Do you remember Peter Morville's article Big Architect, Little Architect? In it he describes the Big Information Architect as "an orchestra conductor or film director, conceiving a vision and moving the team forward", a quote from Gayle Curtis. This would be a person at the "other end of the spectrum" from the little information architect who "may focus solely on bottom-up tasks such as the definition of metadata fields and controlled vocabularies".
In my opinion, it is time we re-label the field of Big IA into User Experience.
In discussing the future of AIfIA with AIfIA Board member Eric Reiss over dinner last week, I started sketching a model of my field, as seen from the perspective of an Information Architect.
The model showed a big "T", with the vertical line representing the field of IA with varying degrees of depth, while the horizontal line represented the width of related fields around us. We decided to call it the T-model.
The depth of IA ranges from shallow subjects that have clear overlap with the other fields to deep subjects that other fields hardly touch upon. Shallow subjects are navigation, labeling, and content that overlap with interaction design, marketing and copywriting for example. Deep subjects would be search, metadata, and controlled vocabularies. Peter Morville's little IA's live here, and each would have his own strengths.
Related fields, placed in the horizontal line of the T-model, have interests that overlap with our shallow subjects. Examples are interaction design, usability, information design, visual design, accessibility, copywriting, business modeling, markting and computer science. Big IA's know a little bit of all these fields to allow them to play the role of conductor.
Now, what if we look at this model from the perspective of, say, an Interaction Designer (IxD)? I am sure the subscribers to the IxD mailinglist have little IxD's and Big IxD's amongst them. They have their own T-model, with the vertical line standing next to "our" vertical line, but their horizontal line overlaps with ours! And the same is true for usability specialists, copywriters, information designers, etc.
Now, as far as I can see, the horizontal overlap is the place where User Experience (UX) practitioners operate. They are likely to have a background in one of the fields (their private vertical line) but in their work they focus on the horizontal line, orchestrating specialists who operate in their vertical.
Why would Information Architects be the ones to claim the "Big" label, effectively placing the related fields below IA instead of at its side. Do we posses a special skill that practitioners in the other fields don't? What is that skill? Is it related to one of the deep subjects or one of the shallow subjects? I cannot tell and I think it is wrong.
I am ready to give up the title Big IA in favour of User Experience practitioner, are you?
Update: the model has been expanded with an extra layer! See Shoulder IA: t-model extended with business layer (March 9, 2005)