jesse rocks the house ia/recon “In the minds of many outside our discipline, ‘information architecture’ has already become synonymous with ‘usability’. […] ia/recon

“In the minds of many outside our discipline, ‘information architecture’ has already become synonymous with ‘usability’. It is easy to understand why practitioners in a discipline as new as ours might want to align themselves with an established one that already has made some progress in establishing its credibility. But by fusing information architecture with research, we risk corrupting our process and undermining the very credibility we seek. ”

I do champion user-centered design, but I can’t agree with Jesse more (beyond jumping up and down in my chair muttering yes, yes, as I was doing as I read part three).

Very few people understand the relationship of research and design– I’m just beginning to have clues to how it works, and they are more whiffs of clues… but it is not asking users “what should that be called ” and then making the label that name.

Fieldwork, be it ethnography or contextual inquiry gives us insights into the nature of the user’s problems and mental models that we *as designers* can then use to innovate. It gives us insights, helps generate ideas, not shut them down. Fieldwork helps the creative process, doesn’t dampen it — if it informs rather than proscribes.

Usability testing catches our internal prejudices we can’t always transcend. User’s give us a different point of view, but the pressure to design is always with us. And although we might think everybody knows what “home” means, good usability testing can prove or disprove that assumption.

But it’s still just a sander we use to rub off the rough edges of a design… if the work is fundamentally flawed, usability testing can’t fix it. Then it’s literally back to the drawing board, where solutions are born.

The only thing that gives me pause in Jesse’s article is the glimmer of the idea that an expert IA has no need for user research. That part worries.


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  1. 1

    And here I was counting on you as a reliable source of dissent. Imagine my dismay to see that you agree with me. 🙂

    Rest assured that I am not arguing that an expert IA doesn’t need research. I am arguing that an expert IA knows things that research can’t reveal; and that being an expert researcher won’t make someone an expert IA.

    (What will make someone an expert IA comes later in the essay.)

  2. 2

    I always saw usability testing as a tool I could use in the course of information architecture. Hammer, saw, usability test. Usability testing is great at pointing out problems. It’s lousy at proposing solutions; that’s what an Information Architect does.

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