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Lessons:7Length:1.1 hours
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2.1 Workshop Your Way to an Information Architecture

In lesson five we turn our attention to site structure. Clients often approach information architecture from an organisational perspective. But in this lesson we will explore a series of exercises that help them shift their perspective and put the user first.

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2.1 Workshop Your Way to an Information Architecture

Hi folks, and welcome back to Workshop Your Way Through the Web Design Process. In today's lesson we're gonna delve into the world of Information Architecture, site mapping, and navigation. I'm gonna show you how running a workshop can be a great way of establishing an initial information architecture. That you can then go away and test. In fact, you've already laid the groundwork for this workshop, when we defined the user journeys in our previous video. You see, information architecture should not begin with what the client wants to say, but rather what users want to know. when approaching a site, clients have this tendency to organize it around their messages and their organizational structure, but as we know, users don't think in that way. Instead, site information architecture should map to people's mental models. Fortunately there are workshop exercises that can help shift the client's perspective over this begin by splitting the workshop attendees into some smaller groups. It's time to encourage some competitive behavior. Take the user groups you defined in the previous exercises and assign one user persona to each of your attendee groups. The challenge that you should give your stake holders is to write down as many questions as they can think of that their user groups might have within a limited time. The group who comes up with the most user questions wins. This exercise should create a fun frenzy of activity as people try to come up with more ideas than the competing groups. Ensure that each user question is written on a separate Post-it note, and so you're gonna need a lot of Post-it notes at hand, trust me. Once the time limit has been reached, bring the group back together and compare results. Make sure you celebrate the winner, but then go on to explain that the Post-it notes are the basis for your site's information architecture. Next, take all of your Post-it notes and lay them out in columns of ten so you can easily see how many you've got. Depending on the size of your workshop, you could easily have in excess of 100 post-it notes. And realistically this is far too many to organize into an information architecture. Therefore, you need to reduce it to something a bit more manageable, and to do this get the entire group gathered around the Post-it notes and encourage them to start removing those that are less It's important. Avoid big discussion over which Post-it note should be removed. But instead, encourage people to just remove one that they think is trivial. As Post-it notes are removed, keep a note of how many are remaining so that you know when you've got down to approximately 50. But make sure you don't throw away those other Post-it notes, because you're going to need them later, so hang on to them. Now that you've got a more manageable list of questions, it's time to start sorting them into stacks. Encourage the group to start organizing Post-it notes that relate to one another into a single stack. Now this is messy procedure that will require a lot of discussion and debate, so make sure you leave ample time for this exercise. Encourage the group to keep going until they've reduced the number of stacks that they have to about six or less. At this point you can tell them that this could become the basis for their sites top level information architecture. If this is going to become your top level information architecture for the site, the next step has to be to label these stacks. Stay as a large group and spend time discussing appropriate labels for each of the stacks that you've created. Again, this is gonna take some time because the entire group will be working on it. But, it's an important decision and so it's worth the investment and keeping everyone together. After much debate, you will have your questions organized under a series of labels. At this point, it's time to split into two smaller groups. One group will look at the discarded questions from earlier and see whether they can be fitted naturally under the headings that we've created. The other group will consider what messages the organization might want to communicate that aren't addressed by questions and whether those messages could be fitted under the headings that they've created. This is the first time we're bringing into it what the corporate messages are, what the company wants to say. Each group can, if required, amend the labels used or add additional labels if they need to. However discourage them from anything but minor changes. And if they do add a label, make sure they remove another one and redistribute its questions in order to stop there becoming too many top level sections. Bring the two groups back together and compare the changes that have been made and discuss them. From this you should be able to come up with a final top level information architecture where each section has a series of user questions and corporate messages under it. In the final discussion, there will, no doubt, be people asking where can we put dot dot dot, and it's okay to have these kinds of discussions, but make sure you first validate whatever piece of content it is, that they want to act of the information architecture. You do this by asking two questions. The first question is, can we reword this content in terms of a user question? Something that a user might actually ask. If the answer is no, then the chances are that this piece of content has no value to the user. And shouldn't really appear on the website, but if people still feel that the content has to be added for whatever reason ask a second question. Which of our business objectives do we feel that this piece of content supports? If the content doesn't support any one of your business objectives then I really has no value whatsoever and definitely shouldn't be included on the website. The final exercise that you should do, if time allows, is to split down the group so that there is one smaller group for each of the top level sections that you created. Each group can then take the user questions and the corporate content identified within each section and organize it into sub-sections, in much the same way as we did before. But if you do this exercise, make sure you bring everybody back together into a single group at the end, discuss what each individual group has done. That way, you make sure everyone has reached a consensus about those subsections. Of course there is one glaring hole in the workshop approach and discussed in this lesson. We haven't engaged the user in this process. The entire information architecture is based on the assumption of your stakeholders about what users want to know and how the user's mental model would organize the information. And that's obviously a major issue. That's why if budgets allow I would recommend two additional activities taking place. First, before the workshop it is worth surveying users to discover what real questions they have rather than working on assumptions. Second, after you've produced an information architecture in the workshop this will then need to be validated with real users. You could of course carry out all of the exercises we've discussed in this lesson with users rather than with internal stakeholders. And this is certainly worth doing, but I believe there's also real value in doing the exercise with internal stakeholders. That's because going through these exercises with stakeholders allows them to learn and think about information architecture from the users perspective, rather than other than their own. The Key Lesson here is to begin with the users' need rather than the organization's content. This is particularly important if you're talking about site redesign, where the client may be tempted to simply migrate the existing content across into a new information architecture. This is something you should actively resist. And the exercises we've talked about in this lesson will help you do that and educate the stakeholder at the same time. Of course running a workshop about information architecture seems relative. Fairly straight forward when compared to reaching a consensus over something as contentious as visual appearance, and it's that that we're gonna be tackling in our next video. But, until then, thanks for watching.

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