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Information Architecture Practitioners

There are a bunch of things the IA Institute does for the IA community. We have many ongoing conversations about what we should be doing next and how we can make the most out of our resources. Every time I have any of these conversations I have a nagging feeling I am not addressing the needs of the right audience. Not because I don’t have a good sense of what the organization is trying to accomplish, but because I don’t think I have as good a sense of who we are talking about specifically, anymore.

Who is the Information Architecture community of practice? The practice of information architecture has evolved significantly since I started working on the User Experience Design world. There was a time when being a practitioner equaled to being an information architect. That is not the case anymore as evidenced by the popularity of different job titles. There was also no formal training of any kind that would equip someone with the skills necessary to practice information architecture – self-teaching was the only path – today we see a number of institutions offering educational opportunities. There are many other changes, including how sister disciplines have evolved and grown, how the market demands shape different kinds of professionals to fulfill the needs of companies (further emphasized in moments of economic stability), etc.

With all this, how can we as a community do a good job at investing resources to continue to create valuable services that support the development of the practice of information architecture? I don’t have one answer nor do I hear a prevalent answer from anyone else in the community. I think I need to do some user research to get a better grasp of the problem. I’m trying to re-educate myself on who the practitioners are so I can offer a better and non biased answer, and do a better job at the kinds of things we are doing today (specifically through the IA Institute in my case).

I’ve talked to practitioners directly, I’ve read everything I could that comes to the IA Institute as requests or comments and I’ve tried to engage with as diverse a group of people within the practice as I can. Though I wasn’t doing that with the explicit intent of understanding this audience, I feel like I have a lot of information, but I’m unsure if it’s enough to help me understand our community better. In thinking about the IA community of practice in terms of “audience” to whom services can be provided to (as well as the community who powers these services), I was trying to identify a model to help me articulate the various dimensions that reflect different people’s expectations, needs and attitudes about their practice and career; and how the IA Institute could best support them. Here are a few:

Novice <--------------> Experienced
(how much qualification under the belt one has)

Specialist <--------------> Generalist
(how much of their personal practice focuses on a particular aspect of UXD)

Practitioner <--------------> Collaborator
(is this person interested in the practice itself or knowing just enough to work with someone who is)

Innies <--------------> Outties
(is this person working independently or with a firm helping companies with their UX or are they part of an org working on their own UX)

Member <--------------> Non-Member
(are they a member of the IA Institute – this is only really relevant as I think about things offered through

This is might be the start of a way to think about who the IA Institute is supporting. Knowing that everyone changes as they progress in their career, how can we offer different services that are relevant to people in the different points where they might be? I think I could plot every practitioner I speak to in some end of these spectrum and have a map of what “profile” they might fit.

There are some specific needs (which the IAI could fullfill) that are most relevant to people only when they align to certain characteristics. For example, a very experienced practitioners who is generalist in UXD (maybe a manager), working inside an organization and member of the IA Institute since the beginning, does not have a great overlap in needs with someone who is fresh out of library school, interested in pursuing a career in UXD, very focused in the core IA practice (likely to specialize) and who just learned about the IA institute last month because they attended the IA Summit for the first time.

Granted these are probably the most distant profiles but you get the idea. I think identifying the main profiles (who knows, maybe if I have enough relevant information I could build some useful personas out of that), would be really helpful in directing our future efforts, rather than trying to stretch the usefulness and relevance of everything we do to an audience so broadly defined as “information architecture practitioners”.

Anyway, this is my first draft. What is missing? What seems off? How do you think this could be helpful?


Whitney Hess said,

April 9, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

I think this is a really brilliant way of framing the problem, and starting to think through the various “user profiles” that the IAI is trying to target. Another spectrum might be education background: Formally Taught Self Trained, as well as somehow identifying primary or secondary (mid-life) career.

Really excited to see next steps.


Livia said,

April 9, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

Thanks Whitney! I don’t have a super explicit plan for the moment given that I’m trying to get this done in my ‘copious’ spare time, but I know that for now it will be important to focus on identifying a good way to frame the problem so I can get something useful out of this exercise that can help with other activities like deciding what to offer, adjust how we are offering certain things, etc.

I just got an email from Linda N with some great ideas too. In the interest of sharing this ongoing discovery, here are some other aspects she suggested considering (my comments below each):

Principal IA < ----> UX Team Manager

I can definitely see how career path choice might affect people’s motivations and needs, so I like this, probably a spectrum of career choices like “managerial track versus individual contributor track”.

Academic < ----> Self Taught

As Whitney mentioned, formaly taught versus self-training can be another dimension to consider. But I wonder, do people with these two different training backgrounds treat their practice differently? How so? Do they have vastly different needs (is it their learning style that distinguishes them?). I don’t know many folk in our field with extensive academic background so I’m interested in hearing more.

24/7/365 IA < ---- 9 to 5 IA That's a very interesting observation. I wonder if this distinction is universal for people in any praxis. I always feel like people who treat their profession as just a job are much less likely to be involved in the community, so I guess this is a useful spectrum even if just to identify people who we are NOT going to target or perhaps a secondary audience. Content Strategist IA <----> Interaction Designer IA

I think this is the hardest facet to think about. Many would argue that these really are information architecture focus < ----> interaction design focus. I think it would be a helpful to identify what may be different needs of people who’.s central concerns are in either of these, but I don’t know that this is the right way to convey them.

If I were profiling all UXD practitioners, maybe an IA < ---> IXd spectrum could have some use, but I am not sure. Would there be another spectrum to consider visual design, information design, etc? I feel like these get caught up on the wrong attributes and could easily mud the waters. There has to be a better way to identify different needs based on a person’s central area of concern/practice.


Dennis Schleicher said,

May 28, 2009 @ 9:22 am


Nice post. What about

Doer & Self Identifier They do it, but don’t know it

How about the difference between those people who are IAs, do IA, and self identify versus those who might do it but don’t know it or would call it that. Perhaps differences of language, vocabulary, philosophy.


Livia said,

June 9, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Interesting. That is certainly part of the target audience. I wasn’t sure how to articulate that. Thanks Dennis.

Another question I have about this whole thing. Does it make sense to profile “IA practitioners” or does it make more sense to profile UX professionals (making sure more or less IA practice is identified as an attribute)?

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