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Sep 13, 2009: Disaster Planning for the IA Community

It's been a year since the financial meltdown. And it's got me wondering: how hard have information architects been hit?

I have plenty of anecdotal information, but really, I don't feel confident in saying that this has or hasn't been a disaster for the IA community. But it's clearly been a disaster for the many, many individual information architects and fellow travelers that have lost their sources of income. Which gets me thinking: how might we work as a community to blunt, if not avert, professional disasters large and small?

Some ill-formed ideas follow; while you have a look, consider what you might need if and when you lose your job or consulting work. I know you'll come up with better ideas than these:

  • Misery loves company. We need to know that we're not alone in our situations, especially if it's one of those "large disasters". Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks provide us with venues where we can inform people we know and trust about our situations. But they're not IA-specific; would it be useful to have such a venue? Would it be reasonable and practical to share the news and ask for help on the IAI-members list? If so, we'd probably need a "what happens on this list stays on this list" policy a la UTEST. Or maybe we'd need a separate "SOS Forum" altogether?
  • How bad it is it out there? To scope the extent of the effects of an economic downturn, it might be useful for someone—say, the IAI—to take the pulse of the community on a regular basis. Perhaps a repeatable survey driven by metrics for successful employment would do the trick. Of course, these results will need to be shared and compared longitudinally. (BTW, given that IAI board members are usually pretty senior, they might be otherwise somewhat insulated from what's happening in the trenches, so such a survey might be helpful to them as well.)
  • Send a care package Getting a job or finding contracting gigs is never simple. It's also not exactly rocket science. But when you've just had the rug pulled out from under you, it's all too easy to feel overwhelmed. To help, it might not be too hard for groups like the IAI to assemble a "care package" of useful resources in one handy place that can be zipped to those in need. It could include:
    • Links to job boards, mentoring programs, and volunteering opportunities (volunteering is one of the best things you can do when you have time on your hands).
    • Information on how to polish your resume and portfolio, and tips on how to sell IA/UX/whatever (and, by extension, yourself).
    • Links to relevant groups and networking opportunities in LinkedIn, FaceBook, as well as where and when local groups meet.
    • Reminders to remember to shower regularly, shave occasionally, and turn off the tube generally.
  • Keeping the lights on. I've always been skeptical of having associations like the IAI offer health insurance. And, believe it or not, here in the US we're actually allowed to continue funding our own health plans for some time after being laid off. But perhaps group insurance and other programs and services that help us maintain such basics as good health are worth reconsidering? Or heck, perhaps microloans a la Kiva?

This is just a start, and though I call out the IAI, this is obviously relevant to other UXers and more. In any case, what would you need if a professional disaster befell you?

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Comment: Karyn Young (Sep 17, 2009)

Hi Lou,
The site says no one has commented yet. Hopefully that means everyone still has their IA job.

As someone who found herself outside the world of a paycheck, I think your suggestions are helpful, especially the care package. Something to help folks move forward in a positive way is key. The misery loves company piece is something I would say is key in the first few days and maybe weeks, but then it is important to start visualizing something new.

And some advice to people who are asked to support a laid-off colleague or friend, encourage this person to take the time to recover. For many if not most, a lay off is a huge blow -- in our culture, most folks define themselves by their work and their relationships although often not in that order. Ask if you can help to brainstorm, help the person consider things they have always wanted to do. Offer to write a LinkedIn recommendation -- draft it and send it to them. This will help them remember the positives in what they've done. And something else key -- keep in touch with colleagues that have been laid off, but don't ask if they've found a job yet. Share some interesting information with them -- connect in a positive way. It would be wonderful to know that IAs take care of their own.

Karyn

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