SIGIA-L: Re: future directions for IA (or: CIAO or CUXO - some views from Sweden)From: Jonas Söderström (jonas_at_xkom.se)
Date: Sun Aug 26 2001 - 02:08:20 EDT
I know there was a discussion on "Is this really an IA" and "Define the damn thing" during summer, and I would have loved to give my views then, but it was during the summer holidays here in Sweden and I was at the beach for a month or so. But since the subject came up again, I'll have a go at it.
Many of us have arrived at three-part models or definitions of "what we do", like Christina, and George Olsen. So have I.
Our models differ a little from each other, in what label we put on a specific skill, and exactly how we draw the borders between them.
A colleague and me arrived at the title "information architects" independently back in 1995 or 1994. At first we noted that people talked (in Swedish) about web sites like buildings. They "went into" a site, they "walked around" in it.
Then we saw similarities with the common architects.
A building needs a room plan. Rooms must be connected so that people can move between them, and grouped logically (the elevator should not be in the bathroom, etc.). The building needs signs and labels. Architects do that.
But architects also organize the buildings infrastructure. They don't build the air conditioning, plumbing and electricity, but they supervise and design the plan for it.
Finally, architects also design the aesthetic side of a building. The color, the facing, the carpets, the color on the walls, the lightning,
In the same way, web sites need an overall structure, technical sub-systems, and visual design.
In our view, the information architect is the one that has a mastery of all this. Sometimes he/she does everything himself; sometimes he or she supervises others. Some architects specialize in interior design, but they're still architects.
So our three-part model says that information architecture is the overall term for
Although we seldom do everything ourselves (we do have graphic designers that doesn't do IA, for example), we strive to educate our staff, so that they should be able to work in all the three niches.
There are two pedagogic advantages to this definition, as we see it.
First, to call all the three parts "design" is a good mnemonic that simplifies the client's understanding (of what we want to charge them for, in the end). Talking about "three kinds of design" is easier than having one kind of architecture and two types of design.
Second, the comparison with an ordinary architect is easily understood. Everyone I talk to, gets a good understanding of all the aspects of building better sites in this way.
And then, the third advantage is that it puts IAs on top of the whole process, which is where I think we should be.
These three aspects of a site might also be said to make up the "user experience". It's not a bad word, but we haven't found a good Swedish word for it. Even if we do, we'll probably stick with "IA" as the big, overall term, for the reasons above.
So I do vote for a CIAO, instead of a CUXO.
What about usability? There are no "usability consultants" when building a house. If the architect has done a good job, the building is usable. Similarly, there are no "readability experts" in publishing. Good readability is the result of designers, editors, typographers and printers doing their craft well.
Usability is a good marketing word, but IMHO it's not really a discipline. To design, conduct and interpret tests and interviews correctly is a skill and a profession (or possibly three!) , and IAs should use such professionals when needed.
Rather than the cherry in the pie, we should say we're the chefs.
For the lesson lies in learning and by teaching I'll be taught
Find Cross (map of Stockholm): http://www.karthotellet.com/map/?id=1104
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