Category Archives: Information Architecture

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?

Why I’m looking forward to the IA Summit 2009

Every year is the same thing. I know I will enjoy the IA Summit immensely but it’s not until a week or so before that I get really psyched about attending. This year was no different and today was the day I woke up hoping I was already there.

Since 2004 the IA Summit has been my favorite conference to attend for a number of reasons (it’s been going since 2000 though, I just had not had the opportunity to attend before then). The quality of the content always meets my needs, the diversity of people I meet is just the right mix of new contacts and familiar faces and the atmosphere is consistently welcoming and conducive of great conversations and ideas.

This year is particularly exciting for many reasons, chiefly because it is the 10 year anniversary of the IA Summit! What a great landmark for our practice that we have been going strong for a decade. This makes me proud about our past and excited about our future.

I am also involved in so much stuff that I know I won’t have a minute to rest; I’ll probably need a day off to recuperate after Memphis. Here are a few things I am looking forward to (that I hope I get to see you involved in):

1. I’m giving a workshop on behalf of the IA Institute – The workshop is titled Beyond Findability: Reframing IA Practice & Strategy for Turbulent Times. I am really looking forward to it and I know it will be a blast presenting with with Andrew Hinton, Matt Milan and Joe Lamantia. We will focus on practical advice to help peers elevate their IA practice and expand the boundaries of how IA is applied today. There are still a few spots left if you want to come; Wednesday 3/18 from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

2. I’m presenting a new tool: The UX Health Check – After almost two years of working with a new approach originated by the fantastic Austin Govella, we are finally going to expose it to a broader audience. Initially we proposed a workshop but given the novelty, we are doing a presentation and a poster. Come check it out Friday (3/20) at 5:45 in the Tennessee Exhibit Hall during the Poster Session and Sunday (3/22) at 11:45 in the Grand Salon A.

3. The Wall of Deliverables is back! – After a successful prototype in 2008, Jacco, Nathan and I decided to do it again and up the stakes one more time. This year people can submit online at http://www.wallofdeliverables.com and we have some amazing prizes lined up for the best of the best!

4. I’ll get to talk to everyone about the great things the IA Institute has been doing – Though my 2008 contribution in the IA Institute board of directors only started in October, I’ll have the opportunity to report on all the great stuff the IAI accomplished last year and have a conversation with our membership about where we are going next. Please join us Saturday 3/21 at 6:00pm (location TBD)!

5. We are doing a fun Board Game Night! – We have been discussing this since forever so I am excited we are making it happen! Come have fun with us Saturday evening (3/21), in the Skyway Room.

I really enjoyed reviewing submissions this year and feel like the program is very strong. This will also be my first time in Memphis so I am looking forward to visiting Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum.

There is so much I’m looking forward to (all the items I listed above don’t do justice to the amount of stuff that is actually going to take place – I was even promised knitting lessons from some master knitters!), so I hope you are feeling as energized and ready to rock as I am. See you in Memphis!

Letter to the IA community

One of things I volunteered to do as soon as I re-joined the IAI board was to write a letter that goes out to members with the monthly newsletter.

I procrastinated for 2 weeks to write it because I was trying to understand a problem and it was just not happening. I think I finally came to terms with it.

Hello fellow practitioners!

In the past 60 days I had the opportunity to take a closer look at the IA Institute and observe how it operates, recognize where some opportunities are and identify some of the challenges that we need to vercome.

It was a very edifying process, but a gruesome activity. Did you know our websites and service run on 26 different Movable Type blogs (version 2.6.6.1 from 2004)? Me neither. It’s magic what our volunteers were able to accomplish by hacking and patching that system; mad mad skills, I tell you.

Apart from technical marvels, that discovery process allowed me to think about what the Institute means to me and what it can mean to us in the future.

In recent years I had become more distant from the Institute and also noticed that many of my peers become more detached and less involved with the activities associated with it. I wondered what that meant.

This November was the 6th anniversary of the IAI. I was disappointed that we as a community didn’t remember or see the need to celebrate. That’s when I understood why I had drifted away myself: I just didn’t recognize the Institute as the face of our community of practice anymore.

