Information Architecture - A New Opportunity: WebRef Update Feature
Information Architecture - A New Opportunity
Information designers combine the architect's ability to plan, the writer's ability to simplify and the designer's ability to highlight key areas (give selective emphasis). Most information architecture gurus agree on the main functions of an information architect or user interface designer: he/she brings order out of chaos and makes the complex clear. IA specialists, as opposed to graphic designers, are involved in the meaning and context of content, not just the text they are illustrating.
What kind of background is necessary or helpful to do this job? Duddy, of Agency.com, says this has been a point of countless debates. "Even using the title Information Designer would be considered by some to be a point of debate," she says. "Because this is an emerging discipline, a specific background is not necessary at this point. But as time goes by and this discipline becomes established, I am certain we'll see Master and Doctoral level degrees offered."
Currently, there are not many university-level courses available. Duddy knows of only one school - Pacific NW College of Art - that offers a class on Information Architecture and the World Wide Web.
Parker says: "Most schools are too 'Balkanized,' or specialized. Designers are taught to work with color, layout and type, database types know how to set up links to cells and fields, but these are only tasks: the challenge is to relate technology to marketing goals and the tools of perception Web site visitors use to navigate a Web site and understand its message."
However, don't let lack of formal training opportunities deter you. In fact, use it to your advantage. "Until a universally valid information architecture curriculum is developed," Parker says, "generalists with open minds and problem solving skills will be the most in demand." If you have a broad, general education in social sciences (for example, ethnography and human factors), graphic design or journalism, and have the core skills and attributes, you are all set. "Generalists are needed now because we need to rekindle some of the spirit that was born with the Internet," Duddy says.
As technologies, like wireless applications, have become complex, teams have become specialized. Companies need information designers to pull these teams into a cohesive unit and humanize the whole development process.
If you can distill the best of each major you had in college or graduate school, you could be well on your way to becoming an information architect. All you need to have is "the creativity to adapt those tools and techniques to new environments and technologies and the ability to integrate usability into the design process towards viable design solutions," according to Duddy.
Armed with knowledge, jump on the bandwagon. You could be pioneers. "I believe that these people will help shape the direction of IA and how it will be adopted within the industry," Duddy adds.
So, there you go. Don't miss the IA bus. To get up to speed with your IA career, turn to these resources:
Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, Jakob Nielsen, New Riders, $45
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, O'Reilly & Associates, $24.95
Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide, Jared Spool, et al., Morgan Kaufman, $29.95
Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience, Jennifer Fleming, et al., O'Reilly & Associates, $34.95
Argus Center for Information Architecture
Becoming an Information Architect, Monster.com
Information Architecture Tutorial, Webmonkey
Built 2 Order, Publish magazine
About the author:
Angshuman Das is a new-media producer at RS Software. He has a Master of Mass Communication degree from the University of South Carolina and has been a content producer, Web designer and multimedia specialist. He thinks he is essentially a "right-brain, creative type," but still can be an information architect. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
Revised: Dec 22, 2000