Questions? (877) 643-7244
FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

When Information Architecture Can Fall Short

By Jeff Sexton
August 13th, 2008

linear paths are deadInformation Architecture involves the design of organization and navigation systems to help people find and manage information more successfully.”

Basically, Information Architecture (IA) views websites as libraries in need of the right kind of card catalogue set-up to facilitate information access by visitors.

But most websites aren’t libraries, or merely stores of information. In fact, most commercial websites are more interested in persuading visitors to take certain actions (i.e. converting) than they are in providing access to information.

In this sense, the interactivity enabled by hyperlinks and Websites is more accurately viewed as a digital conversation than a digitized card catalogue. And the goal of the Website’s architect is not to ensure proper categorization of information, but to:

  • Anticipate the flow of possible conversations and
  • Provide the appropriate hyperlinks to allow visitors to steer the conversation in the direction they want it to go.

So how do you translate, “steering the conversation” into Web architecture? Well, typically, humans steer a conversation by:Table.png
Keeping with this analogy to conversations, a website Architect who wanted to design a site for persuasion (rather than “information access”) would be well advised to:

  1. Figure out who the website would be conversing with. In other words, figure out who is coming to the site and model them via personas.
  2. Map out the conversations while paying particular attention to how different conversational partners would a) self-identify their needs and goals, b) ask questions regarding their concerns, and c) move towards conversion. Allow your personas to walk over the fresh grass, and then study the organic trails they’ve made, rather than forcing all visitors into a grid system of walkways. In other words, create your scenario maps.
  3. Create a link-structure and content plan that will allow each visitor to naturally steer the conversation while building up persuasive momentum towards conversion. In other words, convert your non-linear scenario maps into a per-page website blueprint that specifies each page’s messaging and hyperlinks so as to permit visitors to move through the site without requiring them to disengage from the conversation in order to use a navigational bar.

And that, my friends, is the key to creating a website capable of engaging in more intelligent, respectful, and successful sales conversations (i.e. generating higher conversion rates).

So where does that leave traditional Information Architecture?

Well…One still needs a sitemap. You still want those methodical types and returning visitors to be able to skip the conversation and just look up the content they want, which requires you to establish some type of organizational schema and persistent navigation. Traditional IA is great at this because it’s basically digitized library science to begin with.

But never confuse helping users to “find and manage information,” with engaging visitors in meaningful sales conversations. For that you’ll need Persuasion Architecture (PA) –not Information Architecture (IA).

Add Your Comments

Comments (48)

  1. Excellent article Jeff. I think designing the site to be more friendly to visitors goes along with this to.

    Right now I am working on designing things to allow people to find the products they are interested in easier. Grouping in such a way each of the different personas get their needs met. I have learning many things from ya’ll and I am trying to put some of the lessons into practice.

  2. An excellent read. Thanks Jeff!

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say a website architect’s job “is NOT to ensure proper categorization of information”. I think that’s still essential. But I agree that’s only the beginning. Working on top of that framework, we must engage visitors and provide multiple paths to conversion.

  3. Terrible article Jeff!

    In order to promote persuasion architecture, you pick on what you perceive to be a competing area, information architecture. Even if your interpretation of IA was remotely correct, this is a cheap way to try to build up persuasion architecture. Frankly, it’s very unpersuasive.

    You then completely misinterpret what information architecture is about. It’s as if you looked at the field circa 1996, when it was in the early stages of trying to define itself, and assumed that nothing has changed since then. At best, this is lazy and irresponsible writing. At worst, you’re slandering an entire field. Rather than helping you make a persuasive argument, it makes you look either ignorant or malicious.

    You then proscribe a narrow methodology that will only serve to set back those among your readers who aren’t familiar with design. I’m not sure what aspect of your advice is worse: the over-reliance on personas (really? is that only path toward good design?), or the proscriptiveness of your approach, which is only useful if it’s geared toward practitioners that are so clueless and intellectually incurious that they need to be told exactly what to do.

    Needless to say, I’m hugely disappointed that FutureNow would run this piece. Not to mention unpersuaded.

  4. :) Semantics, Jeff. IA is PA. And vice versa. User-centric design and taxonomy aren’t mutually independent… But congratulations on coining the phrase PA… I hope it provides you with many conversions!

  5. I have to hole heartily agree with Mr. Rosenfeld.
    I would add, to put quotes in a piece w/o attributing them is very odd to me. It means I can’t go out and find the “out of context” ways you are re-interpreting them.

    Your definition of IA is way too narrow for me, and your means of devaluing even that definition is a circular argument. IA in your definition is never meant to stand on its own, and is never meant to ignore the tasks surrounding information interactions, but rather is a means of aiding in achieving those goals.

    I think you have actually done a real disservice b/c what you have implicitly done is tell people to ignore information architecture, which would be a huge mistake even for achieving YOUR goals.

