At CHIEF, our information architecture (IA) process involves an in-depth analysis of the site’s overall content—including the user journey, navigation structure and content organization, hierarchy and relationships. This is a very thorough undertaking that involves multiple disciplines working collaboratively towards a comprehensive solution that enhances overall user experience. Historically, the sitemap was the most important deliverable in communicating the recommended IA to the client. However, a sitemap alone doesn’t accurately capture the depth of our process, and could leave the client feeling unsure about the site’s direction.
To gain greater client buy-in and improved internal processes, our challenge has been to develop a client/user engagement strategy that positions the stakeholder as a key contributor throughout the IA process. Read on to learn how we’ve successfully implemented these strategies at CHIEF, and get tips for implementing them into your own IA design processes:
Speak in Layman’s Terms
We begin each project by converting any existing information into a format that is well-suited for client engagement. Thinking in terms of content types, as opposed to web pages, ensures that the conversation with the client remains at the content level, as opposed to the site navigation or design level. Clients have a tendency to think ahead to the final outcome, which can often impact the value of their engagement during the IA phase.
Engage the Stakeholders
Once the IA has been converted to the content level, we select from a series of engagement activities to empower the stakeholders and/or users. For instance, we will conduct a content card sorting exercise—either in-person or remotely—which allows us to reach a consensus on the content organization, hierarchy and relationships. For most clients, content organization is a much more familiar exercise than navigation structure activities—meaning the stakeholder is engaging from a position of comfort and understanding.
Convert the Findings
After we have received feedback on the content organization exercise and have reached a consensus about the content organization, hierarchy and relationships, we are ready to convert the findings into an actual interface approach. Our UX strategists go back to the drawing board and create a sitemap that leverages all of the findings—converting them into a logical navigation structure which conveys the agreed upon approach. At this point, we are able to identify and communicate the key user journeys and priority content to be surfaced in a format that is appropriate, and easy to understand, because the client has been involved throughout the process.
Having years of content and organizational goals, mapped to user journeys and behavior patterns, then converted into a simple three level “org chart” can be an overwhelming experience. Therefore it is important to extract the key decision points throughout the process and present them in manageable groupings. By spreading the IA design across a series of deliverables and engagement activities, we are able to gain understanding, buy-in and trust— setting the groundwork for a successful project.