Information Architecture (IA) has long been an important step in the UX development process. As user interface/experience configurations increase and the typical software requirements template becomes more complex, fluid UX design faces new pressures. Thus, it is more important than ever to understand how IA can help you work within a software requirements template to create impactful design solutions.
IA Then and Now
Ten years ago it wasn’t uncommon to see specialized titles like Information Architect on a design team. No longer. UX design now subsumes information architecture, integrating it into design processes like prototyping, wireframing and user research.
While IA is considered part and parcel of the modern UX designer’s skill set, understanding the place of IA within the larger design process is important for creating successful interfaces that anticipate and meet users’ needs.
While business requirements or a software requirements document template will specify the appropriate pathway for each particular project, IA typically occurs after discovery sessions with a client, but before the actual design process begins.
No matter the project, identifying a few key elements from the get-go will set up stakeholders for success.
Know the User
Define and Prioritize Essential Information
Begin by asking your design team questions that focus attention on the user’s needs.
- What information must be prioritized in this particular mobile app experience?
- How will software requirements shape a user’s path through this product’s interface?
- What are you trying to get the user to do?
By asking questions that clarify the user’s identity, concerns and end goals, your team can more effectively organize user information into meaningful classifications. Arranging categories of information into “buckets” will inform how designers choose to create the product’s layout and the user’s pathways therein.
Say you want the user to purchase ten t-shirts on your website. The user must consider a variety of options, so it’s best to provide some different categories of information that will ease her choices. Providing different filters, like size, style, color and pattern, organizes data in a more coherent and consumer-friendly way. Ideally, the interface will allow the user to research and compare her options, and ultimately to make a purchase.
Simple IA Makes Better UX/UI
Creating a simple flow chart that anticipates the user’s pathways is key. Design teams that define the main ideas and purposes of a product can proceed confidently in their design process and respond adeptly to hurdles in its development.
User research data and user flows allow designers to create a prototype that thrives within a potentially limiting software requirements template.
Later on in the product’s development cycle, other features, settings and aspects may be added to the design. Users typically interact with products in unanticipated ways. Consider interviewing them or representative stakeholders to ensure the information hierarchy you have architected sustains even beyond expected interactions or “happy paths.”
Understanding Developments in IA/Requirements
IA is no longer a hat just worn by a specialized few. UX designers should have a pulse on IA and the demands that new technologies place on their designs.
User experiences used to be more predictable. Once upon a time, a user was assumed to move from point A, to point B, and finally to point C, with few opportunities to deviate from this path.
New technologies provide many more touch points and a multidimensional user experience. Computers, tablets, smartphones and wearables can all offer another means by which to consume an experience or service. This presents a greater challenge to designers who must deliver coherent pathways across a variety of tools, while still responding to user needs.
Typical IA practices, like creating sitemaps or wireframes may be inadequate for tracking and developing successful design experiences across these technologies. Designers are challenged to approach their work with more conceptual and programmatic finesse.
Parting with the notion that user experiences are linear and embracing the model where many components (wearables, smartphones, etc) surround one idea may help designers to meet needs in innovative ways. Using an “Experience Map” as a tool allows designers to think beyond the constraints of the traditional site/app map.
Remember the Software Requirements Document Template
The designer can always rely upon the fact that the user will always have a need that must be met. Frameworks of logic can be constructed to meet a business’s or the user’s needs.
Remembering to define priorities and providing information accordingly can make all the difference in UX design processes and outcomes.
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