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Jul 11, 2003: Where Have All the IAs Gone?

I have a theory, and I wonder if it can be proven.

I've talked with a lot of people who feel that there are fewer information architects today than there were during the dot com peak. And in terms of visibility outside the field, that perception is quite understandable.

Back in 2000 and early 2001, there were scads of design firms and agencies with the budget to prime their publicity pumps. Naturally this benefited the information architects who worked for those companies, who, like their colleagues, received some attention in the industry media. And back in those days there still was budget to attend plenty of conferences.

I think that information architects back then were primarily outside consultants. We hadn't been around long enough to be recognized much inside bricks and mortar environments, much less gainfully employed in those settings. I'm a big fan of the 80/20 rule, and I'll bet that 80% of information architects worked for agencies back then.

During the ensuing long march, I think that ratio has flipped. Something like 80% of us are in-house, and 20% are, uh, "out house".

Which is great, if you ask me. It means that information architects have been recognized as important and valuable enough to have at least one around full-time and permanent. The flip side is that perhaps we're not as visible at conferences and in industry media, so it feels like there are fewer of us around.

My theory is that there are at least as many of us now as there were two or three years ago, maybe more. It's just that we're quietly working away in drab cubelands devoid of the Nerf basketballs, cappuccino machines, and other trappings of the cool agencies where we used to punch in.

What do you think: has there been a mass migration of information architects in-house? Are there more, fewer, or the same number of IA positions now than there were in early 2001? And how might we prove or disprove any of these theories--is there a way do to a reasonable census of information architects and the places they work?

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Comment: Gail (Jul 11, 2003)

Thankfully I am not in the “out house” … yet. But, then, am I an IA or something else? Is an IA by another name still an IA?

Actually, my title is “User Experience Consultant” which puts the focus on the “user” and not the “information,” but encompasses IA. In this huge corporation where I work, I can survive not by IA alone. I am called upon to perform traditional up-front project activities, such as learning about the client and their situation, gathering requirements and designing user interfaces. This gives me an opportunity to work some usability into the project: learning about the client’s users, conducting surveys, interviewing users, and even some usability testing.

A dash of technical expertise also helps keep me employed. Real developers would much rather wrestle with Java, asp, and .Net; and stay as far away as possible from HTML. So, I construct my own wireframe in HTML, mainly to provide an interactive, testable IA and navigation for usability testing.

However, when I started peppering the wireframe with other useful bits of information (requirements notes, content management notes, and technical notes), the wireframe gained a wider audience, keeping me employed.

So. Back to your initial question. Where have all the IAs gone? And how do we find out?

I would love to see a survey of those who consider themselves an IA, or who believe their job encompasses IA. What better place to conduct a survey, than through a bloug. What do you think?

It is about time we (IA, HCI, usability, user experience, whatever we call ourselves) had a good survey. How many of us are employed? How have our jobs changed? What new techniques have we devised to do things faster, better, cheaper? Are we making more or less? Where are the job hot spots? Can consultants who are not employees make a decent living?

Comment: jefflash (Jul 11, 2003)

I think there may be more IAs, but I know that there are more people who do information architecture as part of their job (business analyst who does some card sorting, graphic designer who does wireframes). What's more important -- IA as a role or IA as a job title?

As far as where they've gone, well, maybe with the economy and all, now they're more worried about doing revenue-generating work than reading blogs and mailing lists all day ;-)

Comment: Dan (Jul 14, 2003)

Are there more IAs? Given the dotcom freefall, plus fewer interactive initiatives in general due to the economy, it's hard to believe there are more of us around (and working) than before. For example, I know formerly dotcom-focused IAs who have joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed, gone back to school or switched careers; but I also know corporate IAs who lost their jobs as part of the widespread "downsizing" of technology departments. But I think Louis is right that there has been a big leap in awareness of the value of IA -- not just in the big corporations, but in enterprises of all sizes. So, even though there aren't more working IAs than before, there are relatively more of them in corporate settings, since the big companies are the first to recover and start hiring again. And IAs aren't at the bottom of the list anymore, when companies start to rebuild the organization.

Anyway, that's my theory. :)

Comment: Lou (Jul 14, 2003)

Good points everyone; I should have probably noted that I'm talking about people who *do* information architecture, regardless of what title they use.

Anyway, I'm pretty optimistic, and so far no one has given me a good reason to change my mind. Any takers? ;-)

Comment: jess (Jul 15, 2003)

Some interesting numbers from Monster.com

"information architect" 25 listings
"information architecture" 120 listings
"user experience" 150 listings
"usability" 387 listings
"user interface" 517 listings
"customer experience" 605 listings...

cheers....

Comment: Lou (Jul 15, 2003)

Quite a surprise that the leader is "customer experience". Guess that Mark Hurst really knows how to market a meme. ;-)

Comment: jess (Jul 17, 2003)

re: customer experience being the leader...

I don't think that customer experience *is* the leader for UX work...just that it is used much more broadly than our particular little community. E.g. CRM software support jobs mention "customer experience" but have little to do with understanding or solving customer's issues.

Comment: Seth (Jul 17, 2003)

Where have they all gone? Either massage school or to tour southeast asia. I did the later, but returned. I think a lot of people that were once IAs went back to what they were doing before the IA field got hot.

Comment: Kyle Pero (Aug 7, 2003)

I think your theory is correct - there are more IA's out there, but they are just not consulting as much.

I work as an in-house "Web Architect", doing information architecture and usability analysis. I would rather be a consultant though. I believe that if an IA is kept internal they may get dull because they are seeing the same kinds of sites all the time. I think your skills of "questioning everything" remain sharp if you are constantly working with different clients, companies and industries.

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