Information architecture(IA) is all around us, in the web pages we browse, the applications/apps we use and even in the printed material such as a book or a newspaper. But what is it really?
Well, according to Uxbooth IA can be explained as:
Information architecture is about helping people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for, in the real world as well as online.
So IA is the exercises undertaken for example when:
- structuring and labelling content on a webpage or application
- Ordering information of a screen in an application
Typically IA is part of the job for UI designers or content strategists. But in the SAP world I think it is a task that is significantly underrated.
The reason why IA is so important is that our users have developed a mental model of their workspace, that means that if we don’t give them a similar representation in our design, the users might be confused and won’t understand the surroundings they are in. This is even more apparent in the world of SAPGUI, where the “old” SAP Menu might make sense to some people, but it is definitely not a one size fits all. There are studies showing that the performance of completing a task lacks if the IA is done wrong. The cognitive load limit of a user can end up being too much and therefore slow down the task in general.
So what can we do to help our users?
Luckily we have many tools provided by SAP to support a better IA. Of course there is the Fiori design guidelines and the build of simplified SAPUI5 apps, which hopefully via proper user research and design will help the users complete tasks more efficiently and with smaller cognitive load.
But we also have many scenarios which are still running only in SAPGUI, for this we have tools like Screen Personas which can dramatically simplify the GUI screens by hiding unused elements on the screen that takes up space on the screen and in our minds. Remember when a user first sees a transaction, they will have to “learn” it.
But so far this is only inside applications. I want to focus the remainder of this blog on navigation and labeling and the importance of these exercises.
With the introduction of the SAP standard menu and the user menu inside the app finder (SAP’s replacement of the tile catalog in the newest version of the launchpad), we are back to the crux of many SAP installations that I have seen.
There is simply not invested any time in a good information architecture design of the user menu. You might think “Well, the users can just learn the transaction code and then everything is fine!” And you might be right, but going back to my argument about the cognitive load of our minds, this is simply not a good resolution!
In the user menu you can categorize and label your SAP content appropriately to your users. This is an exercise that isn’t new, we have done it for years in the Portal and in SAP NetWeaver Business Client (Now SAP Business Client).
Also this introduction means that the access to SAP content is not only done via catalogs and groups anymore, but directly from your menus generated in PFCG. This is probably a relieve to many admins, because putting all SAP content into catalogs would be a very lengthy process. However as earlier explained, this exercise isn’t undertaken by many customers at the moment.
I personally am a huge fan of the SAP Business Client(SAP BC) and while SAP has tried to explain that it is a product that is here to stay, I think maybe not everybody in SAP sees it this way. SAP BC has been using the user menu for a long time, so for the projects that I have completed in this area, the IA exercise of categorizing and labeling is an essential part of it. And now with the Fiori Launchpad also introducing the user menu, I think the exercise is even more valuable as you are not only investing in something that works in your current landscape, but also something that will be ready for the future of SAP.
So how can you get started with a proper IA design for your SAP BC and launchpad?
My approach is to start simple, so in an excel sheet or even post-it notes. The exercise is very similar to building a menu on a web page. You need to sit with your user and understand which applications inside SAP they use and then slowly start to structure this.
There are tools like TreeJack and OptimalSort that are excellent ways of testing out your design before you put it into production.
When you have completed this exercise you will have generated a structure of the SAP content, that will ensure the least cognitive load of your users and make it much easier for them to find the information they need to run your business simple!