As someone who thinks information architects can be more strategic thinkers, I’d like to talk about Information Architecture Strategy. This is a concept first shared in Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (the Polar Bear book) by Moreville and Rosefeld. Nathaniel Davis touches IA Strategy in his UX Design Practice Verticals. Information architecture strategy can help the success of a project as well as help IAs become more strategic thinkers. Instead of quickly diving into the weeds, we can take a holistic view of our work in the context of the business needs.
What is Information Architecture Strategy?
Using the content from the Polar Bear book, IA Strategy is:
A high level conceptual framework for structuring and organizing a website or intranet. It provides the firm sense of direction and scope necessary to proceed with confidence into the design and implementation phases. It also facilitates discussion and helps to get people on the same page before moving into the more expensive design phase. (Page 265)
The IA strategy should be done after, and informed by, the UX research. With this research in hand, the IA can give a high level approach to the following items:
- IA administration: developing and maintaining the IA (often termed governance)
- Technology integration: ways to leverage the current system better
- Top-down or bottom-up emphasis
- Organization and labeling systems (top-down)
- Document type identification (bottom-up)
- Metadata field definition
- Navigation system design
Again, this IA strategy doesn’t design these things, but gives recommendations for them. For example, for the organization and labeling system, it might recommend how to collect terms (from the business or user).
Why is it useful?
The IA strategy gives an upfront look at the scope of the IA activities. For example, on some projects a taxonomy is required, on other projects a taxonomy isn’t as important. Because the IA strategy is done after the UX research and content inventory, the IA will know if a taxonomy is needed to help authors or users find content. Taking a holistic view of the IA design activities before those activities starts gives us a comprehensive view of how we can achieve success. Another benefit of outlining the IA activities up front is that we can argue about the activities, team expectations, and their usefulness. Where possible tasks can be assigned to an IA or someone supporting the IA.
What I might add…
While the IA strategy above is from Morville and Rosenfeld, I might add a few things to this strategy. If the IA is working with a content strategist, a writer, or an SEO expert, the IA strategy should include high level information on how these roles will interact together. It’s important to realize where the touchpoints are and where these roles can support and compliment each other. It can also show dependencies between the work.