UX, IA, Strategy, and the Business Ecology

There is a growing trend in the UX community to dump the U or the whole UX.

Some see a return to the use of information architecture and information architect as the solution to the confusion and controversy that swirl around UX. I am beginning to agree … to a point.

I see the role of an information architect as being simple – make the complex clear. Yep, that is from Richard Saul Wurman. And while I don’t agree with everything he says, I can’t disagree with his definition of information architecture. Of course a simple sentiment like that needs to be unpacked and applied.

I believe that information architecture is only a viable discipline when applied to products or services where the communication of meaning through a symbolic system (language, iconography, etc.) is critical to a product or service. These products and services also fall under the discipline of interaction design as the operational partner to the information architect’s role focuses more on comprehension and flow than on function and interaction.

Products that are not primarily for the communication of meaning are more the realm of industrial design.

Increasingly products and services combine in both digital and physical forms. These require a mix of disciplines to model, plan, and build.

As for the U – the user … I go back and forth on that one.

In my opinion (my current one anyway) the user is an important aspect of the business ecology. And yes, I like the term “user”. People use our products and services. They are not always customers, they are not always consumers, but more often then not people use the things we make, or the services we provide.

In addition to the notion of use for all manner of products and services, an increasing number of them are dependent on code to function. The close association of “the user” with “software” was, at one time, a barrier for information architects that wanted to work on products or services that had a minor digital component, or none at all. Now the digital and physical world are so intertwingled (to borrow a term from Peter Moreville) that the close association of the user to software is a key advantage for us.

But I am open to alternate views on the U in UX.

But the X is critical. I agree with Peter Merholz when he says “user experience is strategy, not design“. In fact I see user experience strategy as begin a discipline above the creation of individual products or services. It is by its very nature a discipline that should look across all of the products and services offered by a business.

business ecology

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2 Comments

  1. UX Strategy goes up near Business Model.

    I definitely think the “user” is a critical part of the business’s value ecosystem.

  2. I agree that any smart business will keep the user in its value ecosystem. But I think the discipline of user experience strategy should focus on guiding the creation of products and services that fit the business model rather than the business model itself.

    That being said, I also believe that people with UX backgrounds should branch out and move into positions that will shape the brands and business models, just not as UX practitioners.

    We can’t be effective if we are spread too thin.