I draw boxesA blog on user experience & design

July 7, 2008

Should IAs be involved thoughout the web development process?

A fundamental question for me relating to the information architect role is how we fit in to and interact with the wider web team, and to what extent IAs should be involved throughout the web process.

Information architecture is in many ways the ‘bridge’ between technology and design

My own opinion is that information architecture is in many ways the ‘bridge’ between technology and design – while keeping the user in mind. Therefore IAs should have input at every stage of the project.

Another view is that IA is simply another step in a linear process – a process that goes something like: Strategy > Requirements > IA > Visual design > Build > Test > Release. In this model the IA simply drops in at the beginning of the project, produces some documents, and then disappears as soon as the wireframes are handed over to the design team.

If an IA is doing his or her job well they will make sure they are at the centre of the project

I have worked on projects where both ways of working have been the norm. I think if an IA is doing his or her job well they will make sure they are at the centre of the project. But to do this takes a certain amount of confidence. We have to prove our worth within a team, and this often takes time.

The plain fact is that many web teams have been producing pretty good websites without information architects for many years, and will continue to do so unless we show we can add value.

But information architects are being hired. They seem to be in great demand to me – although there are relatively few roles in total (compared to say, designers) there are even fewer practitioners. So there are people who see value in our role. It’s more about shaping that role once we’re in the door and proving value in our interactions with all members of the team.

When faced with project managers or art directors who believe the ‘thanks for the wireframes, bye-bye’ approach, I think all we can do is try and offer insightful opinion when appropriate and mention that we’d like to be involved throughout the process.

I still believe fundamentally in the integrity of information architecture as a unique role

I still believe fundamentally in the integrity of information architecture as a unique role. We have skills that cross the traditional creative/technical boundaries, and while we are not specialists in these areas we can offer a degree of planning, consideration and communication that produces genuine savings in time and increase in quality of outcome.

This note would not be complete without mentioning Jesse James Garrett’s 9 pillars of successful web teams. His beautifully simple diagram and accompanying essay show information architecture (labelled as ‘abstract design’) as the central ‘pillar’ of a web team, touching every role within the team and providing links between strategy and tactics, and design and technology. Garrett is an IA himself, so he is naturally inclined to argue that IAs are central to any web project – but I agree, and it’s what initially attracted me to the role.

So if team members don’t initially see the value I (as an IA) can add to a project, then I see it as my responsibility to prove my worth to the extent that they seek out my opinion on key issues – and in the end produce a better product as a result. This may take time, but it’s about evolving the notion of a web team and making our own small contributions to the progression and acceptance of our role.

1 Comment »

  1. Very good insight, Chris.
    Absolutely a discussion to carry on…

    Comment by Luca Benazzi — July 8, 2008 @ 9:23 am

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