Why Information Architecture is not Architecture

Or why we should be a bit more humble in our choice of job titles.

Back in the not so recent past I used to describe myself as an Information Architect.

This used to really annoy my Dad, an actual Architect. He’d say, “I studied for seven years to be an architect. Five years at University and two years working as a apprentice.” In my defence I’d say I have got a Masters degree in Human Computer Interaction.

“But it’s not the same.” He’d continue. “If I mess up the building could fall down and people will die, if you mess up, oh no, someone can’t find something.”

He’s right or course, it is rather an impressive job title and one that is far grander than job it represents. Saying that in my Twitter profile I say I’m Strategic Commander of UX. That’s more to highlight the sometime ludicrous nature of job titles in our industry.

I don’t know what the solution is, but a bit of humility and I dare I say it, modesty in job title choice might help. Idea Engineer anyone?

Also published on Medium.

9 Responses to “Why Information Architecture is not Architecture”

  1. Jay

    Hi Joe, couldn’t agree more about the overblown naming. Mixed with the expansiveness of user experience I wonder if our job titles undermine our credibility with clients/ senior management.

    On the IA title I thought I’d suggest information designer, but we set layouts and make navigation, not design the content (aka information). Perhaps information planner (aka town planner) is a better metaphor. More humble, accurate and maybe less high-faluting.


  2. Francois Wessels

    HI Joe, no problem at all in calling myself an Information Architect, I do however not only see my job as related to websites. I have a postgraduate qualification in information science and knowledge management so this also relates to enterprise architecture as well as information systems not necessarily related to web projects. Lot of the work I do is related to web though but not just categories, navigation etc.

  3. mrjoe

    Hi Francois, but don’t you feel the word ‘Architect’ is too grand? It’s like calling yourself and Information Professor, or Information Surgeon 😉

  4. Elliot Harris

    I do worry about there being a certain pretentiousness in and around the UX disciplines, and that video brings to life all my worst fears 🙂

    However, I think it depends on how you interpret the word architecture in this context. I think architecture (the real one) is awesome, and architects hugely talented, on a level I could never dream of attaining. But I guess the architecture in IA just a metaphor; it’s the scaffolding on which the visible, functional elements are hung. The problem isn’t with the word ‘architecture’ as such, it’s the implication that if something is being architected, it’s some kind of grandiose skyscraper. But even little things are architected to some degree.

    But yeah, the pretentiousness is a worry, and I guess using words like ‘architecture’ doesn’t help. Generally in UX it feels like there’s a lot of self-import and trendiness, and not enough humility, or scrutiny of which trends are really valuable. Maybe as a new discipline we feel a need to overcompensate in order to justify our presence to an industry that was largely getting by without us a few years ago.

  5. mrjoe

    Well said Elliot, it is useful to take an existing, well understood job title and use it to explain a new discipline, like IA. Perhaps engineer is a little less pretentious?

  6. Alan Every

    Architect is actually a protected job title here in the UK and can only be assigned to Architecture, landscape architecture and bizarrely golf course architecture. Therefore all the people I deal with such as Software Architects have a made up invalid job title.

  7. Jonathan

    @Alan Every: The protection of “Architect” in the UK simply means you can’t offer those services and call yourself an architect unless you have Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the RIBA qualifications (and have become a “Chartered Member”). It does not prevent anyone from calling themselves an architect if they do not offer buildings, landscape or golf course architecture. “Information architect” is not therefore an invalid job title at all in that sense.

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