Information Architecture

Today, the incredible amount of information and online functionality has created an entirely new problem for organizations – How can your information systems guide your users to the appropriate information?

After all, there is little value in creating great content if your users cannot find, access, or use this information. This requires a thorough understanding of the Content, User Requirements, Business Objectives, and Constraints.

  • Good information architecture results in an usable internal structure, clear organization of your content, effective navigation, and consistent technology.
  • Poor architecture of your information systems results in low adoption rates, reversion to unsupported methods and processes, and a significant impact on revenue. Rowan Tree Books brings over 25 years of knowledge and experience in the fields of information design combined with a deep understanding of usability within documentation systems.

The Importance of Project Analysis

During the Analysis Phase of our projects, we typically include the following key steps of information architecture:

Review Business Objectives

Technical ManualsThrough a combination of stake-holder interviews, review of existing content, and available process charts, we develop an understanding of the context within which this information system must operate.

Understand User Requirements

Requirements for Effective Information ArchitectureAny effective Information Architecture system must reflect the needs and usage patterns and abilities of its users. At Rowan Tree Books, we work closely with our users to ensure that any system we develop closely reflects and addresses user needs. We do this by:

  • Conducting both individual and group work sessions to better capture their needs and level of knowledge.
  • Conducting brain-storming sessions with your subject matter experts to identify and generate the overall structure of your information system. During this session, we encourage the participants to identify all the key processes and tasks that need to be documented, followed by a guided session where we group, organize, and structure this information into a usable system.
  • Integrating the information gathered in this step with the rest of our business analysis to develop a comprehensive map of contents.

Collect Content Inventories

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During our analysis, we create inventories of your existing content. This helps us to identify:

  • Existing content that can be integrated into the new system – thereby increasing re-usability of current Information Systems.
  • The quality and content of existing information
  • Content that could be moved from old systems to the new systems.

What do You Get from the Information Architecture Process

The end-result of each information architecture process can vary from project to project, and depends on your needs. Some of the most common results include:

 
 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (TOC) are often on of the critical end-product of information architecture. TOCs give the client:

  • An opportunity to ensure that all critical topics have been addressed.
  • An overview of the level of detail to be captured.
  • The proposed structure and organization of the manual or online system.
  • A critical piece of navigation for their information system.
 

Site Maps

Site maps are perhaps the most widely known and understood deliverable from the process of defining an information architecture. A site map is a high level diagram showing the hierarchy of a system. Site maps reflect the information structure, but are do not always indicate the navigation structure.

Page Layouts

Page layouts define page level navigation, content types and functional elements. Annotations are used to provide guidance for the visual designers and developers who will use the page layouts to build the site.

Page layouts are also known as wireframes, blue prints, or screen details.

 

Content Matrix

A content matrix lists each page in the system and identifies the content that will appear on that page. This is often critical when working with large volumes of related data.

 

Page Templates

Page templates may be required when defining large-scale websites and intranets, or when developing hard-copy documentation. Page templates define the layout of common page elements, such as global navigation, content type, and local navigation. Page templates are commonly used when developing content management systems to ensure consistency in presentation, layout, and level of detail.

 

Prototypes

Prototypes are models of the system. Prototypes can be as simple as paper-based sketches, or as complex as fully interactive systems. Research shows that paper-based prototypes are just as effective for identifying issues as fully interactive systems. Prototypes help to bring the information architecture to life, allowing users and other members of the project team to comment on the design before the system is built.

 

Storyboards

Storyboards are another technique for bringing the information architecture to life without actually building the entire system. Storyboards combine sketches and text to show how the user would navigate and use the information system to complete any partiuclar task. Storyboards enable other members of the project team to understand the proposed information architecture before the system is built.

 

In conclusion, good information architecture plays a critical role in all documentation systems. It ensures people are able to easily, intuitively, and quickly find the content they need.

 

Phase 1: Design and Analysis

Phase 1:Our Methodology

The first phase of all our projects includes an analysis of your business and documentation requirements. During this phase we strive to:

  • Identify the most critical elements that require documentation.
  • Summarize, organize, and design all the key items that must be documented. This is often presented in a table of contents format (TOC).
  • Review the results of our analysis with management and key technical resources.
  • Prioritize and plan for delivery of the approved documents.
  • Determine the best means for presentation of required content (online, hard-copy, or both).

At the end of this first phase, you will have a clear idea of the work that needs to be accomplished, the structure of your information system, and most importantly, the estimated cost of development and production of this system.

 

Phase 2: Develop and Produce Your Information System

Develop and Produce Information SystemWe only begin this phase after ensuring that our Design and Analysis has identified and accommodated all your requirements. We use the output from the Design and Analysis phase to manage and produce the final outputs of the Production phase.

During this phase we work closely with you technical experts to obtain and produce the final written output (online help, user manuals, SOPS, etc). All our output is carefully reviewed and approved by your technical experts, so you always know what you are getting.