At a somewhat casual information architecture event put on by NYC-CHI at Remote Lounge on the Bowery last night, I heard the featured speakers — a recruiter, an “information design consultant,” information architecture managers from Organic, Avenue A/Razorfish and Hot Jobs — give their views on ‘What’s going on with I.A. in New York.’ Their comments were fairly illuminating, but I balked when one of them mentioned that he’d seen some under-qualified I.A.s charge as much as US$125 per hour and some over-qualified I.A.s charge as little as US$75 per hour. The last bit, he said almost in a scoffing manner, and the audience, twenty or thirty I.A.’s from all over the city, seemed to nod in agreement — US$75 is way too little.
I did a little math on my friend’s calculator and at that rate, an I.A. would earn US$156,000 per year, which, to me, is nothing to brush off. Even assuming that, as a freelancer billing hourly, an I.A. would work only two-thirds of the year, that would still work out to about US$117,000 for a nine-month work year. If you know of a position that pays that much and allows me to summer in the Hamptons, please let me know immediately. I’m warming up Visio right now.
When it came time for the Q & A, I put this question to the panelists, trying to make sure we were all talking about the real reality, the one in which my bank account resides. Did these panelists really think that a buck and a half a year was chump change in a still-recovering economy? They demurred a bit and then qualified their statements, saying that those figures referred to contract work which naturally pays higher rates in order to accommodate for irregular work, and didn’t necessarily translate to a full-time, salaried position.
Still, I maintain that there was the distinct implication in the room that US$75 was on the low-end, and if I go back to my argument that working that low end for nine months is still a sweet deal. If my dismissive tone implies bad faith on their part, it’s not meant to. I’m sure they intended nothing deceptive, and when pressed, at least one of them admitted that he would never pay as much as US$125 per hour, and that his hiring budgets allow for salaries around US$70,000. Much more realistic.
I’m all for everyone earning as much as they possibly can, but at Behavior we consider US$75 a very healthy rate, and it made me shudder to think of a pool of I.A. candidates walking into our offices with the idea that if we don’t pay at least in that ballpark then we’re cheapskates.
It’s Lonely (and Lucrative) at the Top
But I wasn’t trying to be an asshole just for the monetary interests of my design studio. What really bugged me was the idea that these selected speakers, who were ostensibly giving their impressions on the state of the I.A. economy, were unintentionally creating a narrow and inflationary mindset among their peers. In recounting their recent projects, the majority of them were in service to Fortune 1,000 corporations — companies with huge budgets to spend on massively complex information systems. Companies that can perhaps afford to pay high-end rates.
In essence, we were listening to the state of information architecture from the perspective of the elite. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it seemed to exclude a significant segment of the industry trying to make usable systems for companies with limited budgets. In describing what’s happening in information architecture in New York today, it seemed like the practice has become a tool intended only for improving the fortunes of large companies. Small studios sometimes can’t convince a client of the wisdom of adding an I.A. to a project, and it’s not for lack of trying. How come I didn’t hear anything about that last night?