Thinking about this I re-visited http://info-arch.org and was immediately reminded of where we came from. That was a time when our community was blooming with energy and we were screaming for action. Very talented and dedicated people came together, and out of that desire to evolve our practice, to raise awareness and understanding for what we do and to help move our profession forward, created a thriving international organization that brought our community together.

There was a strong vision from the get-go and progress was palpable. At any time I was involved, whether it was translating an article, mentoring a new professional or helping out during a local event, I knew I was making a difference in our community. It was a pleasure to spend the time and see others contributing as well.

Over the years, we have collectively established ourselves as practitioners and, along with our careers and the paths we have chosen, our needs have evolved. Many have drifted apart because they don’t feel the Institute is supporting their individual needs anymore. Others still feel great affinity for what the Institute represents to (and for) this community and continue to be involved and volunteer.

Today we have a great opportunity and an even bigger challenge. We can turn this organization into exactly what we need it to be. And not only for our current set of circumstances, but also for the future. We have matured along with our practice and we need an organization that can continue to support a mature and growing practice while helping a new generation of practitioners join the job market.

Let’s make the Information Architecture Institute the place that connects the legacy of our community and our professional future. Speak out now: What do you need? What do you want? How can you help? How can you be helped?

We must understand what our collective needs are in order to continue to build an organization that is relevant and sustainable. The Institute exists to provide infrastructure and build bridges across and beyond our community. Use those assets; tell the Institute what you need that isn’t there today. Let’s ensure the energy and resources from the Institute are used towards the things that really matter to you.

You can use the discussion list (1), our website (2), Twitter (3), our Get Satisfaction engine (4), Facebook (5), LinkedIn (6), talk to your peers and colleagues, your friends and family. Let’s have this conversation and figure it out together.

I am very excited about what we will accomplish in the next year and I most certainly expect you to participate and make the IA Institute work for you.

Happy holidays,

Livia Labate
Director of Getting Things Done
The Information Architecture Institute

(1) http://lists.iainstitute.org/listinfo.cgi/iai-members-iainstitute.org
(2) http://iainstitute.org
(3) http://twitter.com/iainstitute
(4) http://getsatisfaction.com/iai
(5) http://is.gd/4Iz
(6) http://is.gd/bUps

Building the Wall of Deliverables

During the last IA Summit, Jacco Nieuwland, Nathan Curtis and myself organized the first Wall of Deliverables, a display area dedicated to documentation and tools used to convey and articulate the work that we do as UX professionals.

Milling around the wall of deliverables by Pryanka Kakar

Check out more photos from the Wall of Deliverables.

We had a great crowd viewing and discussing the displayed deliverables all through the summit, thanks to a bunch of people who took the time to submit an entry. We were very satisfied with the results and received a lot of valuable feedback, so of course, we are doing it again!

To give you a sense of what it takes to make it happen, we’ve had two planning meetings so far where we discuss lessons learned and reviewed all feedback in detail, then started planning what steps need to be taken to set it up next Summit.

We have to figure out what kind of space we are dealing with (determined by the IA Summit organizers) so we can design the best walk-through flow and allow for people to hang out and discuss. We learned from last years that having to squat and squint was not the best thing for the deliverables that were hanging low on the wall, so we’re trying to get more horizontal space to ensure easy access and allow the deliverables to be more spread out.

Untitled by Maria Cordell

We also learned that our entry form was taking more space than it needed and not helping convey as much as we wanted, so we’re picking more appropriate fields and designing is so that it’s legible and so that you can see the submission number from space.

The voting process was pretty smooth last year and the feedback indicated people were very satisfied with the prizes, but we’re looking into new options to make things fresh. If you’d like to sponsor, drop me a note!

Wall of Deliverables

One of the most effort intensive aspects of this initiative is to spend time hanging out around the Wall, helping contributors include their deliverables and answer questions from the crowd. Last year we conveniently placed a printer right there, but we really want to encourage people to submit and print in advance next time. It still is a lot of effort so if you would like to volunteer 30 minutes of your time to help facilitate, let me know!

We are toying around with some other very exciting ideas that I was planning on writing down on this post but that I just realize it will be much more fun if they are a surprise, so I’ll just leave it at that!

Nathan, Jacco and I will start broadcasting to the various UX outlets that you can submit deliverables as soon as we have our first to-dos out of the way, particularly coordinating with the IA Summit committee about how the Wall of Deliverables will be part of the program and how we’ll make people aware of what’s going on throughout the event.

