Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin

I’m a three-time failure at reading the Polar Bear Book.

I’m also a Principal Information Architect with 10 years’ experience.

I’m not telling you not to read the Polar Bear Book. I am telling you that if you want a short, direct, and well-structured book on what Information Architecture is, how to get started practicing it, and real-world examples of prior work, Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin is the book to start with.

It is the IA cohort to The Elements of Content Strategy And y’all know I’m a big fan of that book.

I started this book while sitting in a hospital room watching my husband sleep. It’s readable even under extreme stress. The book starts with the LATCH system of organization, which I had learned… but when I’d learned it through the quasi-apprenticeship of a mutual fund company’s design department, it didn’t have a name. So here I was, middle of the afternoon, snoring and beeping filling the room, and ten-year veteran of information architecture, learning things I didn’t know on page 5.

Your milage may vary (YMMV), especially if you’re one of those younger folks for whom information architecture degrees were available. (We had library science but I was too short-sighted to major in it.)

The book is vibrant and well-structured enough that I could put it down for a week at a time if I needed to and pick it up again and keep reading and understand where I’d left off. (Also, YMMV.)

Plus, this book isn’t afraid to use Star Trek, Ravelry, cooking, self-deprecating spreadsheet jokes, and colorful, useful examples.

To sum up, this book is going on the list of books anyone who asks me how to start a career in UX, along with Don’t Make Me Think, How to Make Sense of Any Mess and Universal Principles of Design.

Now on The Pastry Box: Welcome to Enterprise

This month’s Pastry Box post, Welcome to Enterprise, is really a bit of a rant about user experience design vs. client experience design. Client experience design is when we design something that makes the paying client happy. User experience design is when we work with the client to make the end-user of the product happy. In doing so, we align the users’ needs with the clients needs (and/or make the client aware of irreconcilable differences) and make everyone satisfied.

It’s called Welcome to Enterprise because a) I work in Enterprise software and it’s what I know best, and b) pretty much everyone in Enterprise thinks that *they* are who I’m working for.

I’m not. It’s my job to advocate for the end user, and bring everyone else around to do the same. That’s what UX in Enterprise is about.

Full Stack of Something

Here’s the thing that’s hurting my head today: the “full stack developer” job listing.

A Full Stack Developer is someone who can develop at every layer of the software development stack, from the servers to the front end. This includes:

  • Server, Network, and Hosting Environment.
  • Data Modeling
  • Business Logic
  • API layer / Action Layer / MVC
  • User Interface
  • User Experience
  • Understanding what the customer and the business need.

My role as an Information Architect lands firmly inside of the sixth one down, “User Experience”, and often I’m not the Information Architect on a project, I’m the User Experience Designer. (Even as an Information Architect there are expectations that I can talk fluently about the business logic, user interface, and customer and business needs, so the User Experience container is by no means leakproof.)

User Experience is a huge field of study in and of itself. In the “tradition” of the Full Stack Developer posting, I suspect we should call ourselves “Full Stack Designers” instead of User Experience Designers, because it gives a much better impression of our wide range of responsibilities, which include:

  • Information Architecture
  • Architecture
  • Content creation
  • Visual Design & Information Design
  • Human Factors
  • Industrial Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Sound Design
  • Interface Design
  • Usability Engineering
  • Content Strategy

…and probably more than I can’t think of.

Each of the topics that makes up a Full Stack Designer can be (and in many cases is) its own full career with its own full educational system, training, and roles in an organization.

For example, I’m thoroughly well-versed in Information Architecture and Interaction Design, comfortable in some of the Usability Engineering methods and knowledge and some of the Content Strategy methods and knowledge (but not others), and not as deep in Visual and Information Design. I can’t even comfortably say I’m a Full Stack Designer (since I’m aware of my own weaknesses and imposter syndrome is a thing).

I suspect the same thing is true of all of the other traits that a Full Stack Developer is supposed to be familiar with.

So how in the world is someone supposed to be a Full Stack Developer and be set up for success by their employer? Is it a significant reliance on vendor products, frameworks, and external knowledge? Is it by only building small websites? I’m baffled.

And suspicious. I should add that I’m suspicious, because to do six careers well takes a lot of time, and while it might come with a lot of salary, I’m having trouble imagining it comes with a lot of sleep. Hustle is hype, and anyone who’s told me otherwise was trying to pay me one salary for at least two jobs worth of work.

Me, I’m happy with one job that pays the bills, the occasional vacation, and a few pinball tournaments or races or Phillies games. And as much as I believe that there’s space for both specialists and generalists (and maybe even a few compartmentalists) I’m also quite a bit worried that anyone working six career paths under one job title is, well, over-generalizing.

I’m worried about the Full Stack Developer precisely because it includes the Full Stack Designer. If an employer believes that the 8+ specialties in my field are nothing but a subset of skills for someone who is already doing 5 other jobs, then what do they think of hiring someone in my field? Are you specializing in IT by being a generalist in Design?

I don’t have answers, just a headache, and an observation that this “full stack” world seems awfully general.

Now on The Pastry Box: Cultures of Learning (and a tribute to Oliver Sacks)

For my September column on The Pastry Box, I wrote about learning, our role in it as designers, and Oliver Sacks.

This post was written the Sunday before my Thursday slot, not long after I learned that Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author, had died of cancer.

It was written after a night of wild dreams regarding immortality and the quest for it – and the consequences of achieving it. (That one is going to be a wild ride of a short story some day.)

It was also written after I was up way too late watching TED talks with my husband about learning and addiction and all kinds of other things.

And all of that was after a day filled with pinball, yard work, and dinner with a close friend.

The best days are the days when my brain blends together a dozen different unrelated thoughts and knits them together into something with a little bit of meaning. I hope you find this to be one of those.