It seems like the meaning of terms like “information architecture” (IA) and “user experience” (UX) have been contested since their introduction, with the result that web design neophytes intrigued by the fancy titles “information architect” or “user experience designer” and eager to learn more, are typically exposed to a bunch of loud and sometimes fairly unprofessional debates that shed more heat than light on the topic.
Which is why I was glad to come across two visualizations recently that help make it easier to explain IA and UX.
The first is from an old article by Peter Morville, IA expert, from his now-defunct column, Strange Connections.
Drawing an analogy with a similar chart in Geoffrey Moore’s book, Living on the Fault Line, Morville characterizes IA as a deep, layered field with the holy trinity of “Users, Content, Context” at the bottom (something readers of his Information Architecture for the World Wide Web will recall), and the more tangible deliverables like wireframes at the top.
The other visualization, from Peter Boersma’s blog, is even more compelling (for me) because it clearly and somewhat contentiously demonstrates the difference between UX and IA, without drawing an artificially rigid boundary between the two.
This revised T-model lead to the coining of two new terms: “armpit IA” (for someone who works at the intersection between shallow IA and UX) and “shoulder IA” (for someone who bridges UX and business IA).
As you go deeper in the IA column, you get into really technical, nerdy things like controlled vocabularies (how do you define when “pool” refers to a swimming pool or a game played in a bar?), while a bit higher you have the kind of IA that every decent web designer engages in (coming up with link labels and content organization schemes). If I had to place myself somewhere on this chart, it would probably be in the armpit. Being in the armpit is more glamorous than it sounds (but only slightly).