If you have ideas, suggestions and comments, please let us know!

Discussion List Technology

When I started evaluating the IA Institute overall tech infrastructure I was not expecting the messiest part to be related to the various discussion lists we provide to the community. I was first surprised, now I’m annoyed.

The list software we use is Mailman, which is extremely popular and very good at one thing: delivering mail. I guess they chose a pretty appropriate name for it. Other than that, it’s pretty sucky.

My intention when I started to take a look at our discussion lists was to understand how extensible our technology was to support any future plans (indexing archives, subscribing to threads, integration list subscription with membership profile, RSS subscription, etc). What I’ve found is a messy legacy that needs to be at least normalized before we can think of expanding its capabilities.

Here’s a list of all the discussion lists we have:

  • aifia-announce -IA Institute announcements.
  • AIfIA-da -Om informationsarkitektur på dansk
  • Aifia-education -Discussion of IA education
  • AIfIA-es -Instituto para la Arquitectura de Información
  • Aifia-fr – IA discussion in French
  • Aifia-it – IA discussion in Italian
  • Aifia-ja – IA discussion in Japanese
  • Aifia-mentoring – AIfIA Mentoring Initiative
  • Aifia-metrics – Towards standard methods and metrics for evaluating IA
  • AIfIA-nl – IA discussion in Dutch
  • AIfIA-pt – IA discussion in Portuguese
  • Aifia-tools – Discussion list for the AIfIA Tools initiative
  • Advisors – IAI Advisors
  • Arqinf -Lista de Discusión sobre Arquitectura de la Información
  • Board – Board of Directors
  • Directors – IAI Board of Directors
  • Eastcoastretreat – New Challenges Retreat list
  • eiaproject – Higher Education in IA Working Group
  • EnterpriseIA – Enterprise IA Discussion List
  • iai-aunz – Australia New Zealand Region IA Discussion List
  • iai-jobs -IA Institute Job Newsletter
  • Iai-Members – IA Institute Members Discussion List
  • Iai-Mentoring – IAI Mentoring Discussion List
  • Iai-Newsletter – IA Institute Newsletter
  • IAI-pt – Lista de Discussão AI-pt
  • iai-translations – IAI Translations Discussion List
  • Localgroups – local IA groups
  • Management – IAI Management
  • Meta IAI – Meta List
  • Secondlife – IA Institute Second Life Discussion List
  • Test – yes, it’s what you are guessing
  • Ux-Management – UX Management Discussion List
  • From this list it should be easy to tell that we (the IA Institute) have not been big on naming conventions. I created some of these lists at one point or another as I volunteered in different initiatives, but I didn’t even know all of them were out there. I would love to be able to go to the IAI website and just know what’s available (right now the site shows a partial list).

    Some of these lists, I am sure, are dead. But somebody forgot to pull the plug. Also, between managing subscribers and moderating discussions, there is this horrible thing called the discussion list interface. Mailman as I said before is good at one thing and that’s not its user interface. It’s impressively adequate in terms of multi-lingual support and is flexible enough that you can customize presentation to fit your website (We have tried before), but if you don’t have a standard way to to do in an organization with such high volume, this mess is inevitable.

    If it’s not clear from the rant above, many lists still have our old organization name (Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture) and are hosted at ibiblio.org, which provides free discussion lists. Another issue: We host our site and systems on Dreamhost. Their Mailman implementation doesn’t allow me to go directly and finagle with the lists directly (like merge archives or modify the code) so I have to ask them to do it, which means any changes may take a while.

    Now that I’ve bitched about the current situation, here’s what I believe needs to happen:

  • Get rid of lists we don’t need to maintain.
  • Evaluate if an alternate software to Mailman is a better fit for our organization
  • Create some basic guidelines for starting discussion lists
  • Migrate ibiblio discussion lists to iainstitute.org
  • Merge archives of lists that should be consolidated
  • Notify subscribers about any plans
  • Do you have experience with discussion lists? Drop me a note if you have any advice or suggestions. I’m particularly interested in systems that have discussion lists associated with member/profile management associated with other services. Anyone has experience with Drupal; any Drupal modules for discussion lists?