UX + IA = UEA

Philosophy of UX

User experience is about making people’s lives better. A persons experience is based in their mind and their emotions and can be established by both interaction and reflective (upon biographical experience) inputs.

In UX we define inputs in digital or real world frameworks which enable the creation of solutions that have meaningful impact.

Overview of UX

The current approach to UX is that it is the practical implementation of audience drivers, cognitive acuity, usability standards and accessibility laws. And the integration of business context into user context, to facilitate alignment and communication.
Definition; A user is a representative of the target audience. They are not involved in the project in any way. They will use the final product or service either as a customer or as an internal business user.

The UX Process

We first try to ‘Understand the Problem’ from the user perspective (user research) so that we can create User Requirements, these combined with Business Requirements and Implicit Requirements create Project Requirements. This process often called Discovery and can find new requirements, challenge business requirements or redirect the entire project along a route that delivers the business or organisation what they want but in a totally different way.
To de-risk human error (needing to be right) we work from researched archetypes (persona modelling) which creates the opportunity to ‘think like a user’ a great support tool if users are not always available.

And the rest….

User Experience (UX) and Information Architecture (IA) have in recent years collided they are however not the same. When someone tells me they are just job titles from a mixture of titles that cover the same thing I know I am talking to someone who does not understand either of them.

In the most simple terms;

  • User Experience (UX) has been derived from marketing and comes from the 1970’s and 80’s large media agencies in New York and London
  • Information Architecture (IA) is derived from biological classification and from military logistics and is hundreds of years old

Taking these two understandings as a bases UX and IA can be seen in a number of domains differently.

User experience (UX) and Information Architecture (IA) are very different and have separate skill sets, processes and outputs.

I often talk to people who add IA on the their CV as if it’s some simple skill, it’s actually more complex and difficult than UX. IA is also hundreds of years old as an activity while UX is less than twenty in it’s current form.

  • Information architecture is involved in the classification and structure of information.
  • User experience is involved in; defining who the audience is, what they can do, how they can do it and matching the aspiration of the content provider with the desires of the audience.

User Experience (UX) Roles vs Information Architect Roles (IA)

This is just a quick post showing the basic level differences between User Experience (UX) Roles and Information Architect (IA) Roles. I’m working on a full model post as well, but that is still being written.

User Experience (UX) Roles.

User Experience (UX) Roles Diagram
User Experience (UX) Roles Diagram
User Experience Architect (UX Architect)

Gathers requirements, defines the system features (functional specification) , user journeys, personas, interactions, sitemaps, wireframes, data models, conducts research, writes testing protocols and conducts testing.

Interaction Designer (IxD/UX Designer)

Defines interactions, sitemaps, wireframes, based on requirements from the more senior UX Architect.

User Experience Researcher (UX Researcher)

Conducts research for the User Experience Architect (UX Architect), Interaction Designer (IxD/UX Designer) or for a User Interface Developer (to apply common patterns).

Usability Tester

Works with User Experience Architect (UX Architect) or Interaction Designer (IxD/UX Designer) to define the testing formats that are conducted during research, design and development project phases.

Accessibility Tester

Works with User Experience Architect or Interaction Designer (IxD/UX Designer) to define the testing formats that are conducted during research, design and development project phases.

User Experience Tester

Conducts user acceptance testing for the experience in line with the personas and user journeys.

User Interface Developer (UI Developer)

Interprets the functional specification, sitemaps, wireframes with the aid of the User Experience Architect (UX) Architect and Interaction Designer (IxD/UX Designer) to avoid losing key featured defined for the specific audience. This is a negotiated process where the UI Developer is able to express their deep knowledge of the front end code capabilities and can be an area of conflict if the UX practitioner does not respect their capability and fully explain the reasons for the design elements.

Information Architect (IA) Roles

Information Architecture (IA) Roles Diagram
Information Architecture (IA) Roles Diagram
Information Architect

Gathers requirements, defines the system information features (information specification) , conducts content audits, information research, data architecture, writes tone of voice, defines taxonomy, content strategy, word based marketing strategy and content object model.

Content Auditor / Researcher

Conducts information audit of existing system (if one is there) and research into area specific language.

Taxonomist

Defines the taxonomy for the system based upon the Content Audit and Research.

Content Strategist

Writes the content strategy based upon the Content Audit and Research.

