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Collaborative Information Architecture

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A case study describing one team's efforts to redesign a large information-rich website with the help of a mentor.

A case study describing one team's efforts to redesign a large information-rich website with the help of a mentor.

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Collaborative Information Architecture Collaborative Information Architecture Presentation Transcript

  • “ There’s no I in team” A case study in collaborative information architecture OZ-IA, Sydney September 2007 Patrick Kennedy, Step Two Designs
  • Information architecture can be hard enough, but what if you and your team have no experience?
  • Collaborative information architecture
    • Information architecture can be hard enough
    • But what if…
      • you and your team have no experience?
      • that team is new and still bonding?
      • your organisation expects prompt solutions?
      • hiring a team of experts is out of the question?
    • What if all of these were the case?
  • A quick agenda
    • Collaborative information architecture
    • Mentoring in a teamwork situation
    • Case study for the redesign of a large website
    • Some discussion around your experiences
  • Introducing ESA, a government agency with many departments and a lot of information to share!
  • The organisation
    • ESA is an Australian Commonwealth government agency that deals with scientific data
    • Many divisions or departments, fairly independent
    • Coordination is improving but website reflects silos
    • They knew there was probably a better way of doing it
    • Ownership and responsibility for website are being resolved
    • There was no formal team for the website redesign
    • They recognised there was little knowledge of the audience
  • The website reflected ESA, and had grown out of control, and the skills to fix it didn’t exist
  • The website
    • Large information-rich website
      • approximately 20,000 pages
      • many tools and applications
    • Been through several design iterations in the past
    • The website has grown out of control
    • Technical side of website taken care of
    • But few skills in UCD and IA
    • Major redevelopment initiated, including the IA
  • The team assembled for the project was newly formed and relatively inexperienced
  • The team
    • Newly formed
    • Little experience in working together
    • Staff from different parts of ESA
    • Multidisciplinary
    • Varying levels of experience in web design and IA
    • First coordinated effort at website redesign
    • Limited resources available
    • Reasonable pressure to complete work quickly
  • A mentoring arrangement
    • There was a limited budget for project
    • Recognition of the need for ongoing development
    • Desire to build up skills of team
    • Thus hesitation to rely on outsourcing
    • But needed to make progress, with best results
    • Mentoring was the chosen solution
  • Project outline
  • Methodology
    • IA was part of a much larger web project
    • Two distinct phases existed:
      • research
      • design
    • Still a work in progress
  • User research was a key part of the process…
  • Research
    • Many different sources of ‘data’ were used
    • But there was a focus on direct user research
    • Understanding audience needs was our goal:
      • Who are they?
      • What do they do?
      • How do they interact with ESA?
      • What do they use the website for?
    • Interviews were our primary research mechanism and revealed a great deal of information
  • … and a new audience model was developed
  • Research activities
    • Activities included:
      • stakeholder interviews
      • end-user interviews
      • log analysis
      • audience segmentation
      • follow-up survey
    • After a bit of hesitation the ESA team quickly picked up these techniques
  • Then the design process began in earnest…
  • Design
    • Focus on findability in the resulting website
    • Attempt to handle diverse audience needs
    • Activities included:
      • content inventory
      • card sorting
      • design sessions
      • usability testing
    • The audience model was used to guide the process
    • For a novice, this is the hardest bit
  • Work in progress
    • The project is still ongoing
    • Next steps include:
      • refinement of IA design
      • visual design
      • electronic prototyping
      • further usability testing
    • Then the project moves beyond the IA
  • Collaboration and mentoring
  • Collaboration can get messy but is essential for good analysis and design
  • Collaboration
    • As much as possible was done collaboratively
    • Collaboration made use of:
      • whiteboards
      • post-it notes
      • flipcharts
      • sheets of paper
      • many emails
      • scribbling and sketching
    • Activities were conducted by pairs, small groups, and in some cases the full team
    • Where necessary, sub-groups reported back to the whole team to keep everyone informed
  • Mentoring philosophy
    • The mentoring included…
      • Starting with the broad concepts and then narrowing in
      • Providing some instruction but quickly putting the team into action, practicing what they had learnt
      • Instilling confidence, such that they could do the IA work but also gain traction within the rest of the organisation
      • Encouraging discussion amongst team members
      • A gradual shift from training sessions to workshops
  • Source of inspiration
    • Principles from The Tao of Coaching by Max Landsberg were used to guide mentoring
    • For example:
      • Resist the temptation to tell, instead asking questions to prompt further thought
      • Coaching and mentoring are not just beneficial for recipient
      • Assessing the skill and will of team members
  • Training workshops
    • Project and personal goal-setting
    • Overall web design process
    • Qualitative methods for user research
    • Qualitative analysis techniques
    • Survey design and implementation
    • Audience segmentation and persona development
    • Card sorting and usability testing
  • Teaching aids
    • The team was provided with instructional material
    • They were also directed to a few key books:
      • The User is Always Right – Steve Mulder
      • Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug
      • Communicating Design – Dan Brown
    • The IA methodology was based on their content
