How Your Project Benefits from Information Architecture Documentation

Concept Map

Part 1: Information Architecture through Content Strategy

Information Architecture is all about doing the right amount of planning for your project before jumping into production so that when you do get there, it’s done right the first time. What IA documentation does for your projects is answer the difficult questions up front as well as providing a solid and adaptive foundation for the following stages of UX, Design, and Development. In return this gets you a better product by allowing input at the right time and allowing your production team to focus on their specialties, streamlining process, and getting you your product sooner.

At e3 we use a number of different documentation tactics throughout our process ranging in the realms of IA, UX, and UI to ensure that our products are being created correctly and efficiently. We’ve all experienced situations where deadlines are extended or when a project gets into its production stages and the product is not quite doing what it was supposed to do. The reason for this is that designers and developers are put into situations where they have to fill multiple roles. So instead of dedicated 80 solid hours of coding, a front-end developer might have to spend 35% of their allocated time mapping out how structures are supposed to work and why things are there in the first place. The same situation could be said of designers, the point is that these are tasks which have to be completed by someone at some point. If resources are allocated at the beginning and at necessary production stages every member of your production team can focus on their tasks and meet better deadlines with more accurate results as a whole.

In our process we begin with content during the discovery phase. Understanding the scope and type of content that we will be working with is crucial when establishing estimates and milestones. We use a number of different tools during different stages of our projects for IA documentation, beginning with a content audit.

The Content Audit

A content audit is the process of evaluating and documenting the information and structure of an existing website. Conducting a content audit benefits both clients and ad agencies in that they provide added security and accountability for the amount of work that will go into a project. Just glancing at a site or navigating through the main nav items is not enough to provide accurate time estimates. We begin by using automated site site-crawling tools during the proposal phases of a project. This gives us a solid number of existing pages and documents. With this information we can go to our clients and tell them how long it will take us to audit and structure their content.

Card Sorting & Mind Mapping

For an ad agency one of the most frustrated situations to be in is to have to spend hours redoing work, and even worse if it affects multiple disciplines across design and dev. For a project owner it can be equally frustrating when their users cannot find what they are looking for, leading to a loss in profits. The culprit can often times can be indecisive and poor content structure. Taking the information from a content audit and running the findings through card sorting and mind mapping exercises can provide an appropriate content structure through categorization, grouping and labeling.

Knowing what to design for increases production efficiencies and strategic placement of structure can bring added revenue to stakeholders.

Classification Schemes

Classification schemes are all about accessing information and identifying the method by how to do so. Having the right content in the right place can still lead to a loss of profits if users cannot find what they are looking for. Identifying the right type of classification scheme for the right type of project can be a simple process if done during the planning and research phase.

Check out this article for a detailed guide to some of the mentioned classification schemes

A categorical classification scheme would be far more effective for an ecommerce site where an audience based classification scheme would be more appropriate for a higher education site. Identifying the appropriate classification scheme during the planning stages sets the groundwork for a positive user experience and provides your client with a better product.

Content Maps 

Content maps work well on projects with a scalable structure and are paired up with navigation schemes. They are different from a site map in that they are generally used for larger websites where it would be illogical to diagram hundreds if not thousands of pages on a sitemap. We use content maps when we’d like to illustrate the flow of content to our stakeholders and users to test our hypothesis on user interactions. This helps us identify any obstacles early on as well as eliminating or verify some of the assumptions made during the planning stages. The result is that we form a stronger structure before spending unneeded hours in production with an approach that may or may not be right.