Cleaning up some old files and found this old Monster.com interview. There was a time as recently as a few years ago, when this article had been copied and pasted and linked all over the web enough that it regularly showed up as one of the top 5 results in any Google search for IA related topics. Sadly, it has aged and fallen into obscurity leaving my SEO juju slightly lower. However, reading it today, I have to say that Mike and I did a pretty good job of articulating the nascent career of Information Architect way back in 1999. The kicker in the whole thing though is the salary range I posited at the end. Remember, this was pre-bubble when anyone with a decent IQ and a computer with Web access could get a job for ridiculous money.
Become an Information Architect
Work as a Web Site Strategist
by Sacha Cohen
Monster Contributing Writer
The birth, development and launch of an engaging, well-designed Web site starts with an idea and a vision. Beyond that, detailed planning and organization, open communication among team members and a common goal bring the idea to fruition. And information architects play a key role in that process.
To find out exactly what it takes to succeed in this intriguing job, I spoke to Mattie Langenberg, principal of the Chicago-based Schema Studios, and Creative Director Michael Brooks.
Monster: First, what exactly is information architecture?
Mattie Langenberg: Information architecture, as the name implies, is basically about taking content and creating a structure to present that content to an audience. Whether the content is intended for a private audience on an intranet or for the public, it is the information architect’s job to ensure that information is well-organized and presented in an easily accessible interface.
Monster: What skills and knowledge do you need to do this type of job?
Michael Brooks: Design and communication skills are essential. The ability to create the structure of a Web site and the ability to explain and illustrate that structure are key. The IA must be able to ensure ease of navigation, simplicity of design and communicate the site design to the client as well as to the development team.
ML: In an organizational chart of a given Web project, the IA is generally found somewhere between the administrative team (producers, project managers and editorial staff) and the development team (designers and programmers). The IA is the major communications vehicle between the two teams. [He or she] participates in the thinking and strategy before a project and the creation of the finished product. Information architects generally wear more than one hat on a given project, so versatility is important. You may be required to be a project manager, a designer or both. If you’re just getting started in the industry, it’s probably a good idea to take on one of those positions, and then work your way into information architecture.
Monster: Where can you learn or develop those skills?
ML: Any book by Edward Tufte will give you insight into the visual presentation of information. For the most part, getting into IA is a matter of experience. Learning on the job and being able to handle multiple aspects of a Web project go a long way toward being able to work as an IA.
MB: The best way to start learning the needed skills is to map out a Web site and see the different ways there are to express how the site ties together. Then illustrate those different paths in a clear and concise format.
Monster: Is a degree or certification necessary? If so, what type(s)?
ML: I don’t think a specific degree or certification is necessary; I don’t even know if there is such a thing yet. However, any education that emphasizes the organization and presentation of information is going to be helpful. For example, a design, journalism or computer science degree with an emphasis on user interface would be a good starting point.
MB: The Web development community is becoming more and more specialized every day. Four years ago, even though the position existed, the title of “information architect” didn’t. Information architects come from many different areas of Web development. Former designers, engineers, producers and HTML coders are now information architects.
Monster: Why is information architecture important to Web design?
ML: Well-thought-out Web design targets a specific user group. Whether you are building a business tool for your users, an e-commerce site or an entertainment venue, you want the finished product to be easy to use and understand. Your product will be something the user has never seen before. It’s important to be able to get into your audience’s head and produce something that they’re going to be comfortable with. That’s where the information architect comes in.
MB: For the client, an IA ensures that the site being developed can be easily updated and expanded — that it is scalable. On the developer side, the IA ensures that the development team has a solid foundation on which to build and can concentrate their efforts on graphic design, strategy and content development. For the end user, the IA designs a navigation system that users can easily move through without confusion.
Monster: What is the general salary range for an information architect?
ML: I’d say about $50K to 100K, depending on experience. If you’re a webmaster or an HTML production person, you’ll probably be on the low end. But if you have a design or project management background, you can expect to start on the high end.