Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Status so far: approaching the end of Information Architecture

Since this has been a long project I think it's going to help to summarise things that have happened so far.

After deciding to replace the current Intranet by building a new one from scratch we

  • Did research.
  • Wrote a project plan covering the 3 phases: Information Architecture, Design and Layout and build.
  • Started the Information Architecture phase by randomly choosing a staff member from each department to create a focus group representing a cross-section of the company.
  • Interviewed the focus group members.
  • Interviewed the senior managers.
  • We asked the focus group to do an open card sort on the content from the current Intranet and all the things we thought should be on there but weren’t.
  • Analysed the results to form a hierarchy.
  • Tested the hierarchy using the card based classification evaluation technique described on the Boxes and Arrows website.

Then we were interrupted for a number of reasons for about 3 months.

When we came back to look at the hierarchy it just didn’t look right at all.

During the course of the project all the contents of the Staff Handbook had been added to the Intranet (previously the Handbook was paper-based but certain policies had been available from the Intranet).

We hadn’t incorporated the entire staff handbook in our initial card sort as it was being reviewed. Now it was all there and there was a large overlap between the Handbook and the Intranet contents.

Also the hierarchy was looking distinctly departmental – something we had tried to avoid.

So we threw it away and started again.

We printed a list of the contents and between us (not involving the focus group) we sorted the content according to function and after a couple of rounds of hierarchy testing, re-naming and re-arranging we now have a structure which feels logical and stable.

This is the philosophy behind the main sections:

  1. What the company provides for you, how the company does things.
  2. Things you need to interact with the company and the company with its employees – things required to manage your working life.
  3. Tools, equipment or resources needed to do your job.
  4. Information which is directly related to work, business documents, project documents etc.

The testing results have been good: people find most things on their 1st attempt and if not then very quickly on their 2nd attempt. Even if someone didn’t find something at all they felt comfortable with its location once they were told where it was or had the philosophy of the section explained.

We know that the names of the sections are not correct yet and that some of the sub-levels of the sections need to be re-named too but it will be possible to work out the names as we continue the development into the Design and Layout stage as user-testing is planned throughout the project.


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