Information Architects (IAs) used to own website organization and strategy. They also had very specific tools for doing this work. In ’97, a web studio’s IA would probably be putting together the feature set for the site based on an understanding of user needs, profiles (personas) and usage scenarios. We didn’t really have that many separate standing strategists in ’97.
But the times have changed and IA’s are finding that large portions of their work are being done by strategists and/or account managers. In the face of this their profession is being split in two pieces – UX and Strategy.
There are many reasons for this. Three are:
1. The knowledge bases are too large – a person can’t know or do both marketing and information architecture strategies.
2. Advertising agencies rule the interactive seas and are forcing their world views on to the organizational structure of interactive agencies.
3. Not versed in business planning (only consumer insight), many IAs and their skills are invisible to the leaders of an agency charged with assembling teams for strategy discussions with the client.
As a result I see a lot of talented IA and UX departments pushed to the side of interactive strategy discussions with the client. They are often called in too late: after features and tactics have been decided on with the client. Often their job now is to come in afterward and sweep up and chain everything together.
What is scary to me really, to be honest, is not that the IA people are being side-lined but that the tools that the account managers and strategists have at hand are uninformed by the core UX tools. Relying on backgrounds in traditional advertising and business administration they are often neither using nor aware of the Persona and User Scenario. As a truly deep consumer insight is absent.
When in the hands of creative people with a compassionate sense for users, the tools of Persona and User Scenario, for example, are unequaled for drawing out strategies that are native to the interactive space. Even Forrester is behind them.
What I am seeing now, more in Philadelphia than in San Francisco, is account managers and strategists replicating traditional advertising and business strategies in the interactive space – print ads become banners, headline writing becomes SEO and mailers become CRM. This is all important stuff – but too me it’s an image of new people in a foreign land taking comfort in the familiar.
Using tools shipped in from an MBA program or a traditional ad agency can be helpful but only for so long. Simply doing this does not allow an interactive agency to capitalize on the uniqueness of the interactive space.
Development of Interactive Strategy also requires a strong grip on traditional UX tools such as Personas and User Scenarios, or at least a knowledge for what is behind them: the user is defined as much by the narrative as by statistics.
The other edge of the sword though is that UX teams need to get savvy to business models, return on investment and embrace measurement.