Peter Boersma's UX blog.
Martijn van Welie's design patterns collection.
The Eyetrack III research released by The Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools provides some insight into where people looked when they used a set of test web sites.
Peter Morville pulls together a collection of IA-related research relevant to his upcoming seminars.
Louis Rosenfeld's heuristics for search.
I tried to align and categorize these guidelines with some common steps users take when searching a site. This semi-sequence goes like this:
Locating search: Where is it?
Scoping search: What will be searched?
Query entry: How can I search it?
Retrieval results: What did I find?
Query refinement: How can I search some more?
Interaction with other IA components: Can I switch to browsing when search isn't doing the trick?
Finishing search: What can I do now that I've done searching?
Louis Rosenfeld's set of heuristics for IA work. Says Lou, "Every Information Architect should always have a set of favorite questions in their back pocket; they really do come in handy. I categorize mine into groups that correspond to the five areas that a user is most likely to interact with a site’s information architecture: Main page, Search interface, Search results, Site-wide navigation, Contextual navigation."
On AIfIA-members, I threw in my thoughts about the current folksonomy/user-driven classification discussion that's been kicking around on iaslash, Interactionary, Headshift, Vanderwal's off the top, atomiq, PeterMe, alex wright, NoiseBetweenStations, rawbrick and sylloge. I can offer my pespective as a practicing librarian, but not as someone who claims to know the literature in this area.
One of things that makes user-supplied terms meaningful in some of the examples we're talking about, e.g. Flickr and del.icio.us, is that these are systems where we're creating our own content. There's great incentive to participate in the classification/term tagging. These systems don't, however, allow you to add terms to modify the classification of content created by others.
I wonder how the idea of user-supplied terms would work in a system where people are mainly readers of content, rather than writers, e.g. in an intranet portal. From a design/development perspective, I wonder about the efficacy of pursuing this type of functionality in this type of environment. Seems perfectly suited to the examples we've seen. But, some types of information on a portal, for instance, are so ephemeral (e.g. news) that I wonder if people would bother to add their own terms.
Getting back to the concept of user supplied terms, I like the idea of the middle ground that Alex speaks about. This is the sort of approach my organization takes. There are different ways to add index terms to a system vocabulary. What we're talking about with the user tagging approach is a push model. Organizations can also use a pull model or a combined approach.
Push: Users push index terms from their vocabulary onto the system vocabulary. e.g. Flickr, del.icio.us
Pull: System (referring to both the computer system and the people responsible for it) solicit index term additions from users. e.g. More typical large information systems
To give an example of a combined model, my org uses both methods to some degree:
Push: our controlled vocabularies were started by doing interviews with business units and continually communicates with business unit subject matter experts to maintain it
Push: we provide a web-based form for people to suggest terms (e.g. suggest companies, subjects, etc.).
We started with a big pull and keep getting terms pushed from our users. The vocabularies are maintained by someone who keeps relationships with people in the business units to continually add/modify terms (Pull). This person also authorizes the terms that are suggested (Pushed), adding them to vocabularies and indicating relationships (normalizing).
We don't, however, allow people to add terms directly to the system. We act as a gateway for accepting or authorizing terms. In our company, which may be typical of many politicized corporate environments, a certian degree of control is enforced. It also helps deal with the issues of noise and imprecision that can be introduced with user-supplied terms. Is this how others deal with pushed terms in a corporate environment? Are there other ways to address user-supplied terms?
I would think that a more open push model might be great if it were kept separate to some degree, until a human did some work to normalize. This is also what I understand James Spahr is doing with his Pratt Talent database. The approach seems ideal. I've personally also thought there was some promise in clustering, especially when dealing with very large sets of data, but I wonder about how this type of categorization is used in actual retrieval. We use clustering to some degree, but our statistics show that categories are not that frequently used when compared to the number of searches executed. I'm talking about clustering used in search engine retrieval. Perhaps the more successful use of clustering we employ is using clustering to aid in auto-classification before human indexers accept and add terms to information objects.
Don't know if I've added to the discussion here, but I thought the in-house librarian's perspective was missing and I was wondering how others were approaching bottom up and top down methods for classification.
I guess I should also mention that user tagging is an occassionally asked for feature of Drupal, which has been included in the James Seng release and was recommended in our usability recommendations (item 9.2) for a future release. We'll see if anyone is up to the task and implements it.
