The six species of Information Architect

The Flying Karamazov Brothers

From time to time I have the pleasure of talking to others who do Information Architecture as a part of their work. Sometimes as *all* of their work, although usually as a part. (Of course, there’s lots of debate and confusion over where Information Architecture starts and ends, but I’ve posted about that already).

Given that IA as a profession is really only about 10yrs old (or at least, that’s the figure I hear bandied about), it makes sense that *most* IAs have a ‘past life’ of one kind or another. This has got me to thinking that there are probably about six different species of Information Architect, based on the kind of professional past life they’ve had (nor not).

I’m going to make some wild sweeping generalisations here… bear with me :)

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • graphic designer/visual artist – there are graphic designers who have a particular gift for organising information. These guys do the nicest looking wireframes you’ll ever see. It’s pretty easy to bag this species IA because they often don’t bother learning all the big words that other IAs like to throw around, and they tend not to be into reading research papers and books. Seminars also bore them. But they *do* tend to be quite user centric. That combined with their pretty wireframes and their creative ‘presence’ means that they’re generally pretty popular with clients.
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mobile: user interface design – the great frontier

Paper Prototype Testing for Mobile

I was reading a great post by Russell Beattie recently on handheld stylesheets and the great implementation that Opera have launched on their community portal recently. It took me back to my (not so distant) days finishing up my Masters degree with our digital project. As you may guess, my group did a mobile project.

It was a great little project and it really allowed those of us who’d been working in web for so many years to apply our skills to a different platform and develop some really interesting learnings. For me, I was pretty amazed by what we found with regards to Information Architecture and Interaction Design.

Being a university project, of course there was a lot more research involved than you’d usually have the budget of the time to do for a commercial build. This allowed time for me to definitively show that there were very, very few ID conventions when it comes to interface design for mobile web content.

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Is your sales pitch more important than your IA strategy?

So, last night I was thinking…

… it’s just as important to be able to come up with a solid IA strategy as it is to be able to sell in that strategy. To explain to your stakeholders why your approach is the right one, and why they should approve it.

So, what if you’re really quite good at this ‘sales’ process. Rationalising the approach that you’ve taken and being able to describe that in terms that are aligned with the overall project strategy.

You sound confident and authorative and you use words that your client may not understand (but probably won’t tell you because they don’t want to look dumb).

What if you’re just really good at selling bad ideas?

Well… its possible, isn’t it?

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IA vs UxD (a definition)

Is it just me or do lots of people confuse what Information Architecture is and how it relates to other disciplines in web and application design? In particular, how it relates to Interaction Design.
I found the misunderstanding so common that I was starting to wonder if it was me with the problem?! Had I simplified it too much?

Happily, today I happened upon someone far more authoratative than myself who has set down the following definition (which, thankfully, I wholeheartedly agree with).

IA means defining information structures to answer the question “how does a user find the information they want?” Thus navigation links for a big corporate Web site reflect IA: where can I find directions to the company’s main headquarters? When you talk about content, page hierarchy, and taxonomy, you probably have an IA problem.

On the other hand, IxD means defining system behaviors to answer the question “how does a user take the action they want?” Thus the pulldowns, buttons, and checkboxes in a Web email application reflect IxD: what must I do to reply to the sender of this email? When you talk about action, controls, and dynamic elements, you probably have in IxD problem. Some problems include both components: consider how Amazon includes both large amounts of static content and some very complex dynamic behaviors.

(thank you Jonathan Korman)

How’s that work for you?

I’ll be using it elsewhere, I can tell you that now.

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