“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

A response to Peter Morville’s “IA 3.0”

A response to Peter Morville’s article, “Information Architecture 3.0”.

There has been a lot of talk of the demise of IA due to various factors:

  • Joshua Porter calls for the demise of IA based on HIS focus of social network software in how “relationships” actually trump “information” as the primary axis of relevance when designing these “new” systems.
  • Christina Wodke didn’t exactly make a call for the demise of IA, but rather expressed her angst that she has outgrown a community that she was so instrumental in helping to define and build and STILL by publishing and contributing to Boxes & Arrows remains a vital force within the community whether she likes it or not.
  • David Armano takes a more pragmatic look at the question in his own blog which is geared towards the interactive agency community and Experience Design community.

Then on the IAI-Members list I got into a bit of a tuffle with some of the long standing members there (I’ve been a member since its inception as well) because I was supporting Joshua’s initial critique of IA as being myopic in its practice and as a role for a practitioner it will be subsumed by the larger disciplines of design. I even said that this will probably hold true for interaction design as both disciplines are very narrow in their focus and really are small screwdrivers in a total practitioners tool chest.

Peter Morville started the thread on IAI because he was being coy and wanted people to save all these premature obituaries. In a way it is all silly, I agree to call for the death of any disciplines, since all disciplines mature and adapt. For example, and to Joshua Porters interests,Folksonomy (can be simply described as social tagging)–one of the first tools of social networks: Flickr and del.icio.us are its poster children–is a term coined by one of the IA Community’s very own, Thomas Vander Wal . His work on the “Personal Information Cloud” also speaks directly to Joshua’s interest in social networking software as well. Another, even bigger big win for the IA Community is that Jesse James Garrett coined the term “AJAX” to describe the trend he was seeing in web-application spaces. Jesse is another long-time IA community member.

It is this word “community” that Peter adds to the description of Information Architecture that is so important. The other two are Role and Discipline. As a community builder, I totally respect and agree with Peter that the IA Community, the IA Role and the IA Discipline in many ways have different trajectories, but their are tightly aligned by strong gravitational fields. This means that the trajectory of one pulls and gets pulled by the trajectory of the others.

But what is so great about Peter’s new Venn diagram (thank G-d! I haven’t seen a Venn in so long!!!!) is that it at once communicates an important new idea, and demonstrates that Peter is indeed a great IA, by helping to organize new mental models around this knowledge space.

Peter also sticks to the little IA space, which I also appreciate. His definition of IA from the upcoming Polar Bear book is in my mind just broad enough to be inclusive without diluting it to the point of “everything is IA”.

OK, here is where all the warm fuzzies go away …

Why in the world all the focus on IxD?

  1. Peter mentions that IA is not included in Bill Moggridges seminal work “Designing Interactions”.
    Uh? Where was an IA when Lisa was born? the mouse? Mac OS 8? What research methods have come out of the IA community?
    The first IA conference was in 2000, no? the Polar Bear book v. 1 was in the late nineties. Bill’s book is looking at the early work designing computers with not too much emphasis on the current stuff. I mean maybe we can include Richard Saul Wurman, but the IA of today resembles very little of what Richard was talking about back then. Being miffed about this is like wondering why there was no mention of the English during a description of how Judaism was born. Just bizarre.
  2. 2. Peter calls IxD, IAs younger sibling. What?!?
    Maybe IxDA is IAI’s younger sibling. I would gladly concede that. In fact, I would go one further and say as one of the key founders of IxDA that IAI is an inspiration to those who founded IxDA. But that’s about it. Bill Moggridge coined “Interaction Design” a bit before the polar bear book as in close to a decade. But IxD while not always been called IxD has a very long history in the software & hardware community. It has a much stronger affinity to the HCI/CHI community than IA and is really the practice/design arm of that academic/research oriented discipline.
  3. 3. Peter looks at the criticism that Alan Cooper & Robert Reimann give of IA in their book, “About Face 2.0”. (go back to his post for the quote). In it the authors respond to a point in history looking at both their understanding of little IA, and their experience with IA as “practice” (another circle that should be added to Peter’sven diagram). And even reading this today, I most certain have to agree with Alan and Robert and I think while Peter’s version/practice of IA may be stronger now than ever, I do not interpret the practice of the IA discipline that way.
    It is STILL not a design discipline, nor is design coveted as a philosophical practice within the community. Case in point, during my wireframe panel I asked people how many of them do more than 5 renditions at any point in their process? 3? 2? Exploration it turns out is NOT part of IA practice, and a small survey of IA books would confirm that divergent thinking, which is the cornerstone of design practice of the old guard design disciplines is no where to be found in IA. this is a big part of what the above authors are alluding to.

The rest of Peter’s article is sound advice for any IA. It speaks about looking up and sideways to broaden your value proposition to the world and your clients. This is true for any discipline and who could argue with it.

What is missing, is building bridges. Whether it be with IxDA (the first and most natural bridge), or with presentation layer people like Architects, Visual Designers, and Industrial Designers, or with researchers inHCI and Usability, I would content that for any of the younger smaller disciplines in UX that evangelizing and creating relationships with these and with folks in engineering and business is a vital direction for any IA. So instead of trying to “be more” … I would say a better tact might be to “work with more”. don’t extend your role, your community, your discipline, or your practice, but create better interfacing points, more diplomaticavenues, better education opportunities with the people you need to work with now and later.

I have always fought for a notion of little IA as a discipline and believed that in driving that affinity the gravitational field would pull back its community to the same focus. To the contrary I believe in theBigD designer who has a strong breadth of knowledge of all design and supporting disciplines with a strong depth of knowledge into 1 or 2 of them (the classic T or Pi approach). But to do this, requires definitions. Definition create good interfaces for communication b/c communication best succeeds when all in the room are speaking the same well understood language.

As a user experience designer (my title), I focus on IxD, but I can’t do my job without knowing strong IA theory as information is one of the core materials I work with, next to digital behaviors and virtual and physical forms.

I know this has been long, but i want to go back to a piece for a minute. That is community. I started IxDA (with many others) for several reasons, but the biggest one was that no other community felt right. it is that simple. I believe inIxD as a discipline, but I cannot deny that the many discussions I have had over these last few years with people who feel connected to their communities as well that the level of overlap between the different disciplines of User Experience is so strong and compelling that they really can and should all be 1. This is why I have also put so much time and energy intoUXNet–the umbrella organization to User Experience organizations around the world.

On the flip side, my contacts with other UX communities confirms in me that while there is overlap each community has so much to learn from the others and only by having an umbrella organization likeUXNet to guide and channel these opportunities for cross-pollination and support can we really succeed for our customers and their users by designing the best solutions.

I think a lot of the issues that Peter is responding to can actually best be dealt with if everyone really agreed to a true definition of what IA really was. Peter starts out his article with a definition of the discipline, but that does not map against the roles nor the community and finally the practice of IA.

Be Sociable, Share!


The archives run deep. Feel free to search older content using topic keywords.