    – dave

  6. I have to agree that this is a very archaic interpretation of information architecture. But this leads to the problem with this profession and trying to label our work. Jeff – are you a marketing professional? I would guess so… I suggest you catch up with our industry and read a few articles on,, etc… You are right that architecture is more than a library but its not us (people who do this work) who think of it that way… its the user’s experience we are designing.

  7. I have to agree with both Mr. Rosenfeld and Mr. Malouf. Your article presents a grossly inaccurate and uninformed view of Information Architecture. Using unattributed graphics (you’ve lifted the “We optimize for this, Web content lives in this” graphic from LukeW) and an unattributed quote is irresponsible at best.

  8. Future Now? You described the ancient past and the past of 5 years ago in both your propositions. Your new way of thinking is old hat in the IA community and has been the norm there for 5 to 8 years. The IA community has gone far beyond what you are describing as new and has included the understandings around persuasion for many years.

    I think it is about time for you to hop into the IA community for a bit, attend IA Summit so you can get your ideas around persuasion architecture future out of the past (as well as an archaic understanding of information architecture updated). The title of your piece should be “when writers don’t do any of their home work they look clueless and offer horrible advice”.

    There is a lot of room to move beyond the current realm of IA, but first you have to get your understanding of your ideas caught up to current and grasp the IA of now, before you can move beyond it. IA is one of the helpful steps for helping content get found for the broad variety of users and use cases and helping them use that information as they need.

    All the best,

  9. Your characterization of IA is insulting to both IAs and librarians.

    You know how outdated your opinion is? I just graduated from an LIS program where I took courses in IA, IxD, and design methods. I and several of my former classmates are now using those skills, quite successfully I might add, in settings ranging from design firms to public libraries.

    Well, at least now we know the quality of thought and research coming out of Future Now.

  10. Dear Jeff,

    You talk like a beginner. I can only assume that you have been working on serious web projects for less than 10 years. You clearly were not around before the dot-com bust or else you would realise that your watered down, half-baked notions are not appropriate in today’s multi-dimensional complex e-commerce land.

    You are still talking the language of hand-crafting content websites, what about the adaptive UI?

    As for inventing persuasion architecture – not a chance. BJ Fogg has been talking about persuasion since before you started school.

  11. Worse than worthless: deceptive and offensive! A poor strawman argument designed only to sell a product. Shame on you.

  12. A “digitized card catalog”? Are you kidding? Please provide evidence of even one practicing professional in IA or a related field who views the Web as a “library in need of the right kind of card catalog.” If you can’t provide such evidence–and I very much doubt that you can–then none of the rest of your strawman argument needs to be taken seriously, either.

  13. Really, really unsupportable article, bad beyond belief, at least do some research so you don’t embarrass yourself so much.

    “Information Architecture involves the design of organization and navigation systems to help people find and manage information more successfully.”

    No, that’s not true; Information Architecture has a much wider premise than that. In fact shocking as it may appear to be, Information Architecture is often done outside of digital and software media.

    I think you are confusing Information Architecture with Digital Architecture which brings in usability, ROI, transactions, pathway analytics, SEO, navigation and content structures, semantics, database design etc.

  14. This is a very narrow and inaccurate view into the world of IA. IA is more than sitemaps, as this article implies. IA is about organizing information, defining relationships, and wayfinding. Persuasion architecture? Really? Sounds like another rebranded, meaningless marketing buzzword.

    I’m curious, Jeff, how you persuade people if they can’t find the information they need to persuade them? After all, even the quote you use without providing a reference or context states that IA is about designing systems to help people find information more successfully. So, you need IA to have PA.

    Perhaps the next time you write an article on a subject that you’re so clearly uneducated about and inexperienced with you could contact some of the key people in that field and get some input from them. You won’t have to go far.

    Oh, and btw, the three key pieces of advice you give are already common place in IA and have been for a number of years.

    You really should do your homework. Or perhaps you just need an IA tutor :) .

  15. I’m so disappointed!. “Future Now” must call itself as “Past revisited”.
    It’s a Poor and uninformed article. Please read Polar Bear book before give your opinion. People may misunderstand AI, and AI objectives, if they read this article… which is irresponsable and incorrect.
    IA it’s MUCH more than you poorly describe! It’s not just sales, it’s not just librarian stuff, it’s not just digital: it’s a huge list of applications that you’ve never consulted.
    There’s a wide range of ways to express your ideas….but please, don’t confuse this with a real article.

  16. While it is an interesting snapshot of “pure” IA as it emerged way way way back when, I fear the above description is strikingly reductionist and naive about IA as it exists today. Some dimensions are as Sexton describes, but I would be amused to see the IA or firm that gets hired and says “I am sorry, I can only organize information. I can’t make it useful.”

