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.

Italy eclipsed by a balding head butt?

With Italy winners of the 2006 World Cup, there are a lot of people out there rejoicing. As they should. Italy’s soccer needs an image boost, and perhaps there can be something started as the Azzuri take the stage as champions of the next four years. Good. Yay.

That said, I’m not sure that their win is going to overshadow the story of Zidane getting himself red-carded out of the game for verbally-provoked headbutt on Materazzi’s chest away from play in overtime.

Racial slur or no, I’m disgusted with what the man did. Wouldn’t it have been a much more fitting retaliation to use his anger for the game? Score a goal? Nail the tying French penalty kick? Attacking Materazzi was not an option. Not for a player with the reputation of Zidane. Not today when so much is at stake for team and country.

Notes on IA

Some quick IA notes to jot down. Details later on when I’m not eating.

  • A solution that creates more problems than it solves is not a solution (if someone knows the source of this, please tell me).
  • Information Architecture is a lot like being a marriage counselor: facilitating communication between two parties in such a way that both parties feel as though they are being heard and listened to.
  • Empathy is the most important attribute an information architect can have. After that, it’s patience.
  • Creating wireframes is not as important as knowing how to ask a question.
  • Being able to design intuitive navigation is only possible if you know who’s navigating.

The above are some things that I hold on to in my day-to-day dealings with my work. If any of you out there know the source or such of any of them (some of them may not have one), please let me know so I can give credit where it’s due.

I’m particularly interested in hearing what other IAs use as their mantras when designing, asking questions, theorizing, etc. Feel free to send along so I can include it here and credit you.

Crazy as a … writer?

I get fidgety about being creative. See, I’m a writer, by nature. Not by trade, but then that’s my own little piece of the “cross” to bear, as it were.

In my head there are stories of heroism and lust, history, passion, gadgets, and adventure. Plays and movies and novels and short stories all swimming around vying for my attention. None of them get any.

Writers, see, are kind of crazy. We have this impression that the things we have to say are valuable to folks other than ourselves. That is to say we believe that the stories in our head — no matter how absurd — have value outside the confines of our skulls. With me, though, there’s this meta-person keeping a tight reign on that insanity. Tight enough to matter, anyhow.

It’s true that by nature I’m a writer. It’s also true that I put a limiter on the amount of insanity I will let myself experience. In other words, I don’t let myself go where writers need to go, so I falter. Fail at putting my ideas down or really working on them at all. So this is how I live.

A hundred ideas for stories, a thousand plot twists and turns, millions of people living in the world between my ears. There they’ve been for 31 years, and there they’ll stay until I learn to let go. To be a little more crazy. To truly let myself believe that those stories, plots, and people are worth sharing.

Home to the flood

I’m riding home on the train to an uncertain future. Questions — possibly unanswerable questions — swim amidst the dampness of my brain as the train meanders northeast along the coast. What is the state of our basement, I ask myself. How warm is it now that the heat is back on, I wonder. Will I finally be able to take a hot shower? These questions remain unanswered, and my future remains unknown.