Design & UX
By Emily Smith

Speaking Their Language: Presenting IA to Developers

By Emily Smith

Ideas, even earth-shatteringly magnificent ones, that aren’t communicated effectively can suck the life right out of a project. For the next couple of weeks I am going to be discussing considerations for presenting your IA work to various audiences.

Here are four guidelines to keep in mind while you’re preparing to meet with or present IA directions to the developers involved in your next project:

Be respectful.

In every situation, always respect the developers. I’ve unfortunately been witness to and even participated in hasty critique of developers’ work. The truth is that we don’t know the constraints they were under when they created a system, what obstacles they had to overcome, and the problems that have already been solved. Make assumptions with benevolence, draw out current weak points as springboards for discussion, and use the project goals to guide constructive conversations.

Be brief.

Developers usually have several complicated problems rolling around in their heads that they’re in the middle of solving (occasionally this creates the illusion that they’re not listening, but don’t be fooled – they are). Acknowledge their cognitive load and don’t take up more time than is reasonable. They will respect you for your brevity and be glad to get back to working on those solutions.


Get to the good stuff.

These pragmatic problem solvers benefit from getting right to the meat of the matter, so make sure you cut verbal fluff where you can. Be careful here: that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in the project goals, site audience, or other “soft” topics. In fact, it’s these details that give their work context and purpose. It’s the delivery which matters, which should be sans pretense and filler words.

Engage with the details.

From the very beginning of a project, the developers should and will be thinking through implementation details. Stay a step ahead by preparing thoughts and questions related to the implications for both front and back end development. Every piece of a wireframe or prototype impacts their scope. Sometimes this can get frustrating if you’re excitedly sharing a big idea and they’re giving you five reasons the execution of this idea is not going to fly. Expect this back and forth and be thankful that the development team is putting all that thought into the project.

Of course, I am painting with broad strokes here and every developer is unique (I work with ten and am married to one, so I have some firsthand experience). These guides are just a good place to start as you get to learn about and relate to these individuals on your project team.

  • Derek Jesser

    Great Post! I’ve been in Web Development for over 6 years now and wish more Designers and PMs, (Project Managers) would take these ideas to heart.

  • Dave

    The article is written on a general and basic level but not once is IA spelled out or a definition provided.

    IA, or Information Architecture, is an integral part of the development process. An Information Architect combines web design, library science and technical skills to order enterprise knowledge. Information Architects design organizational systems within websites that help people find and manage information more successfully. Clients benefit from having an Information Architect interact with members of their team.

    I had to look it up so perhaps some other folks may not immediately know what IA is.

  • s21825

    Can you give me a one liner on what IA stands for?

  • Anonymous

    Yep. First rule of writing: Define your terms. IA = ?

  • A Developer

    Great article.

    Considering that the audience for this post is fellow Information Architects, I think that the author can make some assumptions about basic knowledge, such as what IA is. For everybody else:

  • Emily Smith

    Thanks for pointing that out, guys! And Dave, I really appreciate you looking it up. I apologize for leaving the term undefined here.

    Information Architecture, or IA, is the process of planning, organizing, and mapping out your web site or application before you jump into visual design or development. Information architects are focused on making the end product as worthwhile and enjoyable to use as possible. One of the common deliverables in the IA process is a wireframe, which is very similar to a blueprint that a building architect would draw up.

    I am going to be writing some posts on Sitepoint in the near future that cover the basics of Information Architecture (IA). If you’re interested, keep an eye out!

    In the meantime, here are some great resources you can check out for more information:

    A short explanation |

    A video of wireframing in action |

    A detailed article for more depth

  • Anonymous

    “Information architecture (IA) is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems.”

    Wow, so this is the new marketspeak buzzterm I take it — after some three and a half decades of software development can’t say I’ve ever heard of this one — and reading up on it makes it very… Proactive — like poochy the dog Proactive.

    Digging further it appears to literally be more of the noodle-doodle concept nonsense by the people who like to spend all their time talking THEORY, without ever understanding what it takes to implement it. Exactly the type of thing I’d expect from a career educator or lecturer.

    Of course I was automatically assuming the article was about making an Internet Archive… or something to do with the Intel Architecture… or even getting your staff ready for an Internal Audit — you know, terms that actually MEAN something.

    Considering the topic was explaining IA to staff, that is a major /FAIL/ hard.

  • Matthew Smith

    @anonymous, that was profound, thank you for sharing straight from the overflow of your brilliance, I am literally floored with your helpful comment.

    @emilysmith, well-written, and really on point for a tough subject.

  • Brugge Restaurant

    Thanks for pointing that out, guys! And Dave, I really appreciate you looking it up. I apologize for leaving the term undefined here.

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