I’ve been an information architect since 1994, and every so often I find it useful to reflect on what I do. When I last pondered my practice five years ago, the context had shifted dramatically. Mobile, social, and search (SEO) were the key drivers.
Since then, change has been subtle, more organizational than technological. Teams have struggled to reconcile research and strategic design with Agile and Lean. Major consultancies and corporations have acquired user experience design firms to grow their in-house capabilities. Our work has become more iterative, collaborative, and more deeply intertwingled with workflow, governance, and culture.
In this era, the nature of information architecture consulting has changed. I see less demand for traditional website redesign, but a greater need to connect the dots between strategy and structure. In cross-channel ecosystems with myriad touchpoints, it’s vital to understand and articulate what and why before diving into how.
Now is the best time to practice information architecture.
Meanwhile, the diversity of projects has grown. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is with a list of opportunities that have come my way over the past five years.
- Work with the marketing and support groups of a Fortune 100 to define a vision for site search and explain its relationship to navigation, taxonomy, metadata, and content strategy.
- Map the research ecosystem of a university. Engage faculty, staff, and students in ethnography, design thinking, and customer journey mapping to improve cross-channel library services.
- Simplify and modernize a flagship database product that generates $150 million per year. Conduct remote and in-person user research. Iteratively test and refine prototypes.
- Work with the design and development teams of a Silicon Valley success story to imagine a better search and discovery interface for exploring real estate listings and rental properties.
- Define a next-generation information architecture for a public library. Improve the library catalog and calendar as part of a responsive redesign. Optimize for findability and accessibility.
- Collaborate with design, engineering, and marketing to define, develop, test, and refine a minimal viable product (MVP) for a groundbreaking scientific information service.
- Advise an online publisher with strengths in search engine optimization (SEO) and advertising how to defragment their user experience. Assist with strategic design and planning.
- Work with the founder of a startup to define a vision, information architecture, and roadmap for the intranet that’s aligned with plans for business growth and the technology infrastructure.
- Lead workshops to educate staff and executives of a major philanthropic foundation about information architecture, user experience, social media, and strategic design.
- Help a software startup to create an information architecture for learning and support that aligns marketing, documentation, and product to drive adoption and improve ease of use.
- Engage the staff and leadership of an education nonprofit in a strategic design initiative to define and articulate a digital and cross-channel strategy for the organization.
- Work with the user experience team of a Top 5 e-commerce firm to identify ways to improve search and navigation. Facilitate conversations about metrics, governance, and culture.
It’s not easy to switch contexts, but it sure is thrilling. I relish these opportunities to dig deep into wicked organizational problems. There’s nothing quite like the journey from chaos to clarity that information architecture consulting delivers. So, if you have a mess, give me a call. I’m more excited than ever to start the journey from sensemaking to synthesis, because now is the best time to practice information architecture.
by Peter Morville