Tag Archives: IAI

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?

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

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?

    Running for the IA Institute 2008 Board of Directors

    The past several weeks have been marked by a lot of introspection and decisions about my future. One of the things I really want to do more of is to rekindle my relationship with the IA Institute.

    While considering that, very kind people nominated me for the Board of Directors elections, which kick-started fantastic discussions with my peers and friends. The most fruitful, however, have been with Matt Milan and Russ Unger.

    We share many common interests and values in addition to our collective appreciation and reverence for what the IA Institute has accomplished to date. With that, we decided to run for the Board of Directors as a unified platform.

    Here is what I submitted for my Position Statement, which will be available in the IA Institute’s website along with all other candidates on September 8th:

    Livia Labate’s Bio

    I have been designing shared information systems my entire professional life. I consulted for small, medium and large enterprises across several countries for several years, where I learned that observation and adaptability are IA’s best friends. As the owner of my own business, I learned how to apply IA to business situations as successfully as to design problems. Finally, as the one responsible for developing the practice inside a large organization, I’ve learned that competence, self-confidence and bravery take you very far, but it’s in caring for and understanding the goals, interests and needs of others that you deliver meaningful results.

    I was lucky to come across the IA community and subsequently the IA Institute, where I jumped to the opportunity to participate in the Translations Initiative, Mentoring Initiative and as a member of the Board of Directors in 2003-2005. I have also been part of the organizing committee for the IA Summit for the past 5 years where I’ve been involved with pre-conference seminars, organizing Bird-of-a-Feather sessions and more recently, the very successful Wall of Deliverables.

    The quality and energy of the IA community was a key influencer in my decision to pursue Information Architecture as a career. More than a professional relationship, it’s in the IA community that I connect with people with like minds and interests, and continue to expand my horizons and contribute to something bigger than myself. In that continued pursuit, I believe I would be a valuable addition to the IAI Board of Directors.

    Position Statement: Vision, Empowerment & Transparency

    Matthew Milan, Russ Unger and I are running on a common platform in the hopes of being able to make a more meaningful impact to the Information Architecture Institute if we are elected.

    We believe that the IAI needs to be a more transparent organization. We need to open a dialog with our members, encourage their involvement and find improved methods of making people aware of what is happening within the organization.

    We believe the IAI should take a leadership role in educating our membership, people who are new to the workforce, new to working within our field and the companies that will hire them.

    We believe that the IAI needs to get better at marketing and selling Information Architecture. We need to, as an organization, provide the services to companies who want to hire our members and begin practice areas where our coaching would be invaluable. Likewise, we need to train our members how to do this within their companies.

    Finally, we strongly believe that the IA Institute should have a clear vision of its role within the User Experience community and more importantly how it contributes to the advancement of the field of Information Architecture. With strong vision comes strong capability, and we have a duty to our membership to provide this role.

    We need to ensure the profession grows as we encounter new types of digital spaces. A large portion of IA practitioners have been web-focused, but as the web itself is crossing device, domain and platform boundaries, our practice needs to follow suit. That includes the substance of our practice as well as how the IAI supports its members and collaborates to accomplish its goals.

  • Let’s take advantage of our expertise in engaging audiences with like interests in non-physical spaces to further develop the Institute’s role. Our membership has grown and evolved along with the practice; there are numerous tools to explore beyond discussion lists and newsletters that can better fit this audience’s expectations. If I can accomplish only one thing as a member of the board of directors, that will be to bring the membership into the decision-making process — whether that happens through direct participation, awareness about actions taken by the directors or shared feedback.
  • For Information Architecture to become widely applied, we need to reduce the barriers for people to adopt the practice. From new job seekers to seasoned professionals, we need to convey simply what value our practice ads to people’s professional experiences, whether they are IA practitioners to the core or professionals with other interests that can benefit from the thinking offered by IA approaches. The IA Institute was born out of this need and it’s originally stated goals remain as applicable and relevant as ever.
  • There is a whole generation of practitioners that have graduated to positions of more visibility or influence, a luxury we did not have when the Institute began. They are ambassadors for our discipline and true enablers for expanding our reach and visibility. Whether they identify themselves as information architects, product managers, entrepreneurs, design managers, principals, or something else, the IAI can help channel that collective expertise and help those starting off their careers or exploring new paths, to figure out how to introduce, develop and advance the practice across their own organizations.
  • We can play a much stronger role in the field of User Experience by working with our sister disciplines and their respective entities. We have common goals and many overlapping interests; this represents an opportunity to combine our different strengths to shape what we want UX to become. We see practitioners doing this individually every day and we can accomplish exponentially more as an organization; one that learns from and with its members and external collaborators.
  • Establishing a more transparent organization with a long-term vision that empowers its members to fulfill our mission requires a board of directors that defines measures of success for the organization, with clear criteria and accountability. I hope to be a part of that.

    Contact Information

    I would be happy to further explore our position in greater detail. Please feel free to contact me via any of the methods below.

    PS: Elections are funny. It’s quite easy to state what you are for and what value you bring to the table, but takes good writing to frame it in a way that speaks to the different people across our community. The statement is nothing but a starting point – I would much rather be able to speak directly to the people who are going to vote and decide what they want the IAI to become. So please, write us!