IA collaboration – two heads can be better


IAcollab   Two months ago I wrote about a case study, how it was implemented and what the results were. I thought I would go into the detail of the information architecture and how collaboration with my colleague helped us reach a successful conclusion to the project.


I was extremely fortunate to be working alongside a taxonomist, Rachel Hammond. We were sat beside each other and interacted continuously on the same project daily. This made for an extremely good collaborative working environment.


In the case study it may appear that the deliverables were delivered in sequence but in reality they were evolved in a more simultaneous or iterative way with one of us bouncing ideas off the other and the resolutions of the discussion informing our next move.

Diagram of the process of formulating an information architecture – collaborativelyIAcollab

I have broken this down into five phases;

Research Phase – We both would look at existing research. Rachel looked at existing industry taxonomies, competitors and public sources. I would investigate the user research, ethnographic studies, surveys, personas and web metrics that told us about our user behavior on the site.

Thereby, we had qualitative and quantitative research and actual taxonomies from different sources in the industry. At this stage the research helped inform the taxonomy’s direction – they became persona-led. They are not just the pure reflection of the industry – the user is placed centrally to the taxonomy design.

Concept Phase – Here we realized the vision of the site by looking at our business goals (what do we want the users to do on the site) , the user’s wants and needs and the publication’s perspective (editorial standpoint). Basically the trinity of IA – users, context and content.

Rachel built the ‘straw’ taxonomy (or draft) and I would build the concept model. Her taxonomy would dictate the classification of content (now and in the future) and the concept model would dictate the interactions of the site, to satisfy the user and the business. At this stage we were putting ideas to one another and this would formulate the design of the deliverables.

Design – Here the taxonomy view and taxonomy structure are finalized. The concept model is really about site interactions but the actual navigation scheme (the taxonomy view) comes from the finalized taxonomy structure. The naming of items and how they are placed on a layout is helped by the concept model as that tells us of how our users will interact with the site content.

The taxonomy structure is then ready for the next phase as the controlled vocabulary has been worked out and this informs the naming once more. User research also comes into play and established industry terminology.

Build – the wireframes are produced with the navigation scheme in place, page elements placed according to user needs and the business goals. The taxonomy is finalized by rules being written for the content classification engine that interfaces with the CMS. This ensures auto-classification when the content is created.

Test – The taxonomy is tested against the corpus and classification is checked. The wireframes are tested with the users in the form of paper prototypes.

Of course this process can be done by a single person (I do it myself) but it takes longer and is, perhaps, less insightful, more arduous.

Collaboration is such a key way of working and during the process in this case we had a team of about 20 people who all contributed in different ways.

If you work alone it can be a problem. If you are alone, you need to get about and speak to people as often as possible about your work. The more you give the stakeholders in terms of feedback and communication of your ideas, the better it is in terms of satisfaction and a more rounded design solution.

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