SEO, SEM, PPC Strategist

Defines the keyword structures based upon the Content Audit + Research, keyword logging and meta standards.

Content Object Modeller

Writes the content object model based upon the Content Audit + Research, Content Strategist and SEO, SEM, PPC Strategist.

Content Author / Designer

Delivers content that fills the content object model and is in line with tone of voice.

Information Architecture (IA) the classification of information

Information Architecture (IA) entities like cells

A simple website may only include 8 top level pages, 50 secondary and perhaps only 300 tertiary labelled (taxonomy) navigation elements, that’s only 3508 entities. However IA tends to be associated with the structure and classification of websites, intranets and software that accesses in excess of 100,000+ separate entities to be classified. I have worked on several huge taxonomies for Government, Publishers, Colleges, Universities, Insurance Companies and Banks involved in trading that involve between 1,000,000 and 25,000,000+ entities.

An IA when embarking on a new project will investigate if there is a standardised taxonomy for the project domain and conduct a content audit. For example if the project is a United Kingdom, Government project then there is a standard taxonomy and a classification of entities within that taxonomy.

If a standard exists the task is relatively simple but highly time consuming as it then involves matching the in use taxonomy with the standardise one. However if no standard exists a standard needs to be created. Creating a standard taxonomy is done through domain research. How do other’s of the same domain describe things, at this point it is worth considering ownership of language in the form of brands, trade marks, patients and de facto standards.

Once the entities have been defined with their attributes and all the potential interrelationships then this is combined with or overwrites the content audit to define the new system taxonomy.

However there may be multiple audiences looking at the same content from different perspectives. For example in educational publishing the audiences could be;

  • Distributors
  • Sellers
  • Teachers
  • Pupils
  • Parents

Each one of these groups will have a very specific context of use, when looking for content, the descriptions they use and understand to find it and their underlying purpose in doing so. In this case they will each require a separate structure around an entity and may require their own version of the taxonomy.

Educational publishing Information Architecture (IA)

The last point in the previous post was describing multiple audiences looking at the same content from different perspectives. The example in educational publishing the audiences often include;

  • Distributors
  • Sellers
  • Institution
  • Teachers
  • Pupils
  • Parents

Each one of these groups will have a very specific context of use, when looking for content, the descriptions they use and understand to find it and their underlying purpose in doing so. In this case they will each require a separate structure around an entity and may require their own version of the taxonomy.

Additionally there are criteria that operated as informational facets (now commonly associated with faceted search) which act as secondary entities;

  • ISBN
  • Bulk price
  • Unit price
  • Country standards
  • Regional standards
  • Education level
  • Education target
  • Education skills
  • Education method
  • Exam board
  • Exam year
  • Pupil/student age
  • Content subject
  • Content brand
  • Content group
  • Content purpose
  • Language
  • Language Tone of Voice
  • Media type
  • Media format

The above entities enable the audiences to find the content assets that meet their specific needs. It is very important at this stage not to confuse entities with hierarchies. Hierarchies are the structuring of entities in a direct or indirect relationship that are above or below (immediate superior or subordinate) this also includes cross related relationships. As previously mentioned there may already be standard hierarchies in the domain in question that should be observed.

But how do you find these entities in any domain?

Taking the above example the standard hierarchy in publishing is ISBN a review of several entities within a single ISBN item will reveal many of entities above. To get the rest research is required (it cannot be done any other way);

  1. Find out who the audience is and what is their objective?
  2. Find out what are the rules, laws and governance?
  3. Find out who buys, distributes, delivers, services, resells and what their relationship is to the originator?
  4. Find out specifically who the audience is currently, competitor and target audience?

Define ‘What is the smallest component of viable (useful) information?’ and use that to model the information system. I have worked with several huge education providers and universities and the questions I ask is ‘What is a course?’;

  • A course has a title
  • A course has duration, with a start and an end
  • A course has a subject
  • A course has a level
  • A course has prerequisites
  • A course has an outcome, which leads to options
  • A course has a delivery mechanism

I also ask, ‘Who is a student?’, ‘Who is a tutor?’, ‘What is an outcome?’ even ‘What is a college?’, if a course has a regular location then this creates a secondary set of entities.

  • A location has an address, telephone number, email address
  • A location has facilities
  • A location has transportation links
  • A location has a community
  • A location has accommodation

And it goes on and on, this is Information Architecture 101.

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