give users a framework in which they can create their own content. Architecting the context, or at least making context explicit, is becoming increasingly relevant: For instance, when news is detached from its source, it is hard to distinguish reliable from fake news. Artificial intelligence builds rules based on implicit context, e.g., when assessing the CVs of job candidates.