    The first problem here is a confusion between the “role” of IA and the “textbook definition” of IA. Most on-the-ground IAs do much more than their functional “title” – if they didn’t, they and or/ their firms would never be hired or, more importantly, re-hired.

    Applied IA, unlike the more textbook version of “pure” IA Sexton introduces, requires multiple dimensions of analysis, brand and web strategy, information architecture, interaction design, user research and usability evaluation, content strategy, etc., tailored to each client’s specific needs. Is in any business, there is no “one size fits all” solution to informing, persuading, etc., via the web, and an IA who hopes to succeed in the field had better have a broad sense of all related elements. After all, one cannot build a site out of context – no matter how well organized, it would be neither functional nor extensible.

    I think calling the role of persuasion out for creators and users of websites is a wonderful thing. I just would hope to see it a more constructive and well-informed context. Structure can, in fact, serve to enhance persuasion, particularly if used to drive or augment the “conversation.” This is a classes problem set for a “real” IA. Perhaps now that Sexton has scratched the surface, he is ready to take a more researched and well-informed approach? Let’s see the grown-up version of IA exposed.

  17. A very misleading article. Take a look at the existing term – “user experience” – and how it relates to IA. (as Tracy mentioned)

  18. wow .. er … perhaps you should take a look at this article mate for an update on IA today…

    its been ages since i’ve been on grok.. it’ll be ages till i go here again.

  19. Jeff,

    I was really torn when reading this article as to whether to simply ignore it as misguided and irrelevant; or to go through and argue the point. I was persuaded by others to take the latter course.

    I’ll start by echoing the disappointment expressed by Louis, Dave, Todd & Thomas: your understanding of IA as it is practiced is sorely lacking and your characterization of it is either sadly mistaken or deliberately misleading.

    I have several other points I’d like to make about your basic premise: firstly, the notion that providing structure and context for a potential customer during their site interaction is somehow antithetical to the sales process is nonsense. One of the fundamental goals of a good information architecture is to *support* those purchasing decisions. And that means providing appropriate and well-directed calls-to-action, which is a point of integration with marketing – not a point of conflict between the two.

    Secondly, how you can talk about a design approach that is focused on increasing conversion rates without any reference to consumer decision-making processes in digital environments, or how online product/service research influences offline purchasing behaviour seems beyond me.

    You also fail to discuss, at all, the concept of ‘conversations’ beyond the very narrow boundaries of the Web site in which the transaction occurs. For the past three or four years – at least – forward-thinking and progressive organizations have been extending the reach of their brand (the ‘real’ conversation) out into the lives of consumers in places like Twitter, second life, facebook, and other social environments.

    But perhaps the biggest failing of this editorial is lack of any reference to the business strategy or experience strategy that would serve as the unifying vehicle for *all* elements of the site design.

    Steve Baty

  20. I’ve chosen to look beyond the obviously out-of-date view of IA practice taken by the author. In doing so I see some merit in the core idea being presented here, that “the interactivity enabled by hyperlinks and Websites is more accurately viewed as a digital conversation” and “the goal of the Website’s architect is…to: Anticipate the flow of possible conversations and Provide the appropriate hyperlinks to allow visitors to steer the conversation in the direction they want it to go.” And the following bit about how one might steer this conversation has some value.

    If not buried by the rest of the (intentionally inflammatory?) text and blatant product plug, these core points might have made a good article. What a shame.

  21. You have expressed your experiences up frontly, I feel content context and user are the foundation for user experience

  22. I agree with Mr. Sexton that “the goal of the Website’s architect is not to ensure proper categorization of information.” No, this is not “the goal”; it is merely one of many tools skilled information architects use to improve conversion rates and increase customer satisfaction.

    Mr. Sexton, let me suggest that a site owner has one set of goals and site visitors have very different, goals. Good information architects make sure that both of these sets of these goals are successfully met. That’s because businesses will never achieve their strategic goals until site visitors can achieve their’s. We master the means that lead to the desired ends.

    The way information architects arrange, collect, and display information is a very strategic process indeed. Every play Scrabble, Mr. Sexton? Then you know that creating the words “tin” “iron” and “foam” will not produce as many points as laying down “information” using these very same letters.

    Alas, one wouldn’t know from reading the article, but persuasiveness and understanding the users have always been central tenants of information architecture.

    The first book on information architecture (1998), by Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville states on page 2 “The best web site producer is an experience consumer. You must become the toughest, most critical consumer of web sites you possibly can.”

    The second book on information architecture (2000), which I wrote, has a whole section on how to address the goals of your target audience(s) (persuasive content, simple navigation, etc.). And all of chapter 16 is devoted to helping site visitors achieve the “self-selection” you espouse.

