Information Architecture Redux

April 29, 2013 in Architectural Approach
Jon West
Senior Analyst

Develop UX Coherence

At MAYA, we often say that we take an “architectural approach” to design. That means we think it’s important to invest in information architecture (IA)—a blueprint for the complex connections and patterns of interaction in a particular system. The IA describes how information is used, how it flows, and how it fits within a user’s world.

A thoughtful client recently asked me to explain the value of information architecture for customers and end-users. Why is it valuable for organizations to make this type of investment? Why not jump straight to user interface design or focus instead on how the solution is engineered?

Because the world has changed. It’s pretty easy to design a single product. But it’s far more challenging to design a system of products, and it’s harder still to design a system of connected products (especially when those products are designed by different teams, in different locations, for different users, using different technology).

And that’s what your customers are using today: systems of connected products. Managed poorly, these systems can become overwhelmingly complex, as costs for training, maintenance, and support grow exponentially, while usability and user performance plummets. There is enormous ROI potential for usability, interoperability, extensibility and learn-ability if you can develop UX coherence and unification across all of those products.

Future Proof Your Business

The element that unifies a system of connected products isn’t the operating system, or the display and interaction technology, or the network protocols, or the user interface specifications. In these complex systems, it’s the information that binds the products together.

A well-designed information architecture defines the common currency for these complex, connected systems. It establishes deep patterns, conventions and physics for the way users interact with products, independent of the constraints of a given product (operating system, display technology, network protocol, etc.). IA creates a common reference point in a world where everything else is changing—usually in ways you can’t control. This is true for companies that make products, but it’s also true for companies that integrate those products into their own businesses.

The benefits for your business? Respond faster to things your company can’t predict or control. Reduce the transaction costs of adding more capabilities to a system. Increase the power of your offering without adding an equal (or greater) amount of perceived complexity for developers, integrators, salespeople or end users.

The landscape is evolving rapidly and unpredictably. Will you be agile, nimble, prepared to thrive in the future? Or a dinosaur lumbering among the predators at your feet?

Key Takeaways

The value of information architecture for customers and end-users in a nutshell:

1) help users become proficient quickly (there is less to learn!)

2) allow users to evolve into power users over time (leverage what they already know to learn new things)

3) help businesses migrate existing capabilities to new platforms (from web to mobile to social platforms)

4) allow businesses to add new information and capabilities easily, in response to changing market needs

5) allow businesses to lower the cost of new development, which increases their ability to place game-changing bets

6) allow systems to “play nice” with others (interoperability)

Read more about information architecture and infocentric design.

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