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Oct 26, 2010: Does this sound like a workshop you'd like to take?

As you can see from my recent posts, lately I've been thinking a lot about my favorite whipping boy, redesign. I'd also like to create a new workshop—one not so narrow as site search analytics or as broad as enterprise IA. (And which avoids scary terms in the title, like, um, "analytics" and "enterprise".)

So I just whipped this up. I'd love your input. Like the title? The flavor? Does it make sense to you? Would you take it yourself, or what kind of person (if any) would you recommend take it?

Thanks!

Design to Refine: Developing a sustainable information architecture

When web sites are failing, site owners do dumb things. The dumbest is also the most common: they engage in expensive, cosmetic redesigns that provide little actual benefit. Worse, these redesigns quickly go stale, and need to be repeated every few years.

But there's hope: by tuning your site's information architecture, you can avoid suffering years of endless failed redesigns. Tuning means constantly evaluating the needs of a site's users, sponsors, and environment, and making sure those needs are met. Because a little will often go a long way toward meeting those needs, tuning is cheap. And tuning isn't rocket science; it's something you can do right now.

In this workshop, Lou Rosenfeld will get you on your way toward tuning your site's information architecture. He'll show you how to:

  • Regularly sample from a balanced menu of regular research and analytics that you can do in-house, rather than commissioning huge, expensive one-off research studies that will end up in a filing cabinet
  • Determine the few design tasks—especially the low-hanging fruit—that merit the bulk of your attention
  • Gradually improve critical areas like contextual navigation and site search, rather than focusing on political hot potatoes like the main page and site-wide navigation
  • Identify and set up ongoing processes so your team can gently curate your site instead of reacting to an endless flood of projects
  • Keep the work (and the expertise) in-house, rather than paying external agencies to solve their favorite problems
  • Convince senior leadership to do the right thing, rather than redesign (again)

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Comment: Evan (Oct 26, 2010)

I'm just begin my transition from classroom teacher to IA, yet this seems like great idea for a workshop. Kind of IA for non-IAs. Let me know if it becomes a reality.

Comment: Aaron Irizarry (Oct 26, 2010)

Being a User Experience Designer that comes from a mostly front end web design background, I love this idea of tuning the site's information architecture.

I have been a part of those numerous stale re-designs you mentioned, and would definitely be interested in diving into this more.

Comment: Daniel Szuc (Oct 26, 2010)

Like it and just had this very conversation over dinner last night. The questions I walked away with:

"Why do clients love redesigns so much?"

and

"How do you move away from clients looking for WOW factors?

What are the roots of both?

rgds,
Dan

Comment: Lynne Polischuik (Oct 26, 2010)

I love the concept for this workshop, Lou. Using (gasp!) data to properly scope and plot a redesign is key and it's shocking how frequently this is overlooked.

What speaks loudest to clients is demonstrable ROI. Being able to tell a client "By spending $X, you will likely achieve $Y" makes prioritizing aspects of design and getting client buy-in so, so much easier.

I'd love to see something like this geared not just towards designers but web project managers and even product managers. I fully agree: Having testing and analytics processes in place enables continual improvement, and this is often far more profitable over the long term than multiple enormous, gong show redesign undertakings.

Comment: Peter Boersma (Oct 27, 2010)

Lou,

The wording of this is a bit accusatory (or is it accusational?), from "site owners do dumb things" (many potential attendees may have helped or even initiated redesigns), via "suffering years of endless failed redesigns" (any redesign will result in years of maintenance work, not always suffering) and "expensive one-off research studies that will end up in a filing cabinet" (the studies may end in the trash for all I care, as long as the valuable knowledge gained is used in the redesign, at least once) to "paying external agencies to solve their favorite problems" (if their favorite problem happens to be your worst nightmare, it's a match made in heaven).

I'd try to write it in a more positive, constructive manner.

Also, the text is heavily geared towards internal IAs, not employees of outside agencies. Wouldn't you want to include them in the pool of potential attendees? They can help do it right the first time.

Oh, and don't forget that websites, both the outer layers, as well as the structural composition, are actually influenced by style and therefore need a redesign every now and then. See for example Christopher Fahey's IA Summit 2007 presentation "Interaction Design Style" (http://www.graphpaper.com/2007/04-01_interaction-design-style-my-ia-summit-2007-presentation).

Otherwise: good luck with the preparations for a workshop like this. As you can see from the other comments, people have certain expectations from it that indicate a need.

Comment: Jeff MacIntyre (Oct 27, 2010)

Kudos, Lou. This is a superb idea and a timely topic (and not for the eco aspect).

I hope you'll consider the many pertinent adjacencies in this work to content strategy, which in my read of things is fundamentally product development with an eye specifically to content.

As such, so much of what a content strategist does enables (sure) ROI but also (critically for many of our clients!) IRR, or internal rate of return. Credit Rahel Bailie for cluing me into the technical label here. So much of what I do is about introducing stable platforms and practices around content publishing--ones that establish a foundation to be improved by continuous process improvement and regular internal measurement and review.

From my point of view, it's about never leading clients toward solutions that outstrip their capacity to execute on them. Effectively.

Comment: lorelei brown (Oct 27, 2010)

Don't forget to talk explicitly about metrics, including analytics as a device to communicate progress. Offline metrics are very important as well.

Comment: Lou (Oct 27, 2010)

As always, wonderful feedback; thanks all!

Lynne and Lorelei, you hit the nail on the head--we definitely need analytics to justify our design decisions *and* the overall tuning approach. You won't be surprised that I'd rely quite a bit on site search analytics here, and the Zipf Distribution (AKA the 80/20 rule) in general. I'd also cover analyzing short head of document popularity. Are there other types of analytics you'd suggest?

Peter, it is definitely a bit negative, mostly by design. It often does come down to organizational stupidity--I don't know how else I can put it. And this seems to reaffirmed by the discussions I have with people in the trenches. So while the negative flavor may seem attention-grabbing, I do think it's not that far off. (And I do agree with you about positioning it more for agencies, although they are as often as not the enabler of poor senior leadership decision-making).

IRR? Jeff, will check it out; in fact, here's the Wikipedia entry for anyone interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_rate_of_return

Comment: David Hobbs (Nov 8, 2010)


I think this is a great topic. In fact, I think the same things goes on the technical side. In other words, instead of just thinking what *this instance* of the website needs to do, try to think about the flexibility that needs to be built in to allow changes and extensions in the future. This is harder and more abstract to think about (and there's no way to get this 100% right in advance), but another aspect to avoiding unnecessary major redesigns.

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