    Although the first editions of both these books are now outdated in terms of specific suggestions, the overall observations regarding the ways and means of increasing conversion rates are as relevant today as they were a decade ago. (Note: the exceptionally primative idea of websites as “libraries” and “card catalogs” predate both of these works by a couple of years.)

    Happily, newer editions, articles, and presentations are now available, which also address the convergence of online and offline activities. Perhaps the editors of Future Now will give them a quick skim before publishing a sequel to this somewhat misinformed representation of our discipline.

  23. Jeff,

    well done. By going beyond the merely clueless well into the depths of the truly offensive, you have garnered comment from some of the smartest people I know.

    I think that they have been too polite. You have turned a butt-ugly salespitch hypothesis into a linkworthy article – thousands of people are going to link to this with “if you ever write anything like this I will never speak to you again”-style messages. One way to attract attention, but probably not sustainable in the long run.


  24. Quick review of online basics (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – August 15, 2008)…

    5 quick links showing the basics of online merchandising and SEO.

  25. First off, let me apologize to all who found my post offensive. It was certainly meant to be provocative, but it was never intended to be inflammatory.

    Of course the IA thought leaders understand IA correctly and are aware that my definition was deliberately narrow. The thought leadership within the field has moved well beyond library science. But in fact every day companies are sold BS under the guise of IA. It happens in search, usability, marketing and almost every other interactive discipline. The ideal is not always the practice and clients are frequently misled by this library conception of IA. My post was titled “When IA can fall short.” And it was meant to point out that IA can fall short precisely when logical structuring takes precedent over intuitive persuasion. Many of you know that FutureNow’s Persuasion Architecture has always played well together with IA since they are complimentary. We’ve presented Persuasion Architecture to many IA’s at UIE X and XI and they respected our complimentary approach to IA.

    Nevertheless, my (admittedly) quick and dirty analogy of IA to library science hit a sore spot among your community. So I think that’s the best place to start.

    Basically, commenter complaints break down into three main camps:

    o My definition was total crap and an offensive slur,
    o My definition was outdated/archaic,
    o My definition was a narrow textbook definition that doesn’t nearly cover the breadth of practices actually used in the field

    I feel that the incompatibilities (and commonalities) of these three responses say a lot. Let me start with the top two: either it was a bigoted, made up definition OR it was how the field once defined itself. It can’t be both. And if the definition is both outdated AND the official (narrow) textbook definition, isn’t that a problem – not just for you, but for businesses who are likely to misapply IA based on that definition?

    I challenge you to think introspectively for a moment – you may have moved ahead in broadening IA’s definition, but what are the customers perceptions? If IA is so broad that it’s whatever anyone who hangs an “IA For Hire” sign outside their home says it is, then what is it really?

    Trust me, my colleagues and I have had plenty of experiences with clients’ internal IA resources/employees whose operating definition was far closer to Library Science than user-centered design. So whose definition are we talking about?

    As for me, hey, I’m a marketer: I’ll take the market’s definition of IA as provided by Google. So go ahead and Google “define Information Architecture.” I think you’ll find the results line up far closer to library science than user-centered design. In fact, here are the two “official” definitions from Wikipedia (the number two entry):

    “Information architecture is defined by the R.I.P.O.S.E.[1] technique, developed in 1989 [2] as:
    o The conceptual structure and logical organisation of the intelligence of a person or group of people (organisations).
    Information architecture is defined by the Information Architecture Institute, founded 2002, as:
    o The structural design of shared information environments.
    o The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support findability and usability.
    o An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.”

    The bolding/emphasis is mine to draw your attention to the points I’m trying to make, but even without the bolding, it’s pretty self-evident that these definitions center around logical organization and labeling of information/content as a means of supporting findability and usability? As an admittedly quick and dirty analogy, is a library card catalogue that far off?

    My point is that there is a strongly logical bias to IA as it is commonly conceived of in the marketplace. Besides IA insiders, most people – even most web people – are affected by this bias towards the hierarchical structuring and labeling of content, and towards intentionality and usability. And this is a bias that pulls designers away from the more emotional, intuitive, and loosely associational flow of most buying conversations.

    The bottom line? IA has a marketing problem. And discussions like these – when they are allowed to rise to the level of discussion and dialogue – are a start at fixing this problem.

  26. Jeff,

    You said, “And if the definition is both outdated AND the official (narrow) textbook definition, isn’t that a problem – not just for you, but for businesses who are likely to misapply IA based on that definition?”

    The problem isn’t defining IA, it’s that you’ve used a narrow and inaccurate definition which you’ve still failed to cite. Additionally, you’ve provided no context or reference for this definition or view. It’s clearly not what IA is, which you would know if you had bothered to contact any thought leaders in the field.

    You said “[..]I’m a marketer: I’ll take the market’s definition of IA as provided by Google. So go ahead and Google “define Information Architecture.”

