So What Does an Intranet Information Architect Actually Do?

Information Architects use research, data analysis, site maps and wireframes to create great intranets. #intelligentintranets

By Cathy Dew

In intranet design—and external website, custom app, and pretty much any other public-facing software design—information architecture (IA) sets the foundation for the overall User Experience (UX).

It’s the Information Architect who looks at the project holistically and asks, what is the best approach to most effectively reach the goals of the site?

Working through the problems of IA at the outset of an intranet project paves the way for a smooth transition into the other UX-related pillars of intranet design—Interaction Design, Usability Engineering, and Visual Design.

All aboard! Here comes the inevitable train metaphor.

Think of Information Architecture as the tracks you’ll be laying for your intranet train. Lay the tracks thoughtfully with UX in mind and the train you build to ride on those tracks—not to mention the signals and way stations and train depots that will be part of the journey—will get your passengers (users) where they want to go.

Skip this thoughtful IA planning process, and you will end up having to lay down the same tracks over and over, figuring out how to incorporate the other pillars to connect with the tracks, until you find the most efficient route to reach each user’s destination. This can not only be frustrating for everyone involved, it’s bound to be more expensive in both time and resources.

It makes a whole lot of sense to lay those tracks down right from the beginning, doesn’t it? (End of train metaphor…you’re welcome).

So what does the Information Architect do?

It’s a good idea for anyone overseeing an employee intranet design project to not only know the basic vocabulary of IA, but also to understand what an Information Architect actually does.

This is especially necessary because, unless you have an Information Architect on staff, you’ll be outsourcing IA either to an intranet design and development company or to someone in your own organization that already wears one or more hats in the “tech” arena. Understanding what to expect from the person performing the IA function is important to making sure the trains inevitably run on time (sorry…).

Here are some of the key activities and deliverables of an Information Architect:

Facilitating user research

The Information Architect may undertake research—usability tests, stakeholder interviews, user interviews, etc.—to learn about the needs and capabilities of the site’s intended audience(s)

Analyzing data

The Information Architect takes insights gleaned from user research--how people use information and how they intuitively access it--and creates models of days-in-the-lives of typical users.

Creating a site map

This part is trickier than it may appear. Determining the site map--where information is accessed, what it is called, and where it fits into the overall site search hierarchy-- informs the site structure in its entirety. It’s well worth it for the information Architect to spend the time and resources to get this right at the outset as the site map guides all the work that follows.

Connecting the site screens through wireframing

Here, IA and design work hand in hand. The Information Architect takes the data gathered to date, considers the direction the site map is taking, and encapsulates the nascent design elements into screen mockups to demonstrate functionality and hierarchy.

Data tagging and content modeling

Incorporating taxonomies and metadata realized from user and industry research, Information Architects create tags for content that is geared toward user expectations, and also create data modeling (or content) templates so content strategists and copywriters work with the same tags and keywords as the intranet design team.

2Plus2 Knows IA

The 2Plus2 Team of UX Designers includes expert Information Architects, able to interject IA into your work in progress, or facilitate your intranet or extranet from scratch using the best practices of IA-influenced design. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

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Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.