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Apr 13, 2005: IA in Germany

Over the past few years I've been in contact with a few information architects from Germany. They're in a frustrating situation: while IA is gaining acceptance in many other countries, German companies just don't seem interested. Is this simply an issue of time lag, where we'll see a healthy demand for IA emerge in Germany a few years from now? Or are there deeper cultural or linguistic issues that will always make IA acceptance problematic in one of the world's largest, most complex economies?

I'd love to hear your theories on what's up (or down) with IA in Germany. I'd also like to point you to a hopeful sign: with the IAI's support, German information architects are organizing a two-day symposium this May in Frankfurt with Eric Reiss as keynote speaker. The details and press release follow; please help spread the word and point German speakers to the symposium page.

What: First national symposium for IA in Germany
When: May 28-29 (Sat-Sun), 2005
Where: InterCity Hotel, Frankfurt

  • Organized by members of the IA Institute in Germany: Britta Glatten, Deborah Gover, Jochen Fassbender, Piet Kopka, Wolf Noeding and James Kalbach
  • Keynote speech will be given by Eric Reiss ("The business value of IA") in English. Otherwise, all presentations will be in German
  • Total of about 6 additional presentations and talks

Information Architecture now in Germany

Information architecture, a discipline that has existed since the middle of the 1990s, is now beginning to take hold in Germany. While North America has already enjoyed large conferences with hundreds of eager participants for years, information architecture has hardly been noticed by the German Internet and IT industries.

Information architecture--not to be confused with computer architecture--deals first and foremost with the structuring of content so it can be found. Though the findability of information is not limited to the Internet, the Web and Intranet design are generally of primary interest to information architects. In particular, information-rich services profit most from good information architecture.

The German members of the IA Institute are organizing the first nation-wide IA Symposium in Frankfurt. This will take place on May 28-29, 2005 with the theme "Information Architecture in Germany--Chances and Perspectives." The program consists of talks and panel discussions, including a keynote speech from Eric Reiss, renowned information architect and author. Additionally there will be plenty of networking with other professionals and the chance to meet people with similar interests.

For more details see www.iatagung.de.

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Comment: Andrew (Apr 13, 2005)

I worked in Germany in 2001-2002, and was a little surprised then that IA had so little visibility. IIRC, the little IA group I got to know was really mostly HCI students with a couple of designers thrown in. No one really was doing any true IA. Indeed, almost everyone I met was a classic, academic HCI person, really interested in doing pure academic research, and working in the university system, not for businesses. Anyway, I had assumed that surely that situation had changed by now! Germany's economy is really in a bad way, I'm sure that has something to do with it.

Comment: Lou (Apr 15, 2005)

Some good discussion on the topic of IA in continental Europe over at Peter van Dijck's blog: http://poorbuthappy.com/ease/archives/2005/04/14/2614/

Comment: Jochen (Apr 15, 2005)

A big thanks to you, Lou, for bringing this up. While still hoping for a few more comments, especially from outside Germany (not having read Peter van Dijck's blog yet), here are a few observations from me, one of the above mentioned IAI members from Germany (admittedly with an information science background).

There may be a multitude of reasons for the IA desert Germany, to name but a few:

1) The corporate culture is quite conservative in general ("We are doing things as always") and different than, e.g., in the U.S. There is not much leeway for the quick adoption of new developments.

2) The time lag of usually up to several years for new developments to arrive though, after all those years, one has to ask: Is IA really still in the pipeline?

3) The notorious German bureaucracy which, for example, makes it more difficult for in-house and freelancing IAs to succeed.

4) The amateurism in or even ignorance of the concept of findability. It's ironic that there is a proper German equivalent for it: Auffindbarkeit, which is a classic German word as compared to the neologism "findability" itself. Yet many IT and Internet companies are either treating it ridiculously amateurish or don't care about it at all. ("Sorry, we only need programmers and graphic designers".)

5) The lack of support from the academic community. For example, there is no SIG-IA within the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Informationswissenschaft (DGI), the German equivalent of ASIS&T. The latest edition of the handbook on information science, published by the DGI in 2004, doesn't even mention IA in any way. Despite some claims that IA-wise there are a few things going on in universities, we haven't seen any IA supporters coming forward. (Actually, as of today, I'm the only DGI member who is also an IAI member ...)

6) The lack of enthusiasm for IA in general.

So much for my selection of reasons. Any solutions to offer are greatly appreciated.

And, yes, Andrew, I completely agree with you that it *has* something to do with it.

Comment: Joe Sokohl (Apr 20, 2005)

Hey Lou,

FYI, at IconMedialab in Hamburg, I was doing IA in 99-01. Specifically, I led a team doing IA and HCI for Siemens Medical. Ironically, the design and the technology have completely changed on the site, but the IA is largely intact. The same for SOS-Children's Villages, a project I did in the summer of 01 (indeed, I was in Hamburg on Sept. 11 '01 and had to travel by train to Munich to do usability testing on a prototype of the site).

I think others were doing IA then, but perhaps the dot-com crash pushed IA concerns on the back burner....

Comment: Tom Miskiewicz (Apr 23, 2005)

Hi all,

I live in Germany since 10 years and the bad socio-economic climate, lack of an entrepreneurial culture and the bureaucracy here are just *shocking*! Still, I'm happy to read that there are Germans posting here. Maybe it's time to get together on a IA crusade? Please contact me directly, if you're looking for a warrior!

Comment: jan (Apr 28, 2005)

Hi there,

thank you for this thread. I am amazed to hear that there actually *are* a few german IAs out there.

I work since 5 years as a designer in a fairly successful middle sized internet company in berlin.

last year i begun to study (distance learning) again... LIS.
oh man! nobody in my company has ever heard of the term IA. very few people i know of have read Rosenfeld,Morville/Wurman/ Cooper/Krug...or at least one of them. it is really frustrating.

we definitely have to gather and articulate ourselfes, but i am not quite sure if we can make it without the help from "above" :)


Comment: Janis Gonser (May 4, 2005)

Great listing you gave Jochen.
The points 3 and 4 Jochen gave do reflect in my opinion a general attitude in the German industry, so I don�t think it�s really a problem with IA. There is an existing fear towards the "new" things and the industry is really careful about it. In many cases companies back themselves up with alright numbers they receive in order not to change anything, so they stick to the processes as they know them. I always wonder, why don�t make things work even better and even more interesting question, how long will the good numbers hold up.

I have been living in the US since over 5 years now, since I lived my first 25 years in Hamburg. I do miss Germany quite a lot, but work wise I am extremely satisfied here. This is based on the flexibility, outlook for new technologies, and communication I have experienced in my short career in the US.

Certainly I am strong opinionated by my own experiences.


Comment: Janis Gonser (May 4, 2005)

Mistake in previous post. Meant points 1, 3 and 5 NOT 3 and 4.

Comment: Blent Aydin (May 4, 2005)

I am not a IA , I know only about some of IA terms and general concepts. I am living and working in Germany for 3 years. Since 6 months
i have looking for an IA event in Germany
. And now I found it...
thanks to you



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