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

    Activities. See that? Yes, activities. IA is about organizing things to support a user’s/consumer’s activities, which could be any number of things. Again, if they can’t find it, you can’t persuade them.

    You said, “Trust me.”

    Didn’t your father ever teach you never to trust anyone who says “Trust me?” There’s a reason for that.

    You said, “IA has a marketing problem.”

    The problem isn’t IA marketing, it’s that you really don’t know what you’re talking about here and didn’t bother to check your very inaccurate view of IA. I could easily write an article called “How all marketing people lie.” I could fill it full of statements like “Trust me all of my colleagues know that marketing people lie.” Or maybe “Marketing people are the spawn of used car salesmen. And we all know what used car salesmen are like.”

    Is that an accurate description of marketing?

    You said, “Can we have some content that says how PA is different than IA, that it takes place before IA [...]?”

    Well, no, because PA is a subset of IA and IA takes place before PA. Once again, you can’t get PA w/o IA. You can have IA w/o PA.

    It’s articles like this that give marketers like yourself such a bad, slimy, misinformed, out of touch reputation.

    I believe marketing can be a very vital part picture. Unfortunately, marketing people tend to believe their own BS too often, as in the case here. There’s very little if anything at all that’s accurate about your view of IA.

    Next time, try doing some real research, then form an opinion. Don’t fall into the marketing research trap of forming an opinion then only seeking out information which supports, or simply making up information which supports that opinion. Opinions are to be informed by research, not the other way around.

  27. Jeff: I see my colleagues have zealously piled on here. I don’t want to make the pile heavier.
    I’ll just add this: the “marketing problem” you mention with IA is real. I think you overstate it in order to lend credence to your article, but yes — there are a lot of garden-variety folk out there who haven’t gotten beyond rudimentary thinking of what the IA field covers.
    1) Those of us in the field see articles like yours as merely exacerbating the problem you mention in your comment. If you’re aware of this disconnect, why not say in your article that “IA is more than library organization for the web … it also includes persuasive factors…?”
    2) It’s obvious that the reason you didn’t do (1) was because you’re also promoting your “Persuasion Architecture” service. Hey, it’s a free market … promote it all you want. But doing so at the detriment of an existing field will ruffle feathers.
    3) I agree: people in the IA community could do a better job of insinuating ourselves into the Marketing field, and engendering a better understanding of our work. Still… rubbing it in someone’s face just isn’t cricket.

    I’m tempted to say that my colleagues have overreacted here. And maybe they have. But what you may not be aware of is how many terribly misinformed, incompetent, snake-oil peddling “marketing experts” we run across in our work (present company excepted, of course). Many of us have blogs too … and it’s tempting to go on a rant about how Marketing Sucks because of our experiences with these poor representatives of the profession. But somehow we (usually!) manage to refrain from besmirching the whole Marketing field to further our own ends.

    So… just saying. From one professional to another: how about let’s keep it civil?


  28. Andrew,

    Thank you for very much for your comment and analysis. I especially appreciate your sentiment to “keep it civil,” which is why I have to agree with your first main point. I definitely should have written the post along the lines you propose, and if I could go back in time to do so, believe me I would! The very fact that I had to clarify things in a follow-up comment makes it pretty clear that I gooned-up the main post itself. So, yeah, mea culpa…

    That said, I’ll have to quibble with you about points 2 and 3. On the second point, I was certainly promoting Persuasion Architecture, but I was promoting the idea of PA – as well as the mindset behind PA – more than Future Now’s services. Businesses certainly don’t have to hire Future Now to take a more conversationally oriented approach to their Web design, and in fact Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg have gone out of their way to “give away” a tremendous amount of their content right here on this blog. So while the post and subsequent “discussion” went seriously awry, it’s not like the whole thing was nothing more than a thinly disguised sales piece.

    As for your third point, I actually think slamming marketers can be a healthy thing to do. I’d even go so far as to say that The Cluetrain Manifesto could fairly be characterized as one giant slam of marketing, and that Seth Godin has done a world of good by repeatedly slamming marketers. Not that I intended to “slam” IA, but calling attention to some of the nonsense done in any field – especially the nonsense that’s seen as part of the status quo – is usually a positive thing.

    At any rate, thanks again for your comment and for extending the olive branch. Really, you have no idea how much I appreciate it.


  29. Hilarious!!! Man o man this is a great discussion. More! Bravo!

  30. Hello Jeff,

    Wowsa, way to get the IA, ID and quite possibly all of the Muppets fired up. Those furry guys really dig categorization, labeling and sitemaps…especially sitemaps because then they get to retrofit arcane tools like Visio into unintended functionality.

