Do you wonder what information architecture has to do with product documentation and user assistance? If yes, then you should know more about information architecture. In this blog post, let’s unwrap information architecture for you and help you be the one to decide its importance.
Information architecture isn’t rocket science, but it definitely is an art as much as a science. To truly harness the power of information, structuring and organizing content efficiently for end users is at the core of it all. In my last blog post, I spoke about harmonizing content in product documentation. The harmonization process is but a part of information architecture that helps you eventually deliver quality user assistance to customers. In this blog post, I give you insights into the aspects of information architecture that aid us in delivering quality user assistance.
Without information architecture, information is just data that is slathered across a website. This statement, if not anything else, should give you an idea of the impact information architecture has on presenting information. So, let’s begin!
To start with, let’s give a little history and perspective to information architecture. Information architecture is not new. Some of its fundamentals can be traced back to having roots in library science. Librarians had to study how to structure and organize information based on labels and taxonomies to find information easily. (Taxonomy is a huge subject by itself so we shall leave it for another day.) But if you get my point, the essence of library science is what we use today to build information architecture for product documentation.
With the connection to science established, let’s now delve into the different aspects of information architecture.
User Research and Analysis
The creative aspects of information architecture are in knowing your target audience. Who are your customers or end users? We are ultimately in the profession of assisting end users. If you do not research your users, neither do you know who you’re writing for nor will you know what information they’re looking for. Also, until you figure out your audience, you won’t be able to visualize your deliverables and what they would look like. User research is essential in understanding your audience. The results of such research could help you in coming up with user personas.
How do you research your users? By conducting usability tests, card sorting workshops, and stakeholder interviews. Based on this data input you define the so-called “persona”. A collective image, representing the delta of the information you have gathered about your target audience.
Deliverables and Delivery Channels
What are the deliverables that your target audience need? And what are their consumption patterns, wishes and preferences? Writing product documentation doesn’t mean we just create a few guides and randomly decide how they should be delivered to end users. Researching into the deliverables and how they should be delivered to the end users is an important part of information architecture that helps you build a vision. Decisions such as whether a guide should be delivered in a PDF or HTML format can make a world of a difference to your end users. Such decisions also impact how you would work, which tools you would use, or even what skills you must have as a technical writer or user assistance developer.
How do you build a vision of information architecture for user assistance? You should do so by constructing a matrix of the deliverables (in rows) against the delivery channels (in columns) and filling the cells with the formats of the deliverables. Every deliverable is important, so don’t leave out anything. If you’re questioning why, the reason is that information architecture shouldn’t be limited by infrastructure or tools when coming up with a vision. Tools are only a way for you to achieve your goals. In listing out all the possible options, you represent the information architecture that would make sense to your end users holistically.
What is the delivery strategy of your product? How often are the product updates being delivered to customers? What are your timelines? Finding the answers to these questions will help you prioritize the deliverables in your vision of information architecture.
The deliverables you finally decide on can be based on many factors.
All the information you have researched, analyzed, and visualized finally brings you to the point when you need to structure the content in your content management system (CMS) or website. Information architecture isn’t just about visualizing information for user assistance but is also about converting the visual into reality.
How do you go about doing so? By organizing the high-level structure of your content, ensuring flexibility, scalability, and maximum reuse of content in your information architecture. These parameters essentially validate the efficiency of your information architecture when delivering quality user assistance in the end.
Did this blog post help you understand information architecture and its importance in user assistance? Think about the aspects of information architecture you have already covered for your product area. And the ones you haven’t covered yet.. What are your thoughts about it? Do share this blog post with a friend who might benefit from it.