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IA vs IxD vs UX

Joshua Lane / / 6 Comments

Okay, this isn’t going to be a very lengthy post… or one that’s all that well thought out… but I wanted to get it down before I forgot it. Anyways, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the work I’ve been doing at Urban Outfitters and what “label” it falls under. It’s also a question I get quite often (“what do you do there if it’s not just web design?”). So, with that in mind, I think I’ve come to understand the following…

Information Architecture (IA)

Information Architecture is pretty straightforward. Ultimately, it’s about organizing and prioritizing the information that will appear on a website (hierarchies, grouping of elements, structuring content, etc). And the final deliverable should be a pretty “basic” and easy-to-understand wireframe.

Interaction Design (IxD)

The best way I’ve been able to sum up Interaction Design is that it is “Blueprinting User Behavior”. It’s a combination of Information Architecture and Storyboarding. You tend to do the basic set of IA wireframes, but then add a set of storyboards to map out how users will interact with various features on the site. You may also even do some html prototyping of the interactive elements on the site just to get a “feel” for how these pieces will work.

User Experience Design (UX)

To me, UX Design is the PINNACLE of web design work. It not only encompasses Information Architecture and Interaction Design (and of course good old web design), but also Marketing, Copy, Branding, Customer Service, etc, etc. It’s everything that a user interacts with, and centered around (or related to) your website. So, for example, let us suppose you are shopping at an online store… and let us suppose you are buying something. From the order confirmation emails – to the copy on the site – to the design & features – to the way the product is packed and shipped… they ALL make up parts of User Experience Design. It’s A LOT to think about, plan for, and coordinate.

So, where does my work for Urban Outfitters fit in? Honestly, I’m still not sure. But my best guess (at this point) is 1/3 User Experience Design, 1/3 Web Design, and 1/3 Front-End Development.

Comments Abound

Delightful thoughts & feedback about this article

Dan Mall /

Maybe you could make a fancy new title for yourself that encompasses all 3: Joshua Lane, Uxidia.

Joshua Lane /

Uxidia? Kinda sounds like an STD… or an exotic island paradise.

cody lindley /

Nice read! Reminds me of my own thoughts on the subject several years ago.

Justin Dickinson /

Hey Joshua. Long time reader, first (maybe second or third) time commenter. Nice article, there is a certain level of sensitivity in these titles and it’s nice to see them get some more exposure.

I’m curious (and afraid this question will expose me as a casual reader of the site), how long have you been working for UO? Did you have input into the way their current site looks/feels? Obviously you have some due to this post, but I’m wondering to what extent. It’s a kick-ass site that I’m really impressed with from a Uxidia (lol) perspective and wanted to give you some props.

Ryan Nichols /

Hi Joshua. This is a good post. I felt the same way you did about doing a lot of different types of design and working out what to call them.

However, for an Information Architect their deliverable is not necessarily, and often should not, be a wireframe. IA is more closely related to library sciences than anything else – simply the taxonomy and categorization of information. If an IA is working on a large website, the sitemap, or content inventory is more the primary deliverable for that. They may also perform card sorting exercises to work out the taxonomy ect. While an IA may make wireframes – since many of us engage in more than just one of these disciplines – it’s only pure IA if the function of wireframing is only to show how information should be grouped and to show the taxonomy of the information.

Interaction Designers are designing how a human interacts with the system, and how the system responds to the user over the course of their experience. They most definitely would deliver wireframes or prototypes to show how the interaction would take place. Deciding on placement and usage of controls, flows charts detailing how a user moves through the system to accomplish tasks, ect. I would not say it is a combination of IA though – they are very different. An IxD may ALSO do IA as part of their responsibility, but the pure act of IxD is more about behavior than organization. In other words, an IA can work on a completely static kiosk screen. An IxD only becomes involved when a user interacts with the software.

For UXD I wouldn’t attribute marketing, copy, or branding all under User Experience Design. Thats a very loose interpretation of it. UXD is just a generic term that encompasses the other disciplines (including others not mentioned like user research, or usability). So if you are an IxD, your are a part of designing the UX. However the first concern of someone involved in the UXD is the user. Marketing, copy, branding, and the other items are all disciplines that are not user focused at their core – they have other concerns that they operate from.

Sounds like your having a good time at UO though, and are able to do a lot of different types of design!

Joshua Lane /

Hi Ryan, thanks for the clarifications!!

I was working with a lot of basics & generalities in my post and didn’t expand on them as much as I probably should have ;)

By the way, I’ve always been a big fan of your Apples to Oranges work! I noticed on your contact form you’re in San Francisco? I just moved there about two months ago. Loving it so far :)

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