Whose profession is it anyway?

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 36
Digital Citation

The adaptive user experience organization

Victor Lombardi

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In the 21st century, we see two seemingly contradictory trends happening simultaneously:

  1. Information architecture (IA) is becoming a legitimate career path, as illustrated by new graduate-level degrees, a strong job market, and at times, roles that appear on the management organization chart.
  2. Information architecture is becoming a skill that all user experience practitioners must have, whether an industrial designer is creating the user interface for a portable music player or a communications designer is providing free-text search for a digital archive. And to some extent, IA is becoming everyone's job, as we all increasingly need to manage our growing stores of information, using tools ranging from digital photo management software to blogs.

The Information Architecture Institute facilitates both trends by developing a common understanding of how IA can continue to develop as a career path and by helping members who perform IA as part of their jobs (e.g., editors, product managers, designers, and programmers) know where to start.

We're a young organization. A passionate group of IA practitioners seeking to serve our larger community formed the Institute in 2002. We now have over 600 members in 40 countries. But we didn't set out to start a traditional professional organization, and in many ways, we haven't. We have no offices and only one part-time employee. I like to think of the Institute as the open-source version of a professional organization, with minimal top-down administration organizing the efforts of a passionate community of volunteers who all contribute to form a greater whole.

By following a path of organic growth, we avoid the vicious growth cycle of an expanding organization that must grow membership to keep expanding. Our approach allows us more time to focus on the discipline of information architecture rather than on an increasing need for administration. Of course, we need some funds to operate, but financing is always a secondary consideration to the activities that enable our audience to better apply information architecture.

The field of design has changed dramatically, and the pace of change hasn't slowed. Many print designers have become online designers. Design is dovetailing with other fields, such as information science. And our work is resulting in more than just artifacts; we are facilitating entire user experiences. The user experience community as a whole is changing, and professional organizations need to change with it. By not becoming too large or entrenched, the Information Architecture Institute can stay nimble and avoid political stagnation. Professional organizations are not businesses, and we should not try to run them like businesses. I believe the Institute's model effectively serves the rapidly changing professional needs of a vital discipline within the user experience community.

back to top  Author

Victor Lombardi
Management Innovation Group

About the Author:

Victor Lombardi is currently president of the Information Architecture Institute. He is also a principal at the Management Innovation Group, where he helps executives use design methods to make their products and their companies more innovative. Victor has designed over 30 digital media products working within companies and as a consultant, and has taught at the Parsons School of Design.

back to top  Sidebar: The Information Architecture Institute


Officially, our mission is to advance the design of shared information environments. We support a global community infrastructure that connects people, ideas, content, and tools. Through research, education, advocacy, and community service, we promote excellence within our field and build bridges to related disciplines and organizations.

Toward this goal, the Information Architecture Institute:

  • sponsors educational events around the world
  • hosts job listings
  • creates language translations of seminal works
  • maintains an online library of IA resources
  • and more...

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0500  $5.00

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