In Defense Of The Specialists

I’ve been practicing the work I do for almost 18 years. I consider myself an Information Architect. Many of the people that do the kind of work I do identify with other titles. At the highest level, I’m a designer. I solve problems through experimentation, research, experience and observation. I do this with flexibility, an open mind and a willingness to continuously evolve my tactics. We’ve only just begun.

Here is the list of titles I’ve held:

  • Information Designer
  • Information Architect
  • Chief Information Architect
  • Experience Design Practice Director
  • User Experience Manager
  • Content Architect
  • Information Architecture and Social Media Director
  • Web Designer
  • Senior User Experience Designer
  • Senior User Experience Architect
  • GUI Goddess
  • (and in one job, I got to just choose a word for my business card) Evolution
Over the years I have seen several waves of practitioners coming into this space where I work – for simplicity, I’ll call it communicating and interacting on the internet. 🙂 Many of these practitioners have had similar titles to the list above (and many more) – The titles of all the people that help make the innertubes go is a MUCH LONGER LIST.
These people have come from varied backgrounds and they have come to understand how to practice what they do and HOW THEY ADD VALUE through their real world experience. Each of them face similar but different challenges. They are connected to each other because when they come together they make the discovery that they are not alone. I have personally experienced four waves of this-each wave came with specific and in person gatherings. I first saw it with the AIGA in the lates 1990’s. The topic was Experience Design and we came together and we were passionate. I saw it again in Boston when I attended the first (and many subsequent) IA Summits. Several years later the strong and independent group of Interaction Designers started a conference and it thrives.  I saw the same occurrence at the Content Strategy Consortium at the 2009 IA Summit and then again this spring at Confab the Content Strategy conference. For each of these communities these were very important gatherings. But none of them are more important in my mind than any of the others. Nor are they more important than similar communities I have not been part of who have discovered this same community in their practice. We all build the web.

The very notion that we have defined these things and solved it is inherently human but it is also incredibly arrogant. This work requires continuous evolution in our approaches, practices and tools. We have this ongoing need to do it better because we haven’t figured it out yet and even if you do – for a moment – feel like you’ve figured it out, it will change. Disruption and confusion are everywhere – we are desperately in need of some clarity.

The specialists are important, especially right now, to make these distinctions. If you were to ask someone ‘how do you make a web site?’ you would get six million answers. This is still a grand experiment. Because of this – we should not be closing off people that can help – we should be embracing them. There is too much work to do now and it’s too important. Leave the specialists alone and get back to doing the thing you love doing, making the web WORK BETTER FOR PEOPLE!

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