How very awesome. I’m humbled by being voted for the Information Architecture Institute‘s Board of Directors; I appreciate it immensely. This means I’m spending the next year or two working with Russ Unger, Christian Crumlish, Andrew Hinton, Jorge Arango, Stacy Surla and Peter Boersma along with the great staff (shout-out to Melissa Weaver and Noreen Whysel!) and team of volunteers.
A lot has happened since the Institute started. The IA practice has matured, we defined the damn thing a few more times, the membership has grown and evolved, several IA Summits and other events happened. I moved to another country, got married and bought a house. Wow!
I am excited, but more than that I’m interested in working with you. Yes you, reader. Odds are that if you are reading this you are either my mother-in-law or you have some interest in information architecture. If you are the later, then some aspect of what the Information Architecture Institute does is relevant to you.
Our official duties start October 1st and I’m spending the next couple of weeks learning. I have been part of the board of directors before, I’ve been a treasurer, I led and contributed to the translations initiative, worked with local groups, I’ve mentored people and spent many hours chatting away on the members list. All the time I have spent in my life doing these things has made me a better professional and a more fulfilled person. I enjoy giving back to the community I feel such strong affinity to.
Again, that’s why I want to work with you. You are a practitioner (perhaps a scholar? less likely but still), information architecture is part of your day-to-day. You may call yourself an information architect, or an interaction designer, or a product manager, doesn’t really matter. I want to work with you to help further the IA practice. But why would YOU care?
I am not a fan of advancing the practice by focusing on the role of information architects. I think this really is indicative of how the practice has evolved and grown. At one point, information architects and information architecture were synonymous. To gain the recognition for one, you pretty much needed to push the other. If you were trying to do this job 5, 7 or 10 years ago you know what I’m talking about.
These days, I don’t feel the same way. I have seen a significant change in how people are hiring, building teams and collaborating across functions. In fact, I feel like it can be detrimental to the practice of IA to be associated ONLY with information architects. Before you freak out, I’m an information architect. And most of my close professional circle is made up of other people who identify themselves as information architects. I work in a team of 12 information architects. A.K.A I <3 information architects. My point is, not ALL contexts require or can AFFORD to have a dedicated individual whose primary concern is information architecture. With that, how can the IA Institute best serve its goal to advance the design of shared information environments, the practice of information architecture? We can’t afford to limit our reach and need to extend where and to whom this practice can benefit. To broaden our ability to be effective at this mission, we should focus on the practice, not the practitioner.
This is my personal and professional stance on what kind of role the Institute should play. That’s why I am saying I want to work with you. Why the <curse> would you care about information architecture? If you don’t have an answer for that today, I really hope you can take some time to work with me and the good people volunteering at the IAI to figure it out. If you do have an answer for that, ask that question of three people who work with you that have a different job title. If you get a blank stare, then come volunteer with me so we can make it relevant to them as well.
Just imagine the three people in your work situation (colleagues, clients or superiors) who couldn’t care less, or just don’t get it, or just don’t want to hear about whatever you are trying to put forth that’s associated with information architecture. Whether you are trying to get a card sort done or transform the way your business thinks about new opportunities or X, wouldn’t it be nice to have a community to turn to that has tried AND done all those things? (No, you are not a special little snowflake. Somebody has done what you are doing or something like it, that you can leverage or learn from in some way).
Well, we have that! I have no idea how many people in the world share these same values and struggles, but I know that there are at least 2000 worldwide who have taken a step forward to say a)I care about this practice and b)I have something to share and something to learn. That’s how I see the IA Institute membership. I want to welcome you and your three blank-stare friends to this pool.
I don’t know if you are an information architect, interaction designer, technical writer, product manager, UX demi-god or a webmaster. I will never find out, but – assuming your trade falls somewhere in the field of user experience – I fully expect you to become aware, knowledgeable and involved with the information architecture practice if you want to be successful in your trade.
And that’s also why I’m spending the next few weeks learning. Every year the Institute does more stuff than the year before. Every year our practice changes in some way. I feel like I need a two-week immersion to get up to speed and get perspective, so I can play the role I want to play in the Institute.
More than anything, being on the board for me means being a facilitator. The Institute is made of people (I know, Soylent Green anyone?). It doesn’t matter at all how stellar the board of directors is if you and your colleagues, are still not caring about information architecture. I want to see you and them engage in something with the IA community – going to a happy hour, attending a talk, participating in an online discussion, reviewing a book, mentoring a new professional, anything. I really don’t care what specifically, as long as you do something.
It’s like broccoli. You can’t say you don’t like if you haven’t tried it. Of maybe you love broccoli. It’s like kohlrabi – have you tried that? You should, you have no idea how good it is. But me telling you will make no difference and you looking at the Wikipedia description will not get you interested (It will probably detract you from it).
My hope is that my term as an official volunteer-with-a-title will help us all make information architecture more relevant to everyone. And hopefully in some time, you can ask that same question to your colleagues, clients and superiors, and they will tell you why IA is relevant to them. And their answer may be vastly different from yours, but they will KNOW what role it plays in what’s important to them.