Information Architecture: A Career for Technical Communicators?
by Laura Gieseke
Information Architect may not be a familiar term, but there are definitely plenty of jobs calling for them. Businesses are looking to reshape web sites to be more efficient and profitable. An information architect is someone who works with the information in a web site and organizes it in a usable way.
An information architect's main concern is to improve the user experience. One way in which information architects improve the user experience is to use principles of solid information design. This is a skill most technical communicators are already grounded in.
Information architects deal with four aspects of web design: organization, audience, labeling, and navigation. Organization and audience are two elements that technical communicators regularly consider when approaching dissemination of information. Navigation and labeling are skills that today's technical communicator frequently learn through experience.
What is the Difference?
A difference between technical communication and information architecture is the notion of information as dynamic instead of static. This may present a new paradigm for some technical communicators, but such a transition is necessary. With technology advancing as it is, it becomes important for technical communicators to acquire these skills.
Unlike the documents technical communicators may be familiar with, information architecture has no rules, just guidelines. Information architects work with guidelines in order to shape creativity instead of constraining it. There are many variables in the design of web sites because of the control users have over where they navigate. This means that an information architect must keep an objective position while designing the structure of the site.
What is the overlap?
Does a technical communicator have the skills needed to be an information architect? The answer may be as simple as yes. Understanding audience, purpose, and context of the information are all skills that technical communicators are more than familiar with. Technical communicators are also familiar with content and arrangement.
Technology has increasingly become important for technical communicators. With the demand and accessibility of the web, technical communicators continue to develop online documentation skills. These skills are an important foundation of information architecture.
So in today's world of technology, information architecture may be another career option for technical communicators who are committed to user experience and technology. There may be a few aspects of information architecture that may not be a technical communicator's expertise, but it can be and may already be for some.
Cheirrett, Peg A. 1995. As the Paradigm Shifts: Skills Technical Communications Will Need in the Coming ICE Age. STC Proceedings. http://www.stc.org/confproceed/1995/PDFs/PG212215.PDF.
Haynes, Carolina. 2003. Information Architecture: You Do It, You Just Don't Know It. Intercom, April.
Rosenfeld, Louis. 2000. Seven Pitfalls to Avoid in Information Architecture. Features, December.
Vodvarka, Jennifer A. 2000. Information Architecture: Designing the User Experience. Luminant Worldwide.