If you’ve been around the internet and blogs for a while, you may remember a wonderful old event called Photoshop Tennis. Well, it has been reborn as Layer Tennis and Week 3 is underway with Steven Harrington v Chuck Anderson featuring commentary by Jason Kottke. Check it out.
I’ve always held that information architecture is architecture in the information space, and must embrace content architecture (a.k.a. little or narrow IA), interaction design and information/interface design, and the architects are those who practice and excel in those arts.
Christina goes on to say that, “a lack of thoughful […] architecture results in sites that are difficult to navigate, difficult to use, unprofitable, unrealized and generally stinky.”
I agree that is often the case, but I don’t think the solution either begins or ends with IA, whether referring to the practitioner or the discipline. I think it starts much earlier, which is what I was getting at earlier today.
Ed suggested that a web designer should be a part of the solution, and on that we agree, though I would underline that a web designer is not simply a graphic designer working in Photoshop. A web designer (I prefer “developer”) works with the graphics and the code, realizing the graphical concept she or he has come up with in working HTML/XHTML/CSS etc.
For me there are four equally important tasks to complete once a web project has been given the go-ahead. Design, IA, content (or editorial) definition, and application/DB development. Further, none of those tasks can be completed in a vacuum – the job of each relies on the work of the others. Hence, for instance, the person doing the content definition must know what happens in the code, at least superficially, and the apps people have to know about what the IA is going on about.
All of the tasks have to be completed to a high level of quality, of course, whether it is one person trying to do it or a team of 10.
There’s one other person that needs to be in the mix: the project manager, or as I say sometimes, the product manager. This person has to know the web, they have to have lived in it, and has probably filled at least one of the other roles at some point in their career. This person is the one who figures out (and documents) the initial strategy (in consultation with “the business”), and who works with whomever is necessary to research things before high-priced specialists are brought in to make it happen for real. The project manager, to me, isn’t just a process person, it’s fundamentally a bridge position between the business needs that form the reason for doing a project in the first place and the more techie folks who will develop the specific elements that become the finished product.
It seems to me that the heady days of the dot-com bubble introduced a lot of inefficient processes to the web world. Most importantly, maybe, was the introduction of the idea that the “boss” didn’t have to know what the “web folks” are actually doing day to day. For me, that’s the foundational problem behind why there are so many “generally stinky” sites out there. IA is important, for sure. As are the other roles in a web project (don’t get me started about how important it is to have a real “jack of all codes” technical lead when a project has moved into a more quotidian integration or maintenance phases). But those disparate tasks, usually completed by people who quite literally speak different languages, need to be brought together by a skilled and experienced person who has a good idea of what each of them is doing. It might be Information Architects who often get pulled into that role, but it’s not strictly an IA role that they’re filling. It’s a layer away from what I understand IAs (the required tasks) to do: it starts earlier, and it ends long after. Maybe never, as long as a site is alive.
Luckily for the field of IA, it’s just that kind of project manager who knows the value of IA people, and would only consent to developing a site without one under great pain!