    • This allowed team to ‘read along’ as they learnt
    • And it gave them more ammunition for later
    • Additionally, there were a number of blogs and sites
  • Challenges
  • Challenges and issues
    • Coordinating a new team
    • Inexperienced practitioners
    • Wider organisational issues
    • Virtual mentoring
  • Trying to assemble and a coordinate a new team was difficult at times…
  • Coordinating a new team
    • The team had little experience in working together
    • Multidisciplinary team brought together from all over ESA
    • Much time spent discussing and clarifying, beneficial within collaborative design projects
    • It took time to bed the team down and begin working effectively
    • Few team members were on the project 100%, struggle for time
    • Team members came and went, reducing continuity and momentum
    • Attempts were made to record discussions to share with absentees
    • Eventually, the team was whittled down to a core group of keen individuals
  • … especially with inexperienced practitioners trying to find their way…
  • Inexperienced practitioners
    • Team members had little or no experience in IA and UCD
    • Understanding a large and diverse audience is not easy
    • And the organisation has little experience in this area
    • There is little coordination of the collective knowledge regarding their clients
    • Similarly, designing a large and complex website is not trivial
    • Hence the last few ‘failed’ attempts to redesign the website
    • Thus, the time taken for the project surpassed expectations
  • … and wider organisational issues put more pressure on the team…
  • Wider organisational issues
    • There was pressure from other parts of ESA
    • Keeping to the larger project plan proved difficult
    • This highlighted the unrealistic expectations of time required
    • Was also a tendency to bite off more than they could chew
    • Neither of these are uncommon situations
    • Additionally the team needed to be able to explain themselves
    • Part of the solution was instilling confidence in the team
    • Another aspect was providing them with useful deliverables (eg creating different documentation for different circumstances; conceptual wireframe for management vs high-detail wireframe for implementation)
  • … and adding to the pressure was the fact that the mentor was inter-state
  • Virtual mentoring
    • Limited face-to-face contact between mentor and team
    • ESA is located in Canberra and Step Two Designs in Sydney
    • Trips were reserved for training sessions and workshops
    • Additional discussion made use of phone and email
    • Less than ideal, ultimately it proved successful
    • ESA team were all geographically close
  • Benefits and limitations
  • Benefits and limitations
    • User-centred design
    • Collaborative teamwork
    • Mentoring
  • User-centred design will improve the website, making it more useful to the audience…
  • User-centred design
    • A clear understanding of who will be using the website allows it to be designed more effectively
    • Few people argued with taking a UCD approach
    • In addition to improving the website, this work is likely to increase the level of knowledge about clients throughout ESA
    • Personas have already been earmarked for use beyond web design, communicating ESA’s audience and their goals etc
    • But UCD does take more time up front than ‘expert design’
  • … and working as a team is much better than working on your own…
  • Collaborative teamwork
    • “Two heads are better than one”
    • Intellectual teamwork compensates for the limitations and biases of any one individual
    • Better discussions result and the design is improved
    • ‘Vigorous’ and circular discussions seem counterproductive but contribute to the problem solving by helping participants develop their ideas
    • The team forged bonds across departmental boundaries
    • But collaboration also takes longer than working solo
  • … particularly when you have someone to turn to for assistance
  • Mentoring
    • Mentoring builds the skills of the team whilst allowing progress
    • Practical skills and team confidence are developed earlier than
    • Contractors and consultants are expensive and leave the team without the skills to maintain and further develop the website
    • Trying to ‘learn then do’ takes much longer and risks quality
    • But mentoring requires a good relationship to form
    • And it is up to the mentorees to do the bulk of the work, seen as a risk by other parts of the organisation
    • Additionally, mentoring requires mentor availability
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusions
    • A new team can successfully collaborate on complex design activities in which they have little expertise, with the help of a mentor
    • Collaboration results in better thinking and better design
    • Organisational pressures need to be addressed early
    • Expectations must be suitably set; UCD takes considerable time, and learning as you go increases the time even further
    • In terms of collaboration and UCD, this was ESA’s first time and there is little doubt they will get better at both
    • Mentoring is not necessarily the same as training
    • Mentors end up talking a lot; but being able to ask questions is possibly the most valuable part from the team’s perspective
    • An ‘in house’ mentor would have been much more effective
  • So why are they so unpopular?
  • Questions?
    • Your feedback is most welcome
    • Patrick Kennedy [email_address]
    • Blog: www.gurtle.com/ppov/
    • Website: www.steptwo.com.au
  • References
    • Brown, D., Communicating Design : Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning , New Riders, 2007
    • Kennedy, P., Squiggles help find personas , 2007. Online at: www.gurtle.com/ppov/2007/06/14/squiggles-help-find-personas/
    • Krug, S., Don’t Make Me Think : A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd ed), Macmillan, 2006
    • Landsberg, M., The Tao of Coaching : Boost your effectiveness at work by inspiring and developing those around you , Profile, 2003
    • Maurer, D., Card Based Classification Evaluation , Step Two Designs, 2003. Online at: www.steptwo.com.au/papers/ext_cardbased/
    • Maurer, D., Card sorting analysis spreadsheet , Maadmob Interaction Design, 2007. Online at: www.maadmob.net/donna/blog/archives/000760.html
    • Mulder, S., Yaar, Z., The User Is Always Right : A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web , New Riders, 2007