[Update: If you're interested in Drupal user tagging functionalities, check out the links in Boris' comments to this entry.]
"There’s been some excellent IA discussion lately on the concept of “social classification” (aka “folksonomy” aka “ethnoclassification”). The concept pretty much is that if you have a bunch of people independently classifying a selection of resources, responding to other people’s classifications and perhaps altering their own classifications as a result—in aggregate, you might have something really useful."
Andrew Otwell discovers the "Split Into Grid" function, aka "The Wireframer's Friend." Draw a rectangle, then select Object>Path>Split Into Grid.
Someone who recently made my acquaintaince asked me to help provide some pointers for breaking into IA after having worked on visual design. I gave some very honest responses because I know that job hunting is hard. I asked that he realize that these are my opinions and don't necessarily reflect his personal situation. I can only speak to my experience. With his consent, I'm posting a bit of our conversation about applying and interviewing for IA jobs here. These ideas apply mainly to people who are sending a resumé out blindly. That is to say, without a word of mouth recommendation.
I want everyone I meet who wants to become an IA to find it easy to get the jobs they want, but it's hard to know how to help make that happen. Maybe recording this conversation will help someone a little bit.
*I am casting about for a mentor figure in this process*
You may be interested in AIfIA's future mentoring program.
*Is this a slow time for hiring in the field?*
I've heard that things started picking up a bit here in NYC area. For the in-house positions, my suspicion is that corporations are looking for people who have already worked for 5+ years in information architecture or interaction design jobs at agencies and consultancies because there are often only 1 or 2 positions they're looking to fill and they are senior level, e.g. Director of IA or ID. There seems to be less risk taking within corporations, but as the IAs and IDs establish themselves there, they are likely to hire others.
*Am I under/mis-qualified for this kind of work, and thus not piquing any interest? How do I get the interview?*
It's hard for me to say not knowing what the employers you've applied with are looking for, what you've presented them in interviews, etc. But probably what interviewers will judge you by is a combination of word of mouth recommmendation, experience (with whom and on what types of projects) and the proof in the portfolio.
Perhaps it will help to know how I approach job targetting. I've used this strategy for everything from internships to full time positions. When I apply for jobs I don't mass mail. I tailor everything. I research fully what the organization is about, what their job description reads and how that matches what they say about the company and what type of work they do, who they serve. I write a cover letter that identifies what they do, what they're looking for and where I can help help them with business goals. I actually tailor my resume to match their job description where possible, being absolutely truthful. I play down the things that won't matter to them and play up the things that do. Each time I've looked for jobs I've targetted where I wanted to work and only sent a few resumes out. But times were better then. With the poor economy, job searching now may be different, but my strategy of tailoring my sales pitch to each hiring opportunity is probably more important now than before. Unfortunately you have to think of this as a sale. What do you bring to the table, and how would the prospective employer benefit from having you?
Most importantly, if you are looking to get street cred as an IA, you might want to understand what the high-level thinkers believe about IA and information work. Demonstrate your ability to understand, communicate, and implement those ideas within a team. Are you very familiar with the profession's idea of what an information architect should know and can you demonstrate that you can do those things on the job? Make your job descriptions mention the sort of things you do that relate to IA. Mention the high-level ideas, but do talk enough about the nitty gritty (e.g. deliverables) as well.
If you are looking for a job doing little IA (requirements, content organization, user research, wireframing, etc.) you want to talk about this and demonstrate it in your portfolio. IAs care about these. When it comes to hiring someone to do much of the nitty gritty IA work -- the documents and deliverables, the outcome of your intellectual work -- they will want to see you demonstrate that you know what you're doing. Have you done a lot of user research and persona development? Show us your persona deliverables and come prepared with notes about your process. Do you do a lot of content work or work on taxonomies? Describe your processes and outcomes. Do you have to do wireframes? Show it in your portfolio. All of these are elements of the typical IA and ID processes and if you do it, you have to mention it in your resume. It might help to look at how other people craft their portfolios.
Take a good look at the DeliverablesAndArtifacts page on the IaWiki, and especially look at the IAPortfoliosAndCompanyExamples section to see what people put in their portfolios. These are good sales pitches. People put *a lot* of time into showing these in the portfolios. The documents should sell themselves.
