The best source for IA?

Since the 1703 Treaty of Methuen giving mutual trade advantages to Portuguese wines and English woolens, countries have recognized their own expertise and costs and opted to trade rather than compete in particular markets. So regardless of what our re-elected president tells us, the facts of economic life in the modern world will not change: we will lose jobs to less expensive workers elsewhere in the world.

But all is not lost. Everyone in the design world now has the gift of foresight and can adjust career trajectories to not only avoid pain in this, as yet, mostly unaffected field, but to additionally take advantage of the situation (I have). And this is the point I make in a new AIfIA editorial, The Best Sourcing of Information Architecture.

IA innies becoming outies?

Lou Rosenfeld requests your participation in a short survey to “detect past and future trends regarding where information architects work, and how much of their work is dedicated to IA.” I’m going to guess that after the crash when a lot of consultants went in-house they have yet to go back to consulting, considering myself an exception.

IA Education Survey

The AIfIA Education Initiative is surveying IA practitioners to get a better picture of our skills and what skills we think today’s students will need. We will use this information to help form a recommended educational curriculum. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete; help out if you have a chance.

The survey results will be reported in aggregate on the website. No personally identifiable information is recorded.


Worker-to-worker offshoring

Brett proposes the idea of worker-to-worker offshoring:

Just imagine: you get assigned to do two days of … competitive site audits for a pitch. Ugh. Why not sub-shore the work, W2W-style and take the day[s] off? It costs $15-20/hour…

I think PeterV has done this before, offshoring some personal programming work to a PHP programmer in India. I know it’d be nice to never have to do a content inventory again. Of course, we’d be training the offshore workers to do our jobs, but I think that’s inevitable. Move upstream.

(You know what I’d really like — and the socialist in me feels rather guilty about this — is a personal assistant. Boy, if I just had someone to take care of all the administrative crap in my life, I’d have time for, well, all the other crap (hopefully upstream crap). Could that possibly be offshored?)

Need an IA for 2 weeks…

A friend at Deloitte Consulting needs and IA for wireframe development for 1-2 weeks in NYC. The start date is next week (6/2) or as soon as possible. Send me an email (link in the nav) if you’re interested.

IA Eats Itself

If, years in the future, information architects are successful, machines will make it very easy to find things. All the rules will be established, most challenges will be conquered. All that will remain for us to address is serendipity, arranging things to encourage chance and new connections only the reader’s imagination can form.

Back to the Future of IA

With the 2003 IA Summit only weeks away, I’m remembering Peterme’s Future of Information Architecture piece penned following the 2001 Summit. Looking back on his ideas is fascinating to compare them to where we are now.

(I hasten to add that I’m not embarking on some hair-brained analysis of the accuracy of these predictions. Since we can’t really predict the future, I think predictions are useful instead as a vision to help us reconsider the future.)

The Spread of “Good IA”…the idea being that information architecture becomes an approach toward managing your information, a set of processes and methods undertaken by anyone. While we’re not there yet, core IA ideas from personas to metadata are spreading out from a small base to many more practitioners.

Data Analysis…the practice of information architecture will become increasingly informed by usage data… I fear this hasn’t become much more sophisticated that analyzing server logs. Though companies like NetRaker that combine remote usability and analysis could be seen as an alternate path to better data.

IA Playing Nice in the Sandbox…optimizing how these various [internet product development] disciplines interact will become of paramount importance…not sure if we can make any general statement about this yet. From my vantage point, there’s more interesting tension between IA and technologists than IA and other experience design disciplines. Partially because, as a friend of mine remarked, visual design is becoming a commodity (also see n_gen).

Library Science Impacts Agency Information Architecture…no question this has happened, but has far to go before both LIS ideas and practices are ingrained in most IAs.

Data-Driven Information Architecture…[reducing the] umpteen different formats used to express the same dataset. While I’ve seen examples that give hope, I’m inclined to think we’ll continue with umpteen formats until we’re all saving our work in compatible XML languages.

Professional Affiliations for Information Architecture…a likely outcome will be the development of a professional organization to represent the discipline. Of course with the launch of AIfIA he was proven right. He later added the focus should be a) research, b) curriculum development, and c) methodology development.

Further Specialization…this might have happened more if not for the economic downturn. As it is, I think most of us are instead learning more skills ourselves.

A Famous Information Architect

Frank Lloyd Wright spent three months ‘doing nothing’ (I would imagine he was thinking) before sketching for three hours to produce the drawings for Falling Water. He could imagine the entire structure, and subsequently furnish the details. With each work he was allowed to experiment and push the boundaries. And clients came to him for his work, though of course he, as most famous architects do, relied on a staff of ‘apprentices’.

Could an information architect – or an experience strategist or systems architect for that matter – become famous in the same way? Having three months to consider the user experience and design, defining the state-of-the-art with each project, being sought out for her ideas with a staff to assist with the work?

We have gurus, but they often exist as our best critics and consultants, not designers. And we have fine design groups, but these don’t inspire the imagination like a single brilliant personality. This case study of Nathan Shedroff’s work teases me with the idea. Some foster the vision, but we’re certainly not there yet.

I don’t expect one person to imagine and build everything; even the best architects rely on (brilliant but anonymous) engineers for collaboration. But one person could conceivably imagine the entire experience and design, from an enterprise information architecture down to the detailed interaction design. It might be on the scale of, say, designing from scratch.

Does anyone even want this? Regardless, aspiring to this – as designers, as educators, as patrons – might change our work in countless ways.

Later…draftsmen! They had draftsmen! Jeez. Imagine having someone to make the beautiful drawings for you.

Getting There: Enterprise IA

Lou Rosenfeld posted his recent presentation to the AIGA Experience Design conference, titled Getting Established: ED for the Enterprise (Powerpoint).

He writes, setting our expectations of results, ‘Timing: 3-6 years, not months…Remember: You’re turning an aircraft carrier with your foot as the rudder.

Yes Yes Yes. This is half my job, sticking my feet in the water and kicking like crazy. Lou creates the most cogent summary of this situation I’ve yet seen. I think this is one of the two or three big challenges of our field: coordinating and syncronizing the publishing efforts of multi-layered organizations (I say organizations and not companies as this condition exists inside universities, governments, and large non-profits as well).

IA’s can sometimes grab other fields as our own, enveloping information design, interface design, interaction design, etc. But IA for the enterprise is a central IA issue, an issue no one else is addressing (notice the subtitle of the Polar Bear book: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites. It is the scale that makes IA what it is). The knowledge management folks are doing noble work, but with a mandate even more idealistic than that of IA, and for this reason I think they are less likely to achieve practical results. Besides, they tend to focus on collecting and filtering tacit knowledge, whereas our focus is on managing and publishing the core knowledge of the organization.

And yet there are other forces that must be brought to bear on this problem, organizational psychology, management, and IT are three that come immediately to mind. If we are to have a larger influence on projects outside our own, I have to think IAs must join with other disciplines to develop solutions as well as to gain credibility.

What is the forum for this work? A new kind of book, edited with vision, pulling together a flowing collection of chapters from disparate points of view, informed by sound research, grounded in practical results, full of successful and unsuccessful case studies? Something else?

I hear the new Polar Bear book includes some of these ideas. But if we are to spend 3-6 years on each system, if we are to find technical and management models that will work across organizations, if we are to influence those we don’t influence today, we may need more. This presentation starts down that path, don’t miss it.

And, there’s an actual chinese menu.

Later…this imaginary book probably couldn’t be published on the usual publishing model, there’s not enough enterprise people to justify it. Instead of a publishing house, a professional organization might sponsor something like this, and even if the price was high it could still be within the price range of this audience.