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JJG Speaks! Posted on 01/30/2002.

And not just in the comments area of my site!

Jesse just posted part 1 of an essay titled "ia/recon", focusing on the distinguishing between the role of information architect, and the discipline of information architecture.

Perhaps needless to say, I pretty much agree with his basic premise. Though, I don't think the issue is as grave as he puts it across. Still, I eagerly await "Part 2."

(I've recently dipped into Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark", which has me wishing Jesse had named his essay's sections, "Fit the First", "Fit the Second", etc.)

9 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "...Boxes...boxes....boxes everywhere!"
Next entry: "SOFT AND CHEWY."


Clearly, the lack of comments indicates that everyone agrees with me.
Posted by jjg @ 02/01/2002 08:03 PM PST [link to this comment]

My silence on this has had more to do with being over-worked than with my reaction to the article, but I'll take a stab.

I'm at least tentatively in agreement with your points; open to the idea of divorcing role & discipline. My main reaction to the article is that of wanting more--feeling that this is an intro. with a cliff hanger and that I won't have much to respond to until I hear your take on why we may need to abandon the role; and how it might be replaced. I'm looking forward to 2/5!

Last week I was in London and got into a skirmish with Matt Jones ( this same topic (another point of agreement: it has become impossible to discuss this dispassionately!). Matt was essentially calling for what you're proposing; divorcing the role and the discipline, arguing that he didn't want the role of information architect at, he wanted all the individuals working on projects there to be steeped in principles of information architecture and to be able to bring information architecure as a discipline into all aspects of web design (apologies to Matt if I've botched his take). My response was that I felt it was premature to take this approach, that it seemed like we need information architects in IA *roles* right now so that in addition to providing this skillset we can evangelize and educate inside companies.

At the company I'm currently working for, all the roles (and resources) are stretched so thin, that I don't see how information architecture would possibly make it to the table if not for direct (and persistent) advocacy. Unlike some aspects of web design where absence is "loud" (visuals, coding), the absence of information architecture can slip by due to its intangible nature--and the loss not fully realized until the site launches and is a mess.
Posted by samantha bailey @ 02/02/2002 12:37 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, it's not entirely obvious from the first part of the essay, but I am not actually advocating the abolition of the role. I am arguing that the discipline and the role have different needs, and that both are suffering for being so closely bound. Later installments will elaborate on what I think some of those needs are, and how we should address them.
Posted by jjg @ 02/02/2002 02:44 PM PST [link to this comment]

I think i'm sensitive about this as I'm the only person I know of in the BBC with the title 'Information Architect'... while there are lots of people who I would say have the responsibilites, mindset and dedication to the principles of a good IA.

I guess for me sometimes it's the same as having a 'usability guru' in your office, while not putting in practice user-centred design principles on all projects.

Sprinkling role/guru/discipline pixie-dust on projects has never worked in my experience.

I think for a lot of big projects/companies you definately would need at least one dedicated Information-Sciences-focussed designer / product manager... who you could probably call an IA. I certainly want some on my team in the future.

It's just that tying the definition of the role to the decipline/work itself ends up with you having to explain yourself out of the label and advocate the value of the work at the same time. I only have a passion to do the latter.

I think i was arguing for the abolition of *my* role, so I could sit at home and watch Alias. And, hey NO spoilers... Us Brits are only on ep.2...
Posted by Matt @ 02/03/2002 03:22 AM PST [link to this comment]

jjg, you largely assume correctly, at least on my part. The skills are needed and make a huge difference on information application projects (Web sites and other applications). Not having a person or more on a project that understands IA is really ugly and often leads to many iterations that need not take place.
Posted by vanderwal @ 02/03/2002 09:31 AM PST [link to this comment]

Well, I have to agree with what Samantha said that Matt said, in principle. I addressed this issue almost a year ago, after attending Intranets2001
(scroll down to "Who Develops the Information Architecture?")

Now, I also agree with Samantha that, while this is all well and good, that right now there's very much a need for specific IA and user advocacy. And, when it comes to "little IA", we'll likely always need specialists devoted to the cause, if only because most people find the whole notion of creating metadata excruciatingly painful.
Posted by peterme @ 02/03/2002 10:57 PM PST [link to this comment]

If Jesse's conclusion is no more than "...and so, we therefore need to get rid of the role of information architect," than we'll of course be in no better position than when he started.

The sense that I got from part one was mostly that infighting about infitesimal divisions of responsibilities is doing none of us, nor the profession any good. Now, SIGIA has been relatively quiet the last coupla months on the old "don't do metadata, well, you ain't an IA" argument, but it's still out there. For me, the most valuable point Jesse makes is that we can't go on defining IA as "the stuff that I do on projects, but not this other stuff."

It's more valuable to concern ourselves with a sphere of professional practices (maybe standards?) that defines the disciplne. Then, we can start thinking in terms of "I'm good at metadata, thesauri, and categorization, but not so good at navigation design, but what I do is still IA."
Posted by Andrew @ 02/04/2002 02:50 AM PST [link to this comment]

Andrew (but which one? so many to choose from!) is on the right track, although I prefer to think of IA as a common set of problems, rather than a common set of practices used to address them. Metadata is one tool that can be used to address an architectural problem; there are others. Dividing up practitioners according to the tools they use is foolish and counterproductive.

On the other hand, I do not buy Peter's "IA is everyone's problem!" argument either. I am not arguing against specialists. Rather, I am arguing that IA is not the exclusive domain of specialists, and that binding the discipline to the role misses this key point.
Posted by jjg @ 02/04/2002 10:14 AM PST [link to this comment]

Here's Part 2.
Posted by jjg @ 02/05/2002 01:27 PM PST [link to this comment]

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