Enterprise IA and the convergence of web/hybrid/software

As design for software and design for web continue to merge (AJAX, Flex, etc), I find myself searching for the connections and disparities between the two.

What is navigation in terms of software? What is a task-oriented website design? Is there a need anymore for the click-wait-load-click-wait-load navigation model? Can context for task and space be given through users’ past actions, current needs, and visible future?

Besides the philosophical questions, there are also the practical ones. How much cost difference is there between launching software vs. hybrid vs. website? What is the requirements-design-development-launch cycle like for the three? How do they each fit into an enterprise?

I’m going to continue to poke around at these things and post as I meander my way through.

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.

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.

Empathy most important attribute of IA

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.