Information Architecture = What it Looks Like

I’ve introduced the Innovation Design Model I’ve been working on for some time. Following that introduction I’ve been posting my notes to show how I arrived at the model. So far I’ve shared my notes on task analysis, circumstance analysis, and gamification analysis. This post is dedicated to information architecture and how it centers around what your product looks like. In previous posts I have shared the Innovation Design Model list of elements. Here is that list again:

  • (Ta) Task analysis centers around what makes sense.
  • (Ca) Circumstance analysis centers around decision-making.
  • (Ga) Gamification analysis centers around user engagement.
  • (Ia) Information architecture centers around what [your product] looks like.
  • (Id) Interaction design centers around what [your product] feels like.
  • (Ua) Usability is concerned with what [your product] does.

Information architecture, like all other UX disciplines, is complex and cannot easily be simplified. Like other UX disciplines, there are a number of definitions out there to choose from. The definition I offer is a simplified combination. (Ia) Information architecture is the art and science of organizing data to support usability. Here we are concerned with the organization of data based on the results from the work done by task analysis, circumstance analysis, and gamification analysis. The following are some of the UX activities Information Architects are responsible for:

(Uf) User flows show the path and actions the user takes through boxes and arrows diagram illustrations. They answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions and present ‘if, then’ situations. This kind of illustration gives the viewer an understanding of what the user is intending to do along the path. User flows also allow the Information Architect to create screens that support those needed actions and enable the team to understand the big picture.

(Tx) Taxonomy describes a grouping of labels that span out like a tree. Some of the labels are implicit and not visible to the user while others are explicit and visible. You can find taxonomies in every field, from medical practice to law and others.

(Sb) Storyboards are quick drawings that represent the experience in subsequent order. These tell the story succinctly and allow the team to understand the product.

(Wf) Wireframes are the blueprints that the product will be based on. The ultimate goal is to create the structural environment in which the content will be presented.

(Cs) Content strategy helps Information Architects understand what’s possible in terms of content. The typical questions you would answer to work out a content strategy are specific to: the kind of content, text, video, image, etc.; how much of that content exists and where it might live; where the content will be authored; and who specifically is responsible for it.

You can gather from these UX activities that task analysis continues in information architecture. But here, task analysis is geared towards the organization and presentation of information within the product whereas previous task analysis work was focused on what kind of product makes sense. Let’s follow the Innovation Design Model concept to further clarify:

  1. Task Analysts have deduced from their research that a particular user need is not satisfied properly and bring a product idea to the table.
  2. Circumstance Analysts reviewed the current circumstance and approved the idea as feasible.
  3. Gamification Analysts then looked at the product idea and followed user activities, and connections to others, to identify feasible engagement strategies that would make the product successful.
  4. Next, the Information Architect follows the product concept, from the user’s perspective, to determine what it looks like;  that is, it has the appearance of the product.
  5. Then, following the Information Architect, the Interaction Designer will further refine the product.

As you can see from the Innovation Design Model concept, Information Architecture is only one discipline within the product design process. Therefore, at the Information Architecture phase the most we can expect is what a product looks like.

It’s not necessary for an Information Architect to create all of the artifacts from the UX activities listed above. Experienced teams can hop around UX activities to use their time wisely. But, because this is the organization and structure phase, you don’t want to be wrong. Also, I have found that clients are better able to visualize and understand the product if you can show them a complete experience. How I do this is by creating a complete experience in user flow format. I then narrow the experience using storyboards. From there, I create wireframes of key screens. I find it easier to think through content strategy from wireframes so as many wireframes as you need to work out content strategy is as many as you should create.

In this post I have presented a group of UX activities that are specifically geared towards an organization and structure mental model. I’ve presented the overall process of how a product arrives at the Information Architecture stage. And I’ve made the case that the product at this stage only looks like, has the appearance of, the final product. In the next post I will discuss how Interaction Design centers around what your product feels like.

I would love to hear what UX activities you use in Information Architecture so I can include them on this list. You can follow the conversation on LinkedIn. Thank you for your input.