Information Architecture Panel: January 10, 2008

The iSchool held a panel of practitioners in the field of Information Architecture as part of iCareer Week at the beginning of the quarter. These are my notes from that panel (interpreted without quite as much of the fresh context in my head as I usually like, I must admit).

  • Recommended courses: 530/540 (taxonomy/technology); project management; research methods and analytical skills; coollaboration/teamwork; 580s; User Centered Design (UW Extension/UW Educational Outreach)
  • When in class, always ask the question: “What’s the point of this?’ Also ask, “How can I communicate the value of this to someone not familiar with the concept?”
  • What kind of information architect do you want to be?
  • “What other value can I add to the degree?” (ask this)
  • Mike Crandall: What functional subspecialties are there in IA? What is IA?
    • metadata, user experience, user research, usability, analytics, wireframes, data modeling, interface/interaction design, evaluation
    • Major groupings within IA: taxonomy, HCI, design (visual and interaction)
    • There are also “innies” vs. “outies”: internal and external consultancies in IA. The contrast here is one of a mother who takes care of the kids and an ER doc who does triage. This is the contrast between a consultant for a company and a consultant for an agency.
    • If you want to get into programming as part of the MSIM degree, go for concepts, not languages
    • It’s difficult to be a developer and an information architect.
    • It’s important to be able to talk to people who understand how the system is built – hence why programming can be important.
  • Mike Crandall: What kinds of tools do you use?
    • Outlook/Excel/Office, mind mapping software, Illustrator (some), InDesign, workflows
    • “We’re consultants first” – need to be able to advertise and deliver IA. How to express that? “Deliverables, wireframes…”
    • “Tools were not a big concern [in work] – I had the underpinnings.”
  • Mike Crandall: Looking for a job – what did you do in your job search? How did you find IA-related jobs?
    • Join a professional organization related to IA and stay informed
    • Look for a job using your own personal network – go through the people you know
    • Make your own projects while you don’t have a job and build it. Create your own portfolio.
    • Get into a company that needs what you want to do and do it (note that this may not match your “official” job title!)
    • Brush up on resumes and cover letters
  • Audience question: how do you present stuff that’s not really done?
    • Get to the level of “I feel good about this piece of work” and give the context of the assignment
    • Depends on the type of IA you want to do
    • You’re attempting, in your portfolio, to show how you synthesize a large amount of work
    • Mike Crandall: process is the important thing: you sell the process, not the work.
    • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t do something because it isn’t your strength!
  • Mike Crandall: What is your next career step?
    • CEO! Getting more of the science behind the ideas, getting more in front of clients, practicing current work, “getting good”, balance design with working with people, create a collaborative process, start their own company, become web director, learn business skills, learn team management, work on motivation (self and others), get more management/oversight experience, work on client/account management
  • Audience question: What do you hate?
    • Being rushed, repetition, wireframes (sort of)
  • wireframes are breaking down – high level of interaction
  • Special Interest Group lists are valuable
  • Audience question: when did you finally feel confident?
    • When working with first client
    • Focus on the user is your selling point
    • Fake it – say stuff with confidence, even if you have no clue what you’re doing
    • Know how to figure things out

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