How to Hire an Information Architect
Hiring an experienced practitioner in virtually any technology design or development role can be a challenge these days. Such skill sets are in high demand and those who can wield them well often find themselves in a seller’s market. When it comes to hiring information architects (IAs), an additional challenge arises from the fact that for many organizations, the need for practitioners with deep information architecture skills and experience is more periodic than permanent. This can make full-time hires expensive (and difficult) to keep around between projects.
Fortunately, staffing a full-time role isn’t your only option for getting qualified IA help when you need it. Depending on your circumstances, it also may not be your best option. While some organizations have a justifiable need for an in-house team of experienced IAs, many others can take advantage of the periodic nature of IA-focused needs and stay ahead of the information design curve without increasing permanent headcount.
IA consulting firms
Consulting firms that focus specifically on Information Architecture can be a good way to bring in the expertise and experience of a team of seasoned IAs when it’s needed. Companies like Factor Firm*, Dovecot Studio, and The Understanding Group can deploy teams of IAs, and, when needed, researchers, and project managers to work at scale with large enterprise organizations.
Firms like these are different from traditional consulting practices: since IA is their central focus, they’ll deliver a structure that works at launch, and, perhaps more importantly, will articulate the system that supports that structure over time. This sets your organization up to effectively maintain the solutions they help to create well after their engagement is over.
Independent IA practitioners
Independent IAs can be a good choice for organizations that need periodic specialized IA work, but don’t need a full team of consultants. Like an IA consulting firm, an independent practitioner will help you work through the systemic challenges of information design and will focus on creating a system your organization can maintain after they’re gone.
In my own experience, I’ve found this arrangement to be particularly effective for the healthcare, higher education, and government organizations I often work with. It affords them expert IA guidance and support for key projects and initiatives, and allows for easier integration into existing teams and departments than traditional outsourcing models. Many of these organizations still use agencies for enterprise-level initiatives, but having access to an independent practitioner helps them continue to make progress and achieve meaningful milestones between larger efforts.
Then there are organizations that have a clear and compelling full-time need for a dedicated information architect—or a whole team of them. Digital properties like REI.com, AllRecipes.com, and docs.microsoft.com, for example, need permanent, dedicated teams of information architects, taxonomists, and data architects. Their continually evolving content collections and use cases require constant attention to keep classification and findability solutions from falling behind—or spinning out of control altogether.
Just because these are some of the most visible places we find IAs, however, doesn’t mean that hiring a team is your only option for bringing in information architecture expertise. The business and customer use cases for creating useful and usable human-centered shared information environments are far too varied for a one size fits all approach. Fortunately, this needn’t stop you from hiring the help you need, when and how you need it.
* Obligatory disclosure statement: I have friends and/or colleagues in all of the companies I mention. There are lots of other firms that could make for equally fine examples; these are just the ones I’m most familiar with.
There are some questions that never fail to come up when I endeavor to explain what it is that I actually do as an information architect. This is the last in a series of short posts offering my spin on some of the more common of those questions. Previous posts include What is Information Architecture?, When Do You Need an Information Architect?, and What’s It Like to Work with an Information Architect?