03 Mar 2007 0859H

Gender and ethnic diversity in UX, Death of Information Architecture, and . . .Toronto

Pretty good discussion being brought up on Victor Lombardi’s Noise Between Stations, Zeldman, Anil Dash, Josh Porter’s Bokardo, Kottke, Disambiguity, about the relative dearth of diversity in our workplace but given the country’s climate towards race, ethnicity, immigration, gender, sexuality, class, faith — all the social stratification mechanisms — and most people’s tendency to dismiss out of hand, and a general failure to either explain or dig into the issues, much less do anything about them, I fear it will be shortlived.

And if you notice who’s been writing about this, then you shouldn’t even ask if this an issue. Doesn’t look anything like the America I live, work and play in. Or. . . does it?

So if people really are serious about this, they should try to organize and institute some kind of opportunity outreach for people who simply don’t have resources or opportunities about User Experience, IA, IxD, or whatever it is, to learn so that they can get a leg up. For us in the US, it could be outreach to increase the number of women in general, particularly Latinas and African American women, American Indians, Americans from rural communities, and maybe even within Asian America, possibly Filipinos, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders, who tend to experience poverty on a level even lower than Latinos or African Americans. Living in an mixed-income immigrant community like Chinatown, there are also a lot of working poor Chinese Americans here, certainly, so the opportunity outreach would have to be relatively broadbased, I think.

Cos let’s face it, this stuff is not exactly cheap to learn, right? Software, hardware, broadband access, books, books, books, and the occasional online or F2F seminar. None of these things are cheap. So a push for local chapters of UPA or IAI to plan to do something, through a committee, would be good. A scholarship is good, but throwing money at a problem won’t make it go away. What people really need is mentorship and guidance. Maybe they could even spend one event a month for a few months to do outreach such as go to a high school or a local junior college and do presentations, all the way up to internships and the like. And there has to be a program and there has to be metrics, because otherwise how will you know what the state of things is now and how will you know that you’re having an impact?

There are certainly designers who basically can’t or won’t notice that there’s an issue about racial or ethnic representation at all, and then when you bring it up, might even call you a racist for doing so. That happened here around Xmas time actually. That’s their own ignorance, of course, but it’s not hard to notice how the workforce is distributed, which makes you wonder where they work and, as someone said to me yesterday, “Do they have eyes?” Which segues us to our next topic.

Again, the topic of information architecture being uncomfortably cramped now has started to come up, and people are saying this label no longer adequately describes what it is that we do. I feel that rumors of the death of information architecture have been greatly exaggerated. Richard Saul Wurman might disagree (maybe, here and here), but I do feel that information architecture is inadequate to describe some of the things that come up in user experience design, and I believe information architecture is most at home when it deals with labeling, taxonomies, metadata, ontologies, analysis, sorting and ordering collections of information into structures, basically the library and info science stuff, and it’s a core discipline within our umbrella. But, I am finding that I enjoy and am valued for other parts of our interdiscipline, such as interaction design, information design, user centered design, and usability. These disciplines have roots in social science, computer science, engineering, some draftsmanship.

And then there are emerging areas of work that I think I would like to get into around designing services, which Dan Saffer talks a little about in his book and which IDEO has made forays into. I’m looking at a deck from my client’s consumer research division where they used video camera observations to put together a heat map of traffic within a retail store, and then rearranged the floor layout so that they eliminated “cold spots,” resulting in increased sales. Is that information architecture? I have conducted an ethnography of Chicago Chinatown traffic and made recommendations to improve the flow of traffic. Is that information architecture? Like Josh says, I think these differentiate themselves from the ordering of information by providing that information with an activity, which revolves around users and what their tasks or goals are.

Finally does anyone know what the interaction design, information architecture, user experience community in Toronto is like? Hit me up please.

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