Interview: Georgina Hibberd, The University of Sydney’s Senior Information Architect

June 10th, 2005 Karine Joly 2 Comments

Senior Information Architect at The University of Sydney (yes, Australia – it’s a world-wide blog ;-), Georgina Hibberd fell in the Web just after graduating from her alma mater in English literature. At UOS, she works for the Acting Director of Communications and Community Affairs, but works very closely with the Web Services, which reports to the CIO. She is responsible for the information architecture of the 4000-page main UOS website, maintained with the content management system Interwoven Teamsite, as well as a number of other websites. Georgina also maintains a great blog for her community: Templatedata.

1) What’s your background? What did you do before becoming a higher ed web pro?

My educational background is in Arts, specifically English literature.
I worked in administration at the University of Sydney after I finished my degree. I was required to learn html, build and maintain a website as part of this job. I didn’t know how so I quickly taught myself and began my life as a self-taught ‘web-person’. From there I moved on to work as a ‘content officer’ on the University intranet, then as the University web editor and I am now the Senior Information Architect. I fell into web work I guess, it wasn’t something I ever considered doing as a career, mainly because the web was still quite embryonic when I finished Uni. I spent a lot of time surfing the web years ago and thus became quite well-versed in what works and what doesn’t. I became quite passionate about usability and good design. My first love remains literature though so I am satisfying that with postgraduate research.

2) What’s your biggest achievement as a higher ed web pro?

I think there are two things that I would consider large achievements.
The first would be playing a large part in the redesign of the University website that went live in 2003. I began work on a design, basically in isolation, in 2002. My boss encouraged me to persist with it, even though we knew it really should have been part of a larger project. I had never designed a large site before and I had to learn a lot of things on the run. I was on maternity leave when it went live and I was stunned to see the bulk of my design still there. Of course, that was 3 years ago and I can now see the problems with the design and am working on a new one!

The second thing leads from the first. In the process of designing the site, my boss and I managed to convince a lot of people that there was value in putting effort into the architecture of the site. At the time very few people here knew what information architecture was, now most clients our group works with have a basic understanding and can appreciate the need for it. To see this shift across the organization has been wonderful.

3) What’s the most difficult part of your job?

I think it’s the lack of understanding a lot of people have about how much work goes into a website, both before and after it goes live.
There is still a belief that web sites can be completely redesigned the day before they are due to go-live. I also find it difficult when content is not factored into a website development. You would find it surprising how many people think that once a site is launched that is where the work ends. Quality content is still something of a pipe-dream. I always try to tell people that even brilliant designs fail without quality content.

4) In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge we face as web pros in our industry?

In Australia at least I think it’s a general lack of resources for all facets of web development. The technical side of things is covered but the content and design areas are always afterthoughts. They are not considered to be areas where there is a need for a specialist, or even anyone at all, so they often fail to live up to expectations.
This is slowly changing but I think the challenge for web pros is to find ways to adapt to this and try and make small changes in people’s thinking over time.

5) Any good advice to share with your fellow higher ed web pros?

Don’t expect that web work is going to be the same as out in the ‘real world’. Multitasking and multiple skills are very important. If you can add a couple of extra strings to your bow it will help both you and your organization. You have to be ready to accept new challenges even if they are no in your job description! Oh, and read everything you can get your hands on and use the web. A lot.

6) What about a couple of good links?

  • Column Two
    Good for an Australian perspective on IA, content management, usability plus many other things.
    I use it for research, for all sorts of things. I don’t know how I lived without it.
  • WebFYI
    Another higher ed web blog.

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