    Unlike my brethren, I am not going to argue your premise although I do believe that it is limited in its scope. I would however caution you on your use of Persuasive Architecture. You see, I’m a little ahead of you on this curve having delved into the idea of information architecture as an art of persuading the visitor to using structuring tools to better navigate information spaces. You will find reference to my presentation here [].

    It seems that we were both trumped by Bryan Eisenberg in 2003 with his well received presentation, Persuasive Architecture: Waiting for Your Cat to Bark,” at the 2003 Information Architecture Summit []. Evidently, Mr. Eisenberg has patented all variants of “persuasion” as he kindly informed me in a generous and friendly “cease and desist” email which I did and encourage you to do also.

    I checked and found that the term “incentive” was still free and clear and adopted that to describe my thinking. You will find my presentation file on Incentive Architecture here [].

    When all is said and done, your post is provocative and extreme. It has galvanized the information architecture community into a cohesive unit and that is no small feat. For that, I thank you and offer a small piece of free advice with the admonition that “free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.” Change your title and reference to something else or get good lawyers and extend your thinking beyond the idea of the Web as solely a marketing tool. It is really all about search, something that you neglected entirely. Perhaps in your next post?

  31. Hi Jeff,

    I wanted to make a couple of suggestions and I wanted to ask you to considering taking on a task.

    First and foremost, the Infomation Architecture Institute offers a really good mentoring program. I’d like to suggest that you consider joining the IAI ( and signing up for the program. Depending upon your goals with IA, the right mentor could be found for you and could really help you grow your knowledge on the topic / in the field.

    Also, I noticed that you put this out there in response to Andrew Hinton:

    ” I definitely should have written the post along the lines you propose, and if I could go back in time to do so, believe me I would! The very fact that I had to clarify things in a follow-up comment makes it pretty clear that I gooned-up the main post itself. So, yeah, mea culpa…”

    Instead of going back in time, could you move forward in time and write this post? I realize you want to be provocative, but couldn’t you draw a lot less ire and potentially admiration and respect by doing just that?

    I do not believe that any of my colleagues have any desire to take you to task on the topic–they’re all the kind of people who would be very open to applauding and supporting someone who either “gets it” or makes an effort to do so.

    One last thing: The people who have offered commentary on this single posting are the same names that any of the rest of us in the industry would be floored to be in the same room with. I think you would be hard-pressed to find that in a lot of other industries, and I think you should realize that they really want you to be accurate in the information you put out there.

    Please capitalize on that opportunity.

  32. Jeff: I feel compelled to point out that a link to your minimum-100-grand service page makes your article a plug for that service, whether you meant it to be or not. Setting up a site where you publish articles that subtly (or not so subtly) link to your services business is a time-tested example of persuasive IA — consulting companies have been doing it for years. (It puzzles me that, being an expert in this approach, it isn’t more clear to you?) Other than that, I won’t go into quibbles about quibbles.
    Here’s what I wish this article had done: pointed out that responsible & expert Information Architecture practice takes business goals (such as conversion rates) into account, and should not be a mere ordering of content; that one should be careful of anyone claiming to “do IA” who doesn’t understand this element of the work (unless of course all you need is some expertly ordered content where there’s no sales job to be done). Then, of course, promote your proprietary approach to the persuasion side of IA all you want!
    Of course, it’s not my site, and it’s not my article. But I think that approach would’ve been much more accurate.
    I won’t bother you here any further, I promise! Take care.

  33. You guys are funny.

    I went to the Information Architecture Institute web site as suggested by Russ U.

    At first, I could find no definition of IA that didn’t require me to download a f’ing PDF file. Then, to find out if I am an IA, I must download another PDF file with 17 questions followed by 14 bullet points leading to more resources available on the site. (BTW…if answering yes to those 17 questions makes me an IA, you should consider raising the bar.)

    Guess what’s missing? LINKS! If an IA can’t tell me what IA is without requiring me to download a file, why should I be interested? If an IA can’t at least embed links in the stupid PDF file, why should I care about the wonderful resources in your library? Who needs a mentor to tell them how to botch up a simple search for a definition?

    So, I went to the “about us” page. Lots of people put good information on their about us page (when they can’t figure out anything better to do with it).

    At the bottom of the page, there’s a link to the IAWiki, a collaborative, open discussion space for the topic of information architecture. CLICK. Address not Found! The IA pros have a broken wiki.

    When I go back to see what it was that I clicked on, it was gone, replaced by another partner spotlight.

    Yes, on their own “About Us” page, they feature content that is never the same on a subsequent visit. I was confused at first, until I figured out what they were doing. They rotate their people and partners apparently to give equal face time on the page…an internal business/marketing goal. This doesn’t help a visitor reach their objective at all….at least not me.

    Finally, on a sub-nav of the about us page, I found “Our Mission”. There was actually some informative information here.

