An information architect creates blueprints for your website. Here are some tips in selecting the right person to handle your website redesign.
1. Since the information architect will communicate with your customers, listen for 'geek speak.' This way you can identify technical website architects from an information architect who will organze and label rather than write code. Once the blueprint is completed, the information architect will hand it off to the designer, but stay around for the entire redesign project to make sure the plan is executed properly. Unfortunately, too often web designers don't have much business savvy, nor do they understand SEO or information architecture. Information architecture precedes both design and coding.
2. Information architects conduct usability tests to determine how effectively people complete a task on your site. They don't discover just how people do things, but why they do them. Moreover, the information architect condusts tests with your target audience on mock-ups of the blueprints they are developing, since when you test labeling and placement on a blueprint, it is far less expensive to make changes than on the final completed website. They're also testing prioritization, so it fits your customers' expectations and needs, not the just the marketer's idea.
3. Finally, watch out for people who are addicted to search engine algorithms - 'algo-holics.' Algorithms change, but you want your site based on firm principles that don't change. To spot such people, listen for the phrase 'SEO architecture.' You don't architect a site for a search engine; you plan it for people.
Shari Thurow is the founder of Omni Marketing Interactive (www.search-usability.com), a full-service firm offering clients web design, search engine optimization, information architecture, and usability. This interview was recorded at the SES Conference in San Francisco, August 17, 2011.