People first. Information first.

Jeremy In Flight

No more hemming & hawing: I am an information architect

Ever since I decided to pursue a career in UX, I’ve struggled to explain to the world at large exactly what I’m doing with my life. It’s happened with friends, with family, with new acquaintances who invariably ask, “So what do you do?” What I've done is freeze, trying to think up creative ways to answer:

  • “I do a certain kind of technology design.”

  • “Have you ever heard of user experience?”

  • “Good question.”

And with my current freelance job:

  • “The easiest way to explain it is that I’m working on a website redesign.”

Typing out these answers makes me cringe, and I’m tired of racking my brain and cycling through an identity crisis every time I talk about my work. So, from now on, here’s what I’m going to tell people: I’m an information architect. Period. Without hesitation, with matter-of-factness, with pride, with confidence, with the same air as if I had told them I was a lawyer.

I’m making this shift for two reasons. First, as I said, I’m simply tired of hemming and hawing. When I hesitate, I like to think it comes from good intent — I want people to relate and understand, rather than be confused. But I don’t think that’s how it comes across. When my words spill out all jumbled and haltingly, I fear what I actually demonstrate is the following:

  • I don’t know what I’m talking about

  • I don’t trust my audience to understand

  • I’m afraid of what people will think of me

In reality: I do know what I’m talking about, my audience is perfectly capable of grasping IA, and fearing other people’s perceptions is a good way to tie yourself in stress knots. So, why pull punches? I’m an information architect.

The second reason is that I believe IA needs this, as a discipline and profession. It needs its own practitioners to be ambassadors, and ambassadors don’t hesitate. They don’t worry what others will think, because they believe in what they do. They believe that if more people only understood, they’d get it too.

And you know what? People already *do* understand. Despite my inarticulation, when I get around to actually explaining what I’ve been studying and doing, they totally get it. Because at one point or another, nearly everybody has felt the pain of bad IA. And they know good IA too, through the devices, products, systems, and services that make their lives better, even if they’d never think to call it information architecture. They get it. They’re waiting to get it, and if I ever expect them to value what an information architect does, then it’s up to me to be straightforward and show them.

This isn’t a call to arms. This isn’t me saying that we need to convince more people to call themselves IAs if they think of themselves as UXDs, UXAs, IxDs, whatever. I want the IA community to be inclusive rather than exclusive, so this isn’t about drawing lines between titles. In reality, we all wear many hats. I could call myself a content strategist, a usability researcher, or a UX designer, and sometimes I will. No matter what else I’m doing, though, I approach problems like an information architect. I see like an information architect. I think like an information architect. IA thinking was on full display a couple weekends ago at World IA Day, which was held in 24 cities across six continents. I attended WIAD in Ann Arbor, Mich., and I believe in IA as a discipline, a profession, a community. I want to see it succeed, and so this is one small way I’m hopefully going to contribute.

I’m an information architect. I design information systems so that people can find what they need to find and do what they need to do. My job is to help organizations, businesses, and communities align their needs with the needs of their audience, so that the next time you use their website, app or service, it’s actually useful, usable, and meaningful. That’s what I do.

Jeremy BurtonComment