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Archive for Information Architecture

Connect with people first, content second

Very frequently people ask me how to get started in the UX field, or IA practice or Design. I always try to tailor my answers to their specific needs. Today I got an email from someone at work asking:

“Hi, everyone. If you decided you were interested in IA/UX but you didn’t know much about it…and you wanted to find out more…where would you go? What books would you read? What blogs would you add to your feed reader? What seminars would you attend? What tutorials would you take? What tweeters would you follow?”

Having no context I took 5 minutes are made this recommendation. I am sure I would tweak and change this significantly if I had any other inputs, but this was my 5 minute recommendation and I thought I’d share:

The starter book is Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. After that, The Elements of User Experience followed by Don’t Make Me Think. All other books people recommend are wonderful, but not to start with.

Become a member of The Information Architecture Institute and find yourself a mentor; it’s the most valuable investment anyone can make when starting out.

I don’t follow blogs. I let the community curate content for me instead. Following the right people on twitter means they send me all the good blog posts. Also, you come across the relevant blogs via the discussion lists (specially the one you get access to when you join the IA Institute). Connect with people first, content second. It’s helpful to connect to the UX/IA/IxD groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare – it will help attract good content to you. You’ll immediately have access to all kinds of people you’ll become interested in connecting with.

Attending seminars: Go to all the free stuff happening locally. In Philly there’s PhillyCHI and Refresh Philly to start with. Online, spend your money wisely and pick the topics that seem more interesting to from UIE Virtual Seminars and Rosenfeld Media Webinar Series. Make sure you keep track of The UX Workshop for free broadcast of local events in other cities.

For community and education, attend the IA Summit. If you are starting out, that’s the first conference to go to. And Interactions. For more focused training, UIE’s User Interface Events and Adaptive Path’s UX Week and UX Intensive.

On Twitter, there are too many interesting people to follow and big names in the field. They don’t necessarily share any relevant information or advice relevant to starting out. These people do: @jmspool, @whitneyhess, @halvorson, @sladner, @mmilan, @austingovella, @leisa, @mediajunkie, @emalone, @stephenanderson, @billder (I share a lot of stuff too: @livlab)

Lastly, start a blog. You learn significantly more by sharing and capturing your own thoughts than countless dollars spent in training.

And if you are going to start on all this after lunch, print this to read during lunch: http://www.jjg.net/ia/recon/

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 iainstitute.org)

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?

Why I’m looking forward to the IA Summit 2009

Every year is the same thing. I know I will enjoy the IA Summit immensely but it’s not until a week or so before that I get really psyched about attending. This year was no different and today was the day I woke up hoping I was already there.

Since 2004 the IA Summit has been my favorite conference to attend for a number of reasons (it’s been going since 2000 though, I just had not had the opportunity to attend before then). The quality of the content always meets my needs, the diversity of people I meet is just the right mix of new contacts and familiar faces and the atmosphere is consistently welcoming and conducive of great conversations and ideas.

This year is particularly exciting for many reasons, chiefly because it is the 10 year anniversary of the IA Summit! What a great landmark for our practice that we have been going strong for a decade. This makes me proud about our past and excited about our future.

I am also involved in so much stuff that I know I won’t have a minute to rest; I’ll probably need a day off to recuperate after Memphis. Here are a few things I am looking forward to (that I hope I get to see you involved in):

1. I’m giving a workshop on behalf of the IA Institute – The workshop is titled Beyond Findability: Reframing IA Practice & Strategy for Turbulent Times. I am really looking forward to it and I know it will be a blast presenting with with Andrew Hinton, Matt Milan and Joe Lamantia. We will focus on practical advice to help peers elevate their IA practice and expand the boundaries of how IA is applied today. There are still a few spots left if you want to come; Wednesday 3/18 from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

2. I’m presenting a new tool: The UX Health Check – After almost two years of working with a new approach originated by the fantastic Austin Govella, we are finally going to expose it to a broader audience. Initially we proposed a workshop but given the novelty, we are doing a presentation and a poster. Come check it out Friday (3/20) at 5:45 in the Tennessee Exhibit Hall during the Poster Session and Sunday (3/22) at 11:45 in the Grand Salon A.

3. The Wall of Deliverables is back! – After a successful prototype in 2008, Jacco, Nathan and I decided to do it again and up the stakes one more time. This year people can submit online at http://www.wallofdeliverables.com and we have some amazing prizes lined up for the best of the best!

4. I’ll get to talk to everyone about the great things the IA Institute has been doing – Though my 2008 contribution in the IA Institute board of directors only started in October, I’ll have the opportunity to report on all the great stuff the IAI accomplished last year and have a conversation with our membership about where we are going next. Please join us Saturday 3/21 at 6:00pm (location TBD)!

5. We are doing a fun Board Game Night! – We have been discussing this since forever so I am excited we are making it happen! Come have fun with us Saturday evening (3/21), in the Skyway Room.

I really enjoyed reviewing submissions this year and feel like the program is very strong. This will also be my first time in Memphis so I am looking forward to visiting Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum.

There is so much I’m looking forward to (all the items I listed above don’t do justice to the amount of stuff that is actually going to take place – I was even promised knitting lessons from some master knitters!), so I hope you are feeling as energized and ready to rock as I am. See you in Memphis!

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