Why become an information architect?

I can't remember where I heard it, but I was surprised it came from someone in the field. The sarcastic tone surprised me even more than the chuckles of agreement.

Hang on, I thought with astonishment, surely we've not reached the stage where we reduce ourselves to hackneyed self-criticism? In my experience, passion for their craft is common to every IA, and it's one of the few careers you can't really 'phone in'. So, it's taken me a while, but for the record here is my response.

[Note: Yes, some of what I'm talking about could be called interaction design, user experience etc. Change the post title if you like. I'll leave defining the damn thing to others.]

It's creative
Every job has its drudgery. I'm sure some IAs would say that churning out wireframes comes pretty close sometimes, and certainly it can if you allow yourself to drift on autopilot. But any job that pays you to think and to listen, then to turn that into something meaningful, usable by everyone but retaining one's own creative influence, is a rare thing.

It's important
You're making decisions that can have a lasting effect. We all know that bad site > unhappy users > no revenue, but IA can matter beyond the realms of the bottom line. I have true respect for IAs working, say, on medical information sites, improving access to information that can change (or even save) lives.

It's varied
IA undoubtedly can lay claim to some of the largest changes of scale of any job in this domain. You may be looking at wide strategic decisions affecting thousands (millions, if you're with the big guys) of people. Or you may be arguing whether 18pt leading is appropriate for this type, or whether icon A is sufficiently differentiated from icon B. I've spent mornings looking at numerous shades of pea green and drowning in a sea of RGB hex, followed by afternoons trying to convince others that semantic markup should be a central platform for our business.

It pays
Salaries are going up, and not showing many signs of abating. This is a specialised profession in great demand. Of course, we will have to wait and see how it survives the next tech dip, but even the IAI's year-old figures are pretty impressive.

It's part of something bigger
This, for me, is what seals it. The chance to help create the future of the web, to create a shared language of interactions, of new features and that wonderfully vague world of 'cool stuff'. Things that will turn a sceptic into an ardent supporter. Sure, of course I'm here to make money for my employer, but ultimately I think I'm also here for the greater good - to make the web a better place. And because the industry isn't at 'idea saturation point', in a small way I can help to shape the whole industry. How many accountants can say that?

Perhaps this all needs to be balanced with the negative aspects. Perhaps that's another post. But try adding the prefix "Only you know" before any of the above headings for a flavour.

Cennydd Bowles