If you are looking for a job doing big IA -- project management or enterprise level stuff -- you have to demonstrate that you understand these types of issues. One of the best ways to do that are to read a lot, get experience on these types of projects if you're presently employed, and then participate in a community, e.g. AIfIA members list, SIGIA, SIGCHI CHI Web. Blogging also helps. I started to get heavily headhunted after blogging iaslash.org for two years, because I talked about my ideas related to information work.
If you have "Objective" and "Skills" sections in your resumé, I would move the skills somewhere near the bottom of the page and consider getting rid of the Objective section of your resume. Employers are interested in what they seek and what you bring to the table much more than what you want. It's your job to demonstrate to and convince them that you're a good match. If you want to tell them about what you seek, put it in the cover letter.
*With HR people I get "sorry, not a good fit with us" outright rejections.*
HR people aren't usually the most knowledgeable about the jobs they seek to fill, and unfortunately you may never know the truth about why you "didn't fit". Getting past HR is probably a matter of having the right stuff in your resume, whether it's the right previous jobs or the right work in your portfolio. Some recruiting firms and HR have been known to scan, OCR and search through resumeés electronically. At least, this is what I've read. Because of this, it's exteremely important to take care when selecting the words you use in your resumé. This makes the layout of a resume particularly difficult because you might want to use terse bullet points to make your resume readable, but if you also want to be a bit descriptive if you're sending a resume out blindly. As I've mentioned above, be selectively descriptive. Throw out the 1 page rule and talk about what you do, mentioning the terms you think an HR person might keyword search on.
*Can you articulate what path you took as you moved from design to IA (etc.)?*
I was never a visual designer. I've always been more of an information worker. My approach was this. I got interested in information work related to art images and got an Master of Library Science. I went after two internships while in graduate school. I did an intership at an interactive design agency that did CD ROMs, and took an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art research library (mainly doing electronic reference). I then applied for the Met Museum's graduate internship program and was one of the winners of that stipended award. At the Met, I was asked to help with an art web site bibliography. I ended up taking on more and designing the indexing process and developing a tool to produce an intranet site for their new electronic resources center.
I should mention that I also got marginally interested in creative aspects of web design before graduate school and have maintained a personal home page since 1994 (Mosaic days) and have been designing my home page ever since then. It is perhaps one the most important aspects of my professional development. It's my testing ground for both intellectual and technical implementation ideas.
Then I learned everything on the job, read voraciously and started blogging about everything I read. People only know me outside of my job because what I've published in print and on iaslash. But my experience becoming an IA was basically to get a job doing information work related to the web, and then read and learn on the job and take notes on a blog as I learned. Then I kept modifying my processes and deliverables to reflect what I liked best in what I read. This is still what I do to improve professionally.
*What ideal path can you recommend (or is that a goofy abstract question...Maybe things just "fall together", or don't...Maybe a transition of this kind can't be engineered?*
I can't really recommend a path. IAs come from everywhere, but it's noteworthy that equally large numbers come from both visual design and library and information science.
*Should I specialize more, apply to only one subset of the interface/usability/IA realm? I'm currently applying to most jobs with these titles: Senior Visual Designer, User Experience Designer, User Interface Designer, User Interface Architect, Information Architect, Senior Web Designer...Some could be a stretch for me, but like growing into a new pair of shoes, I hope I could grow into a role that may at first be a little big for me.*
It's hard to know what titles mean. I certainly think there is a difference between IA and usability. Usability I associate with 1) an idea and 2) a discrete role that does usability testing. Two very different things. I don't do # 2. All of those job titles seems appropriate probably. Visual Designer is almost always about graphic design primarily and less about what IAs do (the content aspect). User Experience Designer is probably a high level position that also encompasses a good deal of interaction design. UI Designer, UI Architect can be IA and ID. Senior Web Designer is vague. Foremost, you should have a good idea what you want to do on the job. And as I said, tailor your resume to reflect the job. You will know most times after an interview if the job is a match.
*What professional certifications did you have as you moved into IA, or was it all evident in your portfolio of projects?*
You don't necesarily need any specific degrees or certifications to do IA. I have an MLS. I have seen jobs requiring an HCI or Library and Information Science background. But many IAs I know simply have liberal arts degrees and "happened into" IA during the .com heyday.
As I've tried to explain above, the proof is often in things like the portfolio, in the recommendations people give of your work. I hope some of the observations above have been helpful.