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Killing the Slash

A hypothetical cocktail party conversation about labeling people when doing great work is all you’re really after.

Setting: Every conference cocktail party this year… nerds everywhere, afraid of advertisers.

Awesome Person willing to talk to Advertiser #1: Abby, I understand this whole User Experience thing you have going on at Draftfcb & the whole future of Advertising thing — but your twitter handle is Abby the IA which stands for Information Architecture, so what’s the deal? Which are you?

Abby preferably after first drink consumed:
Great observation! You are not the first person to bring this up — in fact people have joked that since taking the job at Draftfcb I should become Abby_the_UX.

So to your point, what is the difference between UX and IA? I must be honest; it feels like this industry’s favorite thing to argue about these days. But here is my take:

In considering a specific label there are many historical, personal and political things to take into consideration… including the consequences of leaving it unanswered. Luckily, at Draftfcb, we began to see hints of a world where these labeling questions continued to go unanswered and we decided to define the damn thing.

  • Recruiters, managers and HR people started appending all the titles together: “Now looking for Senior UX/IA/IXD Designers”
  • Clients started using whichever one they encountered first or just plain made sh*t up: my personal favorite still stands as “User-ability Designer”
  • Co-workers learned based on email signatures — but still got it wrong at least once a week: Favorite here was for sure “Abby is our user planning guress”

Regardless of the industry position, we as an organization needed consistency to truly integrate ourselves. We needed a story to believe in as it came out of our mouths easily and confidently. We needed to stop pushing off, bolting on, and ignoring one of the most basic human truths: People are distrustful of uncertainty.

Abby steps off soapbox as a second awesome person enters the conversation.

Awesome Person willing to talk to Advertiser #2: OMG, my co -workers and clients are always calling me “this” slash “that” and making shit up too. How did you combat it? How did you pick one vs. the other?

Abby: Well, to be honest … I was lucky enough to have smart people thinking about it. And as when implementing taxonomy anywhere else, you start by listing what you know.

#1: To meet the needs of our integrated advertising model, we knew we needed people who could:

  • keep up with users who have become more savvy and whose technological abilities have increased dramatically along with their expectations.
  • organize more complex information across more channels than ever before
  • make sure users find and interact with usable and useful experience regardless of entry point or channel
  • inspire teams to assure a positive brand perception
  • increase ongoing engagement and brand loyalty
  • do all while keeping in mind “speed to market”, “in flux budgeting”, “digital start-up mindset” and the “race for the middle”

Abby takes deep breath and gulp …

#2 We also knew that there was a clear white space in the Agency for a new breed that could:

  • Change the way our clients think, our designers’ design, and our writers write to better integrate user centric principles.
  • Assist teams in wrangling the complexity of designing initiatives across channels including broadcast, print, out-of-home, in-store, digital signage, paid media, earned media, mobile and owned media.
  • Understand a vast array of design best practices, processes and deliverables and how to right size process for any given client situation
  • Devour complex information, turning it into usable, inspirational documents for building consensus, clarifying the unclear and ultimately for producing a usable experience for end users.
  • Follow our brands to assure that each decision and recommendation is made with the end-user in mind.

With all that listed out, calling this role “Information Architecture” felt forced, not complete and not fully representative.

So “User Experience” became our umbrella label for our collection of tools and process. User Experience seemed to have the philosophy behind it that we wanted.

It just felt right.

Awesome Person willing to talk to Advertiser #2: “So how do you sit in the organization? I mean User Experience can go in so many places. Production, Creative, all on its’ own…

Abby: Right that was next, the matter of a cultural placement within the agency and applying a role descriptor: User Experience _____? Designer? Architect?

After considering several placements and role descriptors to match, Draftfcb ultimately landed on placing User Experience within the Strategic Planning phylum – adopting the classes of Associate Planner, Planner, and Senior Planner.

This was a decision made to not only leverage the natural order of agency tension that the Strategic Planning group had with the creative teams, but also ultimately because of the like-mindedness with the group’s philosophy and goals. The more we talked about it, the more Strategic Planning had great parallels with the User Experience world.

Awesome Person willing to talk to Advertiser #1: Wow, I don’t know anything about Strategic Planners. What do they do?

Abby: Well to be honest, they are the UX people of the Ad world. They are looked to in order to understand the consumer and best reach them. During my short time in the agency world, I have found that Strategic Planners:

  • serve as change agents
  • deal cross-channel at a strategic level
  • collect tools and tricks from a variety of industries and practices
  • are seen as consensus builders, fire starters and ultimately providers of shared inspiration for the production of something to be shared with users

Sound familiar? Almost too perfect.

We heart Planners and they heart UX back.

So we decided to experiment with the idea of extending the reach of the Strategic Planner even further into the emergent digital side of an integrated agency.

And Boom! The User Experience Planner: Aiming to take the Strategic Planner from the traditional agency model and arm them with the tools of Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Content Strategy, Usability and Social Experience Design.

Awesome Person #1 & #2 in Unison: Wow, I want that job.


Awesome, we are hiring.