9 Tips for UX Designers in Complex Domains

Over the years, UX designers have developed strategies that enable quick and efficient understanding of domains in complex industries. Proactive strategies that emphasize collaboration and focus on the needs of target audiences, facilitate stunning information architecture design. Let’s take a look at how UX designers can learn domains in complex industries and integrate usability into existing information architecture.

Information Architecture and User Experience

Information Architecture (IA) is a pretty old term. It basically focuses on the structure and organization of web content that helps the user easily navigate a website or web app. IA complexity can vary from a simple brochure site to extremely complex information systems. User-friendly information architecture is more important than ever as interfaces act as high-tech customer service reps for many online businesses.

A UX designer’s main objective is to take content past simple navigation into the realm of user experience. Some questions designers must address include: “Is the existing IA user-friendly?” “Can the target audience easily find desired content and accomplish required tasks?” To answer these questions, UX professionals utilize user-centric strategies to make a simple, predictable, and cohesive experience for target audiences.

Information architecture pro Sarah Barrett, points out that designing information architecture must go further than user-centered design (UCD), human-to-computer interaction (HCI), and interaction design (IxD). The modern web paradigm recognizes that interfaces must provide multi-dimensional experiences that understand user’s motivations and desires to connect to broader contexts and experiences. So how can UX professionals design information architecture to satisfy domain need and consumer desires?

Information Architecture Design Preparation

Push for Simplicity

Focusing on simplicity always leads to more user-friendly IA. And once you’ve finished designing your first version, push for an even simpler solution. Consider the concept of abstraction. Designers use abstraction to promote scalability. IAF, Capgemini’s architecture framework, presents 4 levels of abstraction: contextual, conceptual, logical and physical. Contextual level focuses on the WHY: Why does the company need architecture? What are the business objectives and architecture principles? Conceptual focuses on WHAT: What has to happen to reach those objectives. Logic focuses on HOW: How can the architecture be designed to achieve objectives? Physical looks at WITH WHAT: This prescribes an application of a specific structure.

Be a Proactive Learner

Don’t be intimidated by unknown terms — ignorance is not bliss. Ask someone who knows or look them up. You can also check out Microsoft TechNet to find more technical terms.

Prepare for Changes

Initial interviews may reveal unexpected issues or terminology. Changes are inevitable, so make room for changes when you schedule user research activities. All UX designers should take notes during interviews and discuss special language with clients on the spot. This leads to quick strategic revisions and more complete prototypes.

Jump In and Start Wireframing

This is the really fun part. Work with stakeholders and SMEs to create high-level workflows and data models. Use flow charts as a visual understanding of discussions, then go to wireframing. Each step only enhances understanding between UX designers and clients. After wireframing, more complete prototypes can be constructed and put in front of the users for testing.

How to Integrate Usability and Information Architecture Design

Use Multiple Methods

Variety is the spice of UX design. Fundamental to the infrastructure building process is implementing an array of methods to discover the tacit knowledge of field experts, create mental models, and effectively represent the complexity of processes. This can be successfully done through wireframing workflows, journey maps, card sorting,, interviews, and task prioritizations to understand the target users’ desires, processes, pain points, and language.

Learn How the Target Audience Connects Online

The internet is alive. It is a living, breathing organism that changes every day. Information is distributed to client interfaces through a variety of devices, with which your client must be prepared to communicate. This raises new challenges for UX designers when creating information architecture.

Make Information Functional

Make sure your information is as flexible as possible. This means designing software to be highly usable without sacrificing functionality or vice versa. Domain modeling is a powerful method that effectively explores relevant information and content relationships to help maintain this balance. It could involve information architecture design that addresses a variety of needs — like communications, marketing, information systems, and so on.

Also, don’t forget to test the integrity of the domain’s information architecture using IA analytics. Analytics provide insight into user behaviors and trends that can be used to verify the effectiveness of IA solutions. Positive results will lead to a solid perspective on user patterns and create a quantifiable business record.

Find Ways to Organize and Produce Relevant Relationships between Information

UX professionals can design information architecture effectively if they focus on maintaining simplicity. This is achieved by defining information organization and information relationships. Well-crafted frameworks are born from formally organized information on the conceptual level. You can use ontological models to shape information spaces designed for an optimum user experience.

Provide the Main Pathway to Information

As complex domains grow, desired information can be pushed further and further away from information seekers. The pathways presented to users must be natural, efficient, and engaging. Always provide primary pathways. Primary pathways are structural and persistent. UX designers can create primary pathways that funnel users to a designated point, closer to desired information within the website. Also consider informal pathways that account for unexpected user behaviors. Site searches and tag clouds are common modes of informal pathways that make navigation easier.

Putting It All Together

UX designers build on the foundation that information architects provide — aiming to elevate content, making it simple to navigate and effective at taking users to desired information. Not many outside of information architecture design know or care about how they seamlessly go from Point A to Point B. But they definitely recognize bad usability, and will tell their friends. So next time you design for a domain in a complex industry, don’t panic. Instead lean on the domain team, target audience research, user testing, and your own awesome design abilities to take good IA to remarkable IA.

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