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I'm just very recently working as a UX Designer and loving my job but learning still a lot about it. My main focus lies with design while a large part of it is usability, which I like as well.

I was wondering if it is common practice when doing projects, that an Information Architect, which in my opinion is someone who is focused primarily on usability and organization of information, and a UX designer, who focuses on usability as well but mainly on the design part of it, can work as two separate profiles. In that way, an IA would do the analysis part of the process, working closely with the client and would pass on the work to a Designer, who doesn't necessarily need to be present on the project.

Is that feasible or is a UX Designer best involved in the project from the start? What are your experiences in this?

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By the way, i have been looking around the web for answers and found some very useful, but i'm actually looking for testimonials from people on the job. –  continuous Jan 31 at 9:03
    
possible duplicate of UX vs IA core competencies –  Matt Obee Jan 31 at 15:25
    
If you're focused upon User Interface chances are a better job title is interaction designer. UX is not (just) UI. –  Stewart Dean Jan 31 at 15:52
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5 Answers 5

Information Architecture is a more specialized role than User Experience Designer. They can very well work together in the same project where the UXD deals with everything but IA core competences. You can look at the UXD as the project lead in IA related questions where IA deals with core IA tasks.

Differences between Information Architecture and User Experience Design

Jesse James Garret, author of "The Elements of User Experience", made an infamous visualization on User Experience elements before writing his book. It has two different scales: Abstract to Concrete- scale and Conception to Completion-scale. It's divided into five layers which should be read from the bottom and upward (from Conception to Completion and from Abstract to Concrete over time).

Jesse James Garret visualization of the Elements of User Experience

Download the original PDF from March 30, 2000.

It reflects the process of designing any artifact from a User Experience perspective. Garret highlights what is important at each layer and each stage of the project. Beware though, this image should not be seen as a project roadmap where you complete one layer before moving on to the next. Garret states though that you can't finish one layer before preceding layers are finished. You need to be agile and move between layers as you move along.

It is possible to transfer these layers into different competencies. The User Experience Designer cover all of these aspects of the visualization:

  • Site Objectives and User Needs
  • Functional Specification and Content Requirements
  • Interaction Design and Information Architecture
  • Information Design, Interface Design and Navigation Design
  • Visual Design

The Information Architect (IA) is a more specialized area of User Experience. In short an Information Architect "connects people to the content they're looking for". To do this the IA have four different tools:

  • Classification and Hierarchy
  • Labels and Tagging
  • Navigation and Wayfinding
  • Search

Image by murdocke23 on flickr

Image by murdocke23 on Flickr

That's the difference, and similarities, between a User Experience Designer and an Information Architect.

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Thanks a lot, so a UXD is someone who covers the whole process? It's not really feasible to set the two profiles apart, they need to work closely together? –  continuous Jan 31 at 11:29
    
@user3004304 That's true. Both cover the same are with different scopes. –  Benny Skogberg Jan 31 at 11:56
    
Btw: I think the book is a must-read. :-) –  L. Möller Jan 31 at 17:07
    
@L.Möller it is :-) –  Benny Skogberg Feb 1 at 3:18
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There was always an argument what each role exactly mean.

Benny has already provided a rather comprehensive answer. But practically speaking, both agencies and big organisations (like the BBC) separate the roles - they'll have information architects and usability designers; this is in addition to researches, graphic designers, usability testers, etc.

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And many organisations (like the BBC) have issues with definition of those roles and people stepping on each others toes. A good agile team will allow people to work outside of their description and too their strengths. For example I don't want a creative director who is weak in core UX doing UX work - as often happens at the BBC. –  Stewart Dean Jan 31 at 15:55
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I've seen a lot of definitions of UX designer but for me is a multi-rol position.

Think you are constructing a building:

  1. Information Architect: will decide how big will it be for doing it's porpose, how many levels will have the building and how many rooms on each floor.
  2. Interaction Designer: will determine how to connect the floors and how is related one room to each other. Elevators, stairs, even windows to interact with the outside.
  3. Visual Designer is the interior decorator and keeps the ambiance on every stage, room, etc...

Those are separate rols on big companies and the UX designer has to manage them or be some of them on small organizations. Hope it helps.

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Similar to the others, but I would see a simple analogy from the software development side:

Some projects (often smaller scale) may have "software engineers" that cover all development tasks, or you can have specialist Architects, Database Designers, Back End Developers, Front End Developers, Business Analysts, Quality Engineers, et al.

This would be comparable to either having one UX guy doing it all, or specialised roles.

I'd note that

  • the exact roles, responsibilities and interactions of a role can differ between organisations. A good way to analyse this is look at the artefacts expected to consume and produce.

  • sometimes choice of generalist / specialist is not driven by project size, but methodology e.g. Agile promotes a more cross skilled generalist.

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I agree, we are currently working with agile methodology and in the process a UXD is really encompassing much of the roles. Which isn't to say that, given the size of a project, those roles are better dealt among several people –  continuous Jan 31 at 12:46
    
True. What you may see evolve is people with the same title have an area of specialisation (vertically or horizontally). Team members could flex between the tasks, but often don't for maximum effectiveness. –  Jayfang Jan 31 at 16:00
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Titles are vague and roles often as well.

The key is that UX work is being done. Whether it's someone with an IA title, a UX title, an interactive designer title, etc, or any combination thereof is less important.

But to elaborate...

I'd always consider an IA a UX designer. Just as I'd consider a UI designer a UX designer. Just UX designers focused on particular aspects of UX.

So, perhaps the question is "can an IA and UI role be handled separately".

I'd argue, no, that is not ideal. UX is a holistic process. UI is as critical as IA so doing one in absence of the other is not a pragmatic approach. They need to be a part of the entire UX process from start to finish. They both contribute to the overall success of the UX as a whole, and provided they are both skilled at what they do, they'll influence each other and act as sounding boards for each other which can produce the best collaborative results.

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