At the start of this project I asked my volunteer participants:
“What’s the one question you wish you could ask a bunch of information architects?”
This is the first of my posts feeding back and starting to synthesise what’s been shared during my research. I wanted to start with an analysis of the questions that practitioners wanted asking.
I’m hoping that this project achieves a few things. I’m interested in how similar IAs are – the anxieties we hold, the challenges we face and the tools, techniques and processes we use to meet these challenge and to become and remain effective. As well as helping to shape my research, I expected this question about questions to reveal the main anxieties and a pattern amongst the challenges.
I was right – funnily enough, if you ask a bunch of IAs what question they would ask another IA there are a lot of similarities in the responses.
Unsurprisingly for a discipline focused on meaning, our number one concerns are around communication. I identified a few of trends in this area.
Evidence and influence
If this were the early 2000s I’d have made a word cloud showing how many times the word ‘convince’ occurred in the questions that people wanted asking.
IAs seem preoccupied with strategies to persuade and convince. There were questions about the role of evidence and strategies for expanding influence. Some asked about measurement for the impact of intentional IA. Some people focused on making your message accessible – how do you simplify and communicate the complex and complicated. While others needed something more than clarity – they want to know the secret to a compelling message.
I think there’s an interesting set of skills that an IA can develop to exert influence without resorting to the authority which we sometimes/often lack – this is a theme I’ll be exploring.
DTDT – Effective collaboration
There were a set of questions that hovered around the perennial – what is an IA. But they tended to be framed in a practical sense. Practitioners were interested in the overlap between different disciplines, especially content strategists. Job titles seem to be a touchy subject – alongside the expectations they set and the behaviours they encourage. IAs seem riven by existential doubt. I think the secret to answering this one might be practical and pragmatic – it might focus on how, where and why we’re useful. It’s another theme I’ll be digging into.
I guess it’s related to the challenges of communicating IA, but the other theme to emerge was around confidence. People wanted to hear about mistakes – so they could avoid them. They wanted to hear about strategies to manufacture certainty, in yourself before you try to convince a stakeholder. And they were curious about origin stories – how did people become IAs – maybe searching for sources of legitimacy in a discipline that wrestles with definitions.
So, there are the themes that emerged not from answers, but from questions. Over the next few months I’ll be continuing the research and beginning to share findings as I find them.