    Point is, based on what all you IAs are telling Jeff, you should know how to do this stuff without requiring me to download PDFs, click on broken links and try to figure out why the person who was on the “about us” page a minute ago has been replaced.

    Methinks ya’ll doth protest too much.

    Have a look at your own sites before ripping into Jeff. At least Future Now has made it perfectly clear what Persuasion Architecture is and isn’t. Their web site is simple. They have been blogging about the concept for a long time. Their books are bestsellers. Even taking a pot-shot at the price is a little childish. At least they tell you the price without trying to do exploratory surgery on your wallet first. If you can’t afford it, buy the book, read the blog, download the whitepapers, attend a class, go to a seminar.

    Ummm…did you notice? It’s their blog. Of course you should expect marketing messages about PA.

    I could have a go at the other IA sites mentioned here, but I normally charge for this kind of crack analysis.

    Nice job Jeff!
    Great conversation starter.

  34. I forgot some disclosure: I occasionally cobble together posts for Grokdotcom. I have also been making my living as a Persuasion Architect for almost 5 years, licensing the methodology from Future Now.

    Oh yeah, Jeff Sexton is a good friend.

  35. Russ,

    I think your idea of a follow up post is very much warranted. Of course, I hope you’ll understand my desire to put additional background reading and private conversations between this article and the next one.

    And that brings up an interesting point. You are right, Russ, there are indeed some heavyweights who have commented on this article, many with published books on IA. So here are my questions:

    If a 1999 or even 2002 definition of IA is archaic, then at what point did IA transform itself? And what was the transformation, or transformations, called? How current should a book be for it to reflect reasonably current IA thinking and practice?


  36. @Jeff since you’re familiar with the Internet age and how rapidly it changes, I’m sure you can understand how a near decade old definition/description is no longer accurate.

    IA, like marketing, is continually evolving and adapting itself to the needs of the industry. And it will continue to do so. The most recent book I’m aware of is the 3rd Edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, which is close to 2 years old. Perhaps there will be a 4th edition in the coming years?

  37. Todd,

    I think there’s a difference between an evolutionary or adaptive change and a fundamental transformation. We’re not talking about a change in technique or technology here, but a change in aims or goals. The WWW may change rapidly, but people generally don’t. So one’s aims in fostering human-computer interaction might reasonably be expected to remain more stable than say, the latest programming language du jour.

    According to the IA’s commenting on this piece, there HAS been a shift in aims and goals for the practice of Information Architecture, so about when did this shift take place?


  38. The transition happened before 2001 as by late 2001 that definition was out of date. Much of what you are describing as persuasive architecture was already being used in workshops and presentations as best practices in late 2001 as well. In emergent field and disciplines best practices can surface and be embraced in a year or so. I think the timeframe you are looking for is 2000 to 2001.

    There was a lot of growing and deep thinking that took place from late 2001 to 2004 or so as the pace of projects and work slowed down. The slow down allowed for a lot of discussion, deconstructing, and working through what works best. The focus on the user and putting information and interactions in their terms is an old concept and one that was quickly seen as the best way forward. This caught on in IA before 1999, but had wide spread adoption in 2001.

    With emergent disciplines things do change rapidly, far more rapidly than the programming language of the day. For the most part much of IA has solidified in the past three years or so. For many people IA is a good starting foundation for their much broader work in user experience, interaction design, and social interaction design. Between 2000 and 2006 the IA world was making giant leaps in discovery and understanding, but so were many other related web disciplines. Looking not only at the Information Architecture book from Morville and Rosenfeld, but books like About Face their content (pages) grew dynamically, but so did the breadth and depth of subjects covered. The knowledge of the professions and fields have grown exponentially. The focus of all of this was focussing on the persons using the services and their needs for finding, refinding, using, and reusing the information as they need in their lives. Ease of use and ease of finding is core to the principals of IA and related fields. As best as possible putting the information in the terms of the people using the services and sites has been the best practice for many many years (since 2001 or earlier). Embracing the broad contexts and perceptions is at the core of this understanding as well.

  39. @Jeff I’m not sure I see how this is a fundamental transformation. IA has always been about helping people find stuff. Organizing the stuff makes it easier to find. That’s at the core of IA and I’d imagine it always will be. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t evolve over time to serve new business and customer goals.

    I think if you went back and familiarized yourself with some of the stable IA resources many of us have mentioned, you’d see that the aims and goals have always been there — know the business goal, know the customer goal, organize information accordingly.

    To summarize, there HASN’T been a shift in aims and goals. That’s what we’ve been saying — there’s no dramatic shift, it’s always been there.

  40. Transition!=Fundamental Transformation

  41. Hi Jeff,
    All of the fields of user experience are young (or have been re-born in a young body) and b/c of that like a teenager or tween has identity issues. Even 15 years into the Internet revolution I believe the “foundation” of user experience practice and theory is far from dry. The unsettled shifting landscape of technologies, practices, theories, and business models makes it very very difficult for any discipline in this sphere to “find itself”.

