IA as a job: not just wireframing

A couple of months ago I wrote that empathy is the most important attribute an information architect can have. I still believe it.

Information Architecture is not just a job where you gather requirements and lay out a page. It’s not just the organization of data into neat, easily-interpreted little groups (though that part’s a hell of a lot of fun, for sure). It’s not just knowing what users want. It’s a job that requires hands-dirty, deep-digging, socio-emotional connections with everyone you talk to: users and business partners alike. It requires that you turn those connections into an ego-free hypothesis about what users want. It requires that you learn how to express that idea to your team in a way that is both humble and clear.

  1. You are without ego.
  2. You are an empath.

That’s right. Let go of the idea that you are the center of a project, because believe me: it has nothing to do with you. Do, though, embrace the idea that for however long you are in the midst of your work, you will channel your users. They will live in your head, ride the train home with you, and you will speak as them in meetings.

Not only that, but you’ll also need to learn about 5 other languages: business, design, development, project management, and usability. You’ll need to express your thoughts all over the organization you work for: up and down, left and right. And you’ll need to all of that with no ego. You’re not the center of the project, you’re just the one connected to it more than everyone else. Have a dose of humility, then, and it let it show.

If you can’t feel what your users feel, if you leave a meeting complaining about your team mates or users, if the rest of the team is grumbling about working with you, you’re not an IA.

If, however, you can be creative and humble; if you can feel the joys and the pains of both users and business partners alike; if you can do all of that and still put together those nifty wireframes, you’re going to be one hell of an information architect.