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Thursday 06|28|01
Defining IA

In the silence of the SIGIA list being down, I have had a chance to mull over the recent conversation that Christina stirred up again by asking people to define the damn thing. I had been intending to jump in on the list but since my recent burst of energy has been focused on my photolog, I hadn't pulled things together.

The whole notion of defining a discipline that is a melting pt of multiple disciplines is difficult and I believe that is why we continually come back to the question. I think that each of us, in our own contexts, needs to come up with a definition that they can speak about to their coworkers, bosses, clients and even their moms. The shared definitions on the list and at Elegant Hack are extremely helpful but also show how broad our collective group really is in our skillset and perceived ownership of task.

When I was at AltaVista, we struggled with this as well on occasion. We KNEW what IA was and our team was a nice blend of MLS people, UI people and writers turned IAs. We worked well together, thought about the user, slipped in some guerilla user centered design processed and everyone was happy. Then Marketing people from another division got involved and they knew no more about IA than rocket science. We then had to go through a whole explanatory phase. This involved definitions as well as benefit analyisis of our work with real world justifications as to why that extra 2 weeks in the schedule was needed for IA and couldn't be skipped by just jumping to visual design. It was frustrating. We were no longer happy. So we set out to conquer and educate.

What we did was come up with some documents to help. The process doc [pdf] helped show where we fit and how we interacted with other teams. But a definition was required as well. I wrote up a short one pager that described what the role of the IA [pdf] was at AltaVista and what we did. This helped some more.

Then a staff member of mine took those highlights and rewrote them into a onepage document that was short, to the point and also mentioned cost benefits to our skills and expertise. By the time we got to this sheet [pdf] we were a larger multidiscipline team (IA, UI/interaction, graphic design, technical documentation) so we covered several slots on the process document. This sheet along with the process document became a regular set we handed out whenever we started work with a new group.

It seemed to help and was constantly evolved as our role and group shifted and changed with the company - until we all got laid off....

Posted by erin at 11:56 PM | in Information Architecture

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