September 27th, 2016
User experience architecture isn’t brand spanking new, but relative to other job titles out there I think we can all agree it’s new - and as a result, unfamiliar to many. A degree in user experience isn’t common. Professionals in the field come from a wide array of backgrounds - and so do I. I started my professional life as a digital media coordinator at a nonprofit and then made the leap to LookThink to be a project manager.
Why a PM
I became a project manager at LookThink because it was a natural fit based on my degree in business, experience managing digital projects, and professional interests in communication, organization, and technology. I was drawn to LookThink because I wanted to work with clients in a variety of industries and have a hand in making their digital experiences better.
Becoming an IA
As a project manager, you see all sides and roles of a project. From kickoff to final delivery, you’re managing the internal project team and the client relationship.
After two years as a project manager, I realized that the parts of my job I liked best overlap with the goals of information architecture and user experience:
- Thinking through a user’s problems
- Strategic consulting
- Gathering and building requirements
- Identify and exploring user groups
- Vetting recommendations with clients and our internal team
Polished communication is another critical overlap between PMs and IAs. Without those core tenants, critical details and requirements get missed or miscommunicated. As a PM, managing a range of small details to larger project milestones is critical; IA’s need to identify and prioritize what details are the most critical to project success and the realization of client goals.
In my experience, the biggest shift from PM to IA is all about audience prioritization.
Both PMs and IAs care about the same two audiences - users and clients. For project managers, the client comes first. For information architects, the user is always first.
That balance in priority is what makes our end deliverables at LookThink so strong and faithful to both the client and user goals. PMs work towards delivery, IAs work towards solutions - together, those roles deliver a comprehensive experience to a client.
To be a good user experience architect you have to collect and assess user needs (most important); validate, refine and prioritize client wants (a close second) and then finally recommend a project approach (potentially including technical suggestion). I’ve seen all sides of the project and am able to apply that knowledge to all sides of the deliverable. I’m a better IA because as a PM I know how strategy and architecture decisions affect project implementation. Ultimately making my work better for the implementation team, client and user.