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Nov 27, 2006: RIP us

Disappointing posting from Joshua Porter, who makes some egregiously wrong assumptions about IA en route to predicting its demise:

The problem is that IA models information, not relationships. Many of the artifacts that IAs create: site maps, navigation systems, taxonomies, are information models built on the assumption that a single way to organize things can suit all users... one IA to rule them all, so to speak.

"IA models information, not relationships"? "...one IA to rule them all"? Sigh. I don't know where to begin...

I get the sense when reading IA-related postings like this that the writer has had some bad experiences with my ilk from time to time. Perhaps an information architect bit him when he was a child. We should acknowledge that, like every other field, IA does have its share of half wits that bite kids from time to time. What I don't quite understand is judging a field based on a few experiences with a few nincompoops.

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Comment: pixie (Nov 27, 2006)

In the world there are bad doctors, bad developers and bad IA's. Not everyone can be perfect. I'm totally shocked by what he has written. 90% of the projects I see my contractor/consultant friends work on, don't use IA, AT ALL. How can it die when it hasn't even truley begun being used properly? I went to Adobe MAX a month ago and 70% of the people I spoke to didn't know what an IA did. SCAREY!

Comment: Joshua Porter (Nov 27, 2006)

Thanks for the link, Lou.

I have already apologized to Christina, so I'll apologize to you, too. I'm sorry for stepping on your profession. I didn't mean to upset anyone...but I did.

On the other hand, I guess I did start quite a few interesting conversations...so it's not *all* bad.

However, I just don't see IA being a differentiator anymore. I would love to hear counterpoints...but I look around at the successful sites out there and success has a lot more to do with human-human relationships than with information architecture.

And if you're willing to include human-human relationships as somehow part of IA (maybe you always have)...then I claim you're actually supporting my point... which is that IA should be called something else.

Comment: Lou (Nov 27, 2006)

Joshua, thanks for the gracious comment; no apology is necessary (and hopefully the converse is true). And it is certainly good to start conversations; thank you for that.

IA not a differentiator? I suppose it depends on the kind of projects you work on. And I'm not exactly sure how you (or anyone) can confidently measure site success outside of commerce environments, but let's look at your own site. You've got a great deal of useful content. But your content is inaccessible and, arguably, your site is substandard because search isn't available. Search systems are a part of a site's information architecture, and that's a simple example of how IA can be a useful differentiator.

Human-human relationships? I teach a day-long seminar on IA for enterprise settings. So much of it deals with negotiation, with strategies for getting things done within bureaucracies, with team development... And I'm not alone in this; the field has been moving away from drawing lines between boxes and toward this direction for quite some time. To view of IA as just information relationships is about a decade old. But in fairness, people outside the field may not realize this, as less has been written about the human-to-human stuff. Trust me, it's difficult to write about it and it doesn't generalize well. And often the people who are best at it have the least time to share it.

This is why I encouraged you to attend the IA Summit a couple years ago, Joshua. While our books (mine included) don't do justice to these issues, the presentations at the Summit come closest.

Rename the field? Be my guest. Frankly, as I've said again and again, I really don't give a rat's ass, because the name of any field is relatively unimportant when compared with its practices, its community, and that community's shared experiences. I'm tired of this issue, and people who get caught up in the name are, frankly, too easily distracted by trivial details and miss the far more important aspects of the work we do.

But if we're going to persist with this renaming silliness, let's also rename interaction design, usability engineering, project management, technical communication, graphic design, programming, marketing, computer engineering, and just about any other field any of us might indulge in from time to time, OK? All of these names are probably as wrong as they are right.

OK, going to bed...

Comment: Stig Andersen (Nov 29, 2006)

I agree that Joshua’s article is way off, and I for one will not put IA as such to the grave. But I think his posting has stirred up some interesting discussions in the community (e.g. David Armano’s, David Greenfield’s blogs, and others). Going through the comments on various blogs and mailing lists, I thing it’s interesting to note how many of our colleagues express reservations regarding what our trade has/is developing into, or find it increasingly difficult to identify themselves as information architects. Renaming the field is not interesting, I agree. Nor is “defining the damn thing” endlessly. But if we acknowledge that the field of IA has expanded to include a wider spectrum of more specialized IA tasks (which is what I see), I think it’s important to openly discuss how we can work together in constructing meaningful architectures -- spanning from strategic IA to tactical IA.

Comment: Lou (Nov 29, 2006)

Good points Stig.

I'm happy to have this kind of constructive conversation, or at least monitor its progress.

But I'm not willing to partake if those talking have an axe to grind (not saying that Joshua necessarily does, though some of his past posts have made me wonder). In other words, people who knock an entire field as being:
* too broad and steps on their toes (nonsense)
* too narrow and leaves them out (hogwash)
* too touchy-feely (balderdash)
* run by a closed clique (tripe)
* too self-referential (drivel)
* unwilling to accept criticism (absolute bullshit)

...aren't worth paying attention to, because their critiques are often so contradictory, and based on such limited personal experience.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of people grinding such axes. The heck with'em; I'll focus on my work, whether someone wants to call it IA or not.

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