    Is this a problem? Maybe. but it is also an advantage. What it has led to is the creation of several communities that have been really good at creating practitioners who “find the hole”. But this practice of finding holes and filling them have led to the problem of further clouding our definitions. I.e. many IAs find themselves in the position of doing market strategy, or elements of market strategy. Are they marketing experts, no? But they do that. They also do programming (coding), project management, business analysis, usability testing, visual design, etc. etc. What this process has done is create a community where the people have many more skills than the core discipline that drew them together.

    Why go into all this? I think it explains at least my reaction to the article. The visceral reaction of many of us is to defend the community we’ve built around the title of this discipline. I actually, don’t carry the IA title myself, but I do a lot of IA from the position of interaction designer, but i have always understood my co-relationship to the community and to the discipline of IA like I do with industrial design, visual design, and usability.

    What are you are trying to do in this article is very political for some reason and I’m not sure why. It feels like to me, and I hope I am wrong, is that you are attempting to demonize one community to begin to establish your own. Many in IA have accused me of doing the same thing (inaccurately of course) in my endeavors around creating the interaction design community.

    In this case what is worse is that much of what you are describing as PA is really part and parcel of what IAs are already doing (per Thomas’ point above). If it was something we weren’t doing and you were taking us to task for it, I might be like, OK, makes sense, thanx! But you are putting out misinformation about a very broad global community of practice, and telling the world to stop using IAs, when you can use PAs instead?

    What would be more gracious and accommodating is an approach whereby you invite IAs to learn from you, and in turn they exchange for what they can teach you. Many marketing people come to UX events such as the IA Summit, the IxDA conference, UPA, etc. to engage and to learn.

    For example another person who speaks about “Persuasion” under the title of Captology, BJ Fogg, was a Keynote at the IA Summit a few years ago. (

    What I REALLY don’t like about the article is that you are comparing in essence a broad global practice that spans 1000′s of practitioners with so much variety to YOUR practice.

    A comparison in my world would be if Alan Cooper (Author of About Face among others) would stand up and say Goal Directed Design (his titled methodology for interaction design) is now “Behavior Design” and everyone practicing interaction design is evil.

    What universities is PM taught in? Where is the community of practice beyond your blog and those who “license” (ick!) your methods? Where is the rigor of critique that exists within discourse, peer-review, and other elements that exist within almost any creative or business discipline.

    In the end, if anything PA is a type of IA or a marketing driven approach to user experience, but is not a substitute for the broader disciplines and communities of practice surrounding IA or UX.

    PA may be great by the way. but I now have such a sour taste in my mouth from this, that well, I’ve been persuaded by you to not engage in any further discussion or education around it. hmmm?

  42. Wow. I’m not sure who’s Biff and who’s McFly, or what era I’m in, but I feel like I just went back to the future and my arm is disappearing in the Polaroid.

    Is this the best way to win friends and influence people, let alone persuade them?

    Trust me, I’m not sure.

  43. Jeff,
    I can honestly say I don’t know when anyone or anything has stirred up a group so completely. The people that have jumped in here are some of the brightest in the field.

    And with that said, they are all right. You’ve missed the mark so completely and by so much it’s gone from being funny to being pathetic.

    I sincerely hope you know more about marketing then you do about IA. If not you’ve got a long hard and hungry road ahead.

    Maybe next time you can write an article on inadequacy?

  44. I think the worst thing a site can do is get you into a funnel with no way out except for your back button. A lot of newer sites still do that.

  45. Let me be the first to come to the defense of Library Science which was also unfairly maligned. Librarians and libraries have also evolved over the past, oh, say 2500 years. Libraries and librarians exist to serve a purpose, not to organize information for organization’s sake. It includes “how information resources are organized to serve the needs of select user groups, how people interact with classification systems and technology, how information is acquired, evaluated and applied by people in and outside of libraries as well as cross-culturally.” (Wikipedia entry for Library Science). Frankly, no other information-related discipline can hold a candle.

  46. what dedim acıgöl radyo site now line glesi

  47. librarians exist to serve a purpose, not to organize information for organization’s sake. It includes “how information resources are organized to serve the needs of select user groups, how people interact with classification systems and technology, hayır acigol fm four site fayt hayt

  48. online and hayır acigol fm four site to not engage in have such a sour taste in my mouth from this, that well, I’ve been persuaded by you classification systems and technology, any further address the convergence of discussion offline activities. Perhaps the editors of Future

Add Your Comments


Print this Article

Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

More articles from Jeff Sexton

Marketing Optimization Blog
FREE Newsletter Sign-Up
send it once every: