I’ve had 3 titles over the years: information architect, interaction designer, and customer experience architect. Despite the title, I’ve been doing basically the same things: creating siteflows/sitemaps, wireframing, conduction usability evaluations, providing user experience strategy, and communicating with clients and internal teams. There just doesn’t seem to be a great, all encompassing term for this work that doesn’t step on or get confused with the work of others.
Here’s a breakdown of the issues:
First of all, it’s a simile. What we do with information is sort of like creating blueprints for a building. That’s troubling for some and it’s also limiting in that it doesn’t take into account the things like usability evaluation and rich transaction/interaction based elements of the job. Worse, there are also people on the development site of software and web projects with the title Architect. I know this is a problem from needing to hire IAs and getting techical architect resumes.
Verdict: I no longer consider this title to be a good fit for what I do. I think this title is best used by those who are working primarily with large amounts of content that needs to be organized, named, and tagged.
I like this one because it does take into account the richer interactions we’re now documenting in our wireframes and siteflows. I’m not just organizing content into pages, I’m creating experiences. But again, this one gets us into trouble because graphic designers don’t consider user experience people to be designers and there is a particular sensitivity to the overlap between interaction designers and interactive designers (those who create the actual interface elements that will be visible to users). It’s getting more and more common, so maybe that will help with some of the resistance from the graphic design community, but again, what about the usability evaluation, heuristic analysis, and other research focused aspects of the job?
Verdict: Unless there is a separate group doing the research portion, you are probably and interaction designer plus a usability analyst.
Customer Experience Architect
I like this because it has the customer/user right up front. And rather than limiting me to the information or interaction design, it expresses looking at the entire experience. Putting customer and experience before architect seems to do a better job explaining what we do — information is such a vague term on its own. One criticism is that you don’t always have “customers” particularly if you’re a government agency or non profit, but to that I’d say that we all have internal and external customers of our work.
Verdict: This seems to capture more of what I do and overlaps with fewer, more established development team roles. I’d like to see it used more.
At the end of the day, it’s the work we do and the value we provide to projects and teams that keeps us all employed. What we call ourselves isn’t as important as ensuring that our deliverables are standard enough to be recognizable and understandable, but are also innovative enough to capture details of projects using the newest technologies. From what I’ve seen, that appears to be happening (or have happened). Now is really the time to think about how we want to brand the profession and what qualities we want to make our central focus.