When I introduce myself, I always tell people that I am a technical editor, first and foremost, but that I am also an information architect. I fell into and grew into this role by happenstance, when I was asked to complete an organizational edit on an entire library of information. They wanted to understand what the overall quality of the information set, but they also wanted to understand both the gaps and bloat in the information. I really set about re-architecting the information experience for our users.
I started researching and reading more about this role of information architect, and stumbled upon Peter Morville’s now ubiquitous “polar bear book,” Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites. I have bought and read most of his other books, including Ambient Findability. Most recently, I was reminded of one of my favorite graphical, interactive, video-like presentations called Understanding IA that he did where he defined information architecture in today’s environment. He mentioned it in his own blog post where he shared his answers to an interview with LIS students.
In that presentation, he defines information architecture as “the architecture of understanding.” That turn of phrase resonated loudly and clearly with me, as a technical editor. What do we do if not help users understand information? Even if you consider the original polar bear book definition of “the structural design of shared information environments,” you still approach some of the work that we do as technical editors. I have always believed that technical editors make good information architects because they can see both the big picture and the details, and can help deliver the vision of good information design. We can see multiple guidelines, requirements, designs, and users, and we can help synthesize the information — words or otherwise — to help all users understand the information quickly and easily.
More and more teams are carving out this role. Sometimes it is a separate person altogether, sometimes it might be a senior or lead writer, and sometimes you just might get lucky enough to get to do it yourself.
Happy editing (and architecting) everyone!