Concept Models – illustrating business strategy

In his book, Communicating Design, Dan Brown has a chapter devoted to the concept model. Initially I thought that these were little more that an add-on for a web project but after using them for nine months I can safely say they are integral to any new site or redesign. The power of them is largely in their simplicity, nothing more than a few circles and lines, and their ability to communicate without complication. It is this clarity that makes them instantly engaging amongst any group, be they business owners or developers.


It allows a common ground to be reached in terms of a vision for the site or project. It is a mental model and the tangible document between what the IA is thinking and what the rest of the team is wanting to see from the site. Add the users into this and you have the IA basics right there. Essentially the IA basics, it places the user at its core (user needs), the business interfacing with the user and its own objectives (the products’ context) and the actual content that will be produced often in the form of a product (content).

You can also blend in real world statistics to give credence to your thinking, many business owners like to be shown a few figures to back up your arguments and it makes for a more in-depth read.

The great thing is that the client identifies with this A3 colour print, they put it on their wall. It defines where they are heading, its ‘the star to sail their ship by’ as Peter Merholz said recently at dConstruct

For the IA its also the way we can ensure that user needs are in the fabric of the structure of our site. Not only by persona led taxonomies but by defining areas that users will feel a part of and then creating areas around these zones. By using the model as a basis for site structure, the site map can be spun out fairly rapidly and its presence ensures the user needs, the business goals and content types are never missed in the design process.

I find that this document is the most important in many ways, as it crystallizes the thought processes of a team and defines how a project will be tackled and what the likely outcomes will be. All with the user at the centre of the design process, and that can only ever be a good thing.

See Dan Brown’s presentation at IXDA on the subject here


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