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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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  • Transcript

    • 1. “ There’s no I in team” A case study in collaborative information architecture OZ-IA, Sydney September 2007 Patrick Kennedy, Step Two Designs
    • 2. Information architecture can be hard enough, but what if you and your team have no experience?
    • 3. 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?
    • 4. 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
    • 5. Introducing ESA, a government agency with many departments and a lot of information to share!
    • 6. 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
    • 7. The website reflected ESA, and had grown out of control, and the skills to fix it didn’t exist
    • 8. 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
    • 9. The team assembled for the project was newly formed and relatively inexperienced
    • 10. 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
    • 11. 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
    • 12. Project outline
    • 13. Methodology
      • IA was part of a much larger web project
      • Two distinct phases existed:
        • research
        • design
      • Still a work in progress
    • 14. User research was a key part of the process…
    • 15. 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
    • 16. … and a new audience model was developed
    • 17. 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
    • 18. Then the design process began in earnest…
    • 19. 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
    • 20. 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
    • 21. Collaboration and mentoring
    • 22. Collaboration can get messy but is essential for good analysis and design
    • 23. 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
    • 24. 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
    • 25. 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
    • 26. 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
    • 27. 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
    • 28. Challenges
    • 29. Challenges and issues
      • Coordinating a new team
      • Inexperienced practitioners
      • Wider organisational issues
      • Virtual mentoring
    • 30. Trying to assemble and a coordinate a new team was difficult at times…
    • 31. 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
    • 32. … especially with inexperienced practitioners trying to find their way…
    • 33. 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
    • 34. … and wider organisational issues put more pressure on the team…
    • 35. 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)
    • 36. … and adding to the pressure was the fact that the mentor was inter-state
    • 37. 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
    • 38. Benefits and limitations
    • 39. Benefits and limitations
      • User-centred design
      • Collaborative teamwork
      • Mentoring
    • 40. User-centred design will improve the website, making it more useful to the audience…
    • 41. 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’
    • 42. … and working as a team is much better than working on your own…
    • 43. 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
    • 44. … particularly when you have someone to turn to for assistance
    • 45. 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
    • 46. Conclusion
    • 47. 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
    • 48. So why are they so unpopular?
    • 49. Questions?
      • Your feedback is most welcome
      • Patrick Kennedy [email_address]
      • Blog:
      • Website:
    • 50. 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:
      • 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:
      • Maurer, D., Card sorting analysis spreadsheet , Maadmob Interaction Design, 2007. Online at:
      • Mulder, S., Yaar, Z., The User Is Always Right : A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web , New Riders, 2007