This is an actual conversation I’ve had a couple times:
Them: “What do you do for work?”
Me: “I’m a Program Manager at a web company.”
Them: “Oh, so you’re a Manager.”
Me: “No, not exactly.”
Them: “Then you’re a Programmer.”
Me: “Not exactly. I’m actually more like a…”
At that point I’d often try a variety of metaphors, none of which really conveyed the true sense of what I did (nor were they all that glamorous), “translator”, “middleman”, “interface”, “coordinator”. Somewhat sadly, “middleman” is probably the closest. I’m in between the business folk and the tech folk and I make sure they both understand each other. And then sometimes I throw in the exciting point that I write documentation to achieve this communication from the business to the engineers. I “manage” the “program”. I always hated saying that, but it’s true. We wrangle all the folk together, make sure they’re talking, sticking to the things that the business requested, and figuring out how it’ll all fit with the way the website/product/whatever currently exists. Of course the roles can be drastically different depending on where you are. And that’s without even throwing in the other PMs; Product Management, and Project Management.
And now I have to figure out a whole new awkward spiel about what I do, when I now say, “I’m an Information Architect”. I’ll babble about how it’s organizing the information, and features in a product to best fit the user’s needs, and how it involves user research, testing, and getting inside the mind of the user. I’ll have to borrow some of the explanation from the good Wikipedia entry on Information Architecture. I may not even need a metaphor for what I do, since a pretty good one is already in the title; “Architect.” Reversing the title in the same way and saying that I “architect” the “information” is pretty close to it. But for the sake of confusion, try sorting out the fuzzy lines between: Interaction Design, Interface Design, Product Design, Experience Design, User Experience Design, Usability Engineer and Information Architecture.
There are plenty of common cross-industry jobs that are much easier to understand. A Sales-person is a Sales-person. A General Manager is a General Manager. An Accountant is an Accountant.
Do you find yourself in a position where it’s tough to explain? How does the conversation usually go? Any good metaphors?