Monthly Archives: April 2009

Information Architecture Practitioners

There are a bunch of things the IA Institute does for the IA community. We have many ongoing conversations about what we should be doing next and how we can make the most out of our resources. Every time I have any of these conversations I have a nagging feeling I am not addressing the needs of the right audience. Not because I don’t have a good sense of what the organization is trying to accomplish, but because I don’t think I have as good a sense of who we are talking about specifically, anymore.

Who is the Information Architecture community of practice? The practice of information architecture has evolved significantly since I started working on the User Experience Design world. There was a time when being a practitioner equaled to being an information architect. That is not the case anymore as evidenced by the popularity of different job titles. There was also no formal training of any kind that would equip someone with the skills necessary to practice information architecture – self-teaching was the only path – today we see a number of institutions offering educational opportunities. There are many other changes, including how sister disciplines have evolved and grown, how the market demands shape different kinds of professionals to fulfill the needs of companies (further emphasized in moments of economic stability), etc.

With all this, how can we as a community do a good job at investing resources to continue to create valuable services that support the development of the practice of information architecture? I don’t have one answer nor do I hear a prevalent answer from anyone else in the community. I think I need to do some user research to get a better grasp of the problem. I’m trying to re-educate myself on who the practitioners are so I can offer a better and non biased answer, and do a better job at the kinds of things we are doing today (specifically through the IA Institute in my case).

I’ve talked to practitioners directly, I’ve read everything I could that comes to the IA Institute as requests or comments and I’ve tried to engage with as diverse a group of people within the practice as I can. Though I wasn’t doing that with the explicit intent of understanding this audience, I feel like I have a lot of information, but I’m unsure if it’s enough to help me understand our community better. In thinking about the IA community of practice in terms of “audience” to whom services can be provided to (as well as the community who powers these services), I was trying to identify a model to help me articulate the various dimensions that reflect different people’s expectations, needs and attitudes about their practice and career; and how the IA Institute could best support them. Here are a few:

Novice <--------------> Experienced
(how much qualification under the belt one has)

Specialist <--------------> Generalist
(how much of their personal practice focuses on a particular aspect of UXD)

Practitioner <--------------> Collaborator
(is this person interested in the practice itself or knowing just enough to work with someone who is)

Innies <--------------> Outties
(is this person working independently or with a firm helping companies with their UX or are they part of an org working on their own UX)

Member <--------------> Non-Member
(are they a member of the IA Institute – this is only really relevant as I think about things offered through iainstitute.org)

This is might be the start of a way to think about who the IA Institute is supporting. Knowing that everyone changes as they progress in their career, how can we offer different services that are relevant to people in the different points where they might be? I think I could plot every practitioner I speak to in some end of these spectrum and have a map of what “profile” they might fit.

There are some specific needs (which the IAI could fullfill) that are most relevant to people only when they align to certain characteristics. For example, a very experienced practitioners who is generalist in UXD (maybe a manager), working inside an organization and member of the IA Institute since the beginning, does not have a great overlap in needs with someone who is fresh out of library school, interested in pursuing a career in UXD, very focused in the core IA practice (likely to specialize) and who just learned about the IA institute last month because they attended the IA Summit for the first time.

Granted these are probably the most distant profiles but you get the idea. I think identifying the main profiles (who knows, maybe if I have enough relevant information I could build some useful personas out of that), would be really helpful in directing our future efforts, rather than trying to stretch the usefulness and relevance of everything we do to an audience so broadly defined as “information architecture practitioners”.

Anyway, this is my first draft. What is missing? What seems off? How do you think this could be helpful?