do designers hate themselves? how about us?

On BiggerHand Mike calls attention to a passage in the CIQ interview on digital web that refers to […]

On BiggerHand Mike calls attention to a passage in the CIQ interview on digital web that refers to designer’s boredom with IA matters, and suggests that any designer worth his salt cares rather deeply about them and that digital web is teaching self-hatred.

At Seybold a creative director came up to me after one of the panels wondrering why he couldn’t teach himself IA, or suggest his designers learn IA, and skip hiring one. I had to admit that if he had good designers, and the site was not overly complex, he could easily do exactly as he proposed– and if he considered IA to be sitemaps and wireframes. However, if he needed to consider metadata-theasuri-controlled vocabularies, if he needed to plot out multiple use scenrios, if he had multiple user groups whose needs had to be plotted out, prioritized and met, he might wish to expand a team to someone whose was a specialist in this area. Kind of like he might hire an illustrator to do some illustrations for a design. Or he might say, my kids can do it.

We often forget in these theorectical discussions that teams are made of people. It’s entirely possible a CD might say, hey my lead IA Joe can design quite respectably, and this data input form requires no brilliant innovation, just excellent information design which Joe can provide. Or a CD might say, hey, my lead designer Carla is an outstanding informtion designer as well as getting the brand down pat… I’ve going to send Joe over to do some card sorts while Carla makes this messy form usable.

Design and IA have an overlap– they aren’t identical by any means, but they share some turf. That turf can be a cause for turf-wars, or it can be a place where a savvy CD can get a lot from his team.

These are my thoughts, from having the pleasure of having worked with Mike as well as other excellent designers in the past. I’d like to hear your thoughts on our ongoing struggle/collaboration with graphic design.


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  1. 1

    the comments here are really different than ‘User experience, usability, and information architecture are just the sorts of things that are sure to make a designer’s eyes glaze over.’

  2. 2

    The turf mentioned can be extended out to other parts of a web development effort, such as coding. In a sense, almost everyone involved in a given web development project is sharing responsibility for the holistic well being of the end result. In my experience the team members who exhibit interests outside of their department or specialty tend to be more collaborative and less defensively pigeonholed. Certainly having each specialist focused primarily on their area (designers on design, etc) makes a higher quality product, but without intermingling the turf wars can become a problem. I also believe that without the cross breeding of motivation, decisions start being made based on whom is the strongest personality, rather than for the betterment of the project and end user.

  3. 6

    Also, i find the thought of IA and design having an overlap to be humorous. Like saying there’s an overlap between your arm and your elbow. IA is a specialized design field, just as interaction design is a specialized design field. It’s all design folks.

  4. 7

    elbow and arm! i like that. I should have said graphic design, as I said earlier… that was my point of mentioning illustration. IA is indeed a subset of design: as is system architecture… all part of what’s being called “big D design” these days. or user experience.

  5. 8
    John S. Rhodes

    To think that designers are in charge of all problem solving is also a trap. Usability professionals, for example, also solve problems. Their tools are different, but they do indeed solve problems. Problem solvers are all over the place. Be sure to think broadly.

  6. 10

    Therefore, if I am outside the IA sphere (away from eleganthack) and working within the graphic design sphere I would completely agree with you about user experience design being everybody?s focus. Each of the designers and developers that know as much as can be known about the users and how that knowledge should positively impact the end product will bring greater success.

  7. 11
    Nick Finck

    Thomas, good analogy… don’t forget that a PHD is involved with being a doctor. And yet it seems that anyone and their mother’s dog can call themselves a “web designer”, an “information architect” or a “web developer.”

  8. 12
    John S. Rhodes

    For me, this thread is an investigation into the psychology of IA and of design. I would very much like to understand how various folks think (and problem solve). Do people really think when they provide a design that it is meant to teach other people? That definitely seems like a goal that is subsumed under the goal of solving a problem (or better, solving a customer problem and therefore making money).

  9. 13

    As a point I am nervous about calling myself a designer in fear that someone might think I am a graphic designer. I can put two pixels next to each other but I would not call it design. I can of differentiate colors/shades/hues and have an interminable love of fonts/typography, but also know that is not enough to be called a designer. I do consider myself more adept at developing/programming applications. I know that applications have a greater rate of success if I focus on the IA/user experience design components. Whereas a graphic designer who ignores IA and user-centric design ends up with what could be called art, but an unusable application is worthless.

  10. 14

    In addition to the overlaps – I feel there are whole other portions of the IA spectrum that I wouldn’t even begin to tread into. These are the areas that the Library Science specialist is the expert in. The metadata space, the content management and organization space as well as others. This is why – when I built my last team at AltaVista, the team had MLS degreed IAs and BFA/MFA degreed IAs and interaction designers. Sometimes one person CAN’T do everything.

  11. 15

    She also pointed out that companies follow these schools; she was at razorfish in 1997, and then it was very much design as art; fitch is very much design for use. interesting stuff– anyone know which schools teach these mindsets?

  12. 16

    Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design and Carnegie Mellon very much teach Design for Use. Cranbrook seemed to be known for teaching design for expression – a few years agog. RIT’s Graduate Design program (where I went) was about solving the conceptual problem using cognitive psychology, information design, exploration, associations, semiotics, understanding the end viewer/user and their needs and other problem solving skills to design solutions.

  13. 18

    I’ll remember to call myself well rounded from now on as I don’t want to be confused with an ass/mare hybrid. What would that be called?

  14. 23

    Cake-baking: An analogy gone awry. Please don’t generalize as it really weakens your argument. You implied that all designers are surface-obsessed idiots and, to some degree, that powerless(!!) IAs haven’t a clue about the role in which a beautiful skin plays in helping users interface with the information beneath everything. Will the lovely raspberries you place oh-so-gingerly as a garnish along with the fragile curls of chocolate shavings allude to the raspberry mousse between several layers of cake and chocolate ganache? You forget in your biased metaphor that butter cream frosting contributes as much to the overall taste of the cake as it does to looks…it is all part of the experience. Really, any good “Frosting Person” worth their #9 pastry tip wouldn’t be using a gritty or saccharine frosting unless it was appropriate. Sheesh.

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