After about 6 years of working in an IA capacity, I’ve come to realize what it’s all about: empathy. The best IAs don’t understand what the user needs, they feel what the user feels. It’s all about being able to place yourself in the position your users are in; have the thoughts they have; the hesitations, life-experiences, and navigational baggage they have.
The best IAs go beyond building systems, or architecting data storage models. They go beyond those because it’s not about the data: it’s about the people.
This is why I think architect is such a fitting word. An architect is someone who understands how to design space that meets in the middle of tri-fold field: function, form, usability. Good buildings serve an overall purpose: hold offices, serve fast food, reach towards the heavens. Better buildings do those things and are nice to look at, pretty up the neighborhood, and give aesthetic pride to their denizens. The best buildings are pretty and fuctional, but also account for those strange creatures that dwell within them: people.
See, people are weird. They do funny things like have to pee on the 37th floor. Or they need to throw a tissue away right now while they’re walking down the hallway. Or they derive pleasure from seeing the city shrink beneath them as they ride an elevator to the 56th floor.
A good architect can account for function, form, and usability to create some truly wonderous locations. Information architects should feel no shame in attempting the same.
So hang the debate about what to call ourselves. Just do what’s right and spend that energy creating places for people. Places that are efficient, beautiful, and pscyhologically satisfying: for both us and the end-users.