IA Design & Usability: Steven Heitman, Sr. User/Design Researcher, Information Architect, User Experience Designer, Project/Product Manager, Mentor, Usability Expert/Testing, Director

Sr. User/Design Researcher / Information Architect Specialist

User Experience Designer


The IA Model

What is The IA—Information Architecture—Model?

It is about making Websites work right for people (end users) who use them. The reason an Information Architect adds value to corporate Websites is that—in the long run (doing Information Architecture)—it saves corporations time and money. Making Websites usable for people who use them.

Information Architecture derived from specific design research and then applied to specific Websites means end users can more effectively Websites.

A Website is structured with built-in affordances, specific to interaction design needs specific to the overall structure, provides end users with a Website easy to use.

The IA Model is a systematic approach, when followed, determines a high-success rate from start-to-finish, regarding Websites and other digital design products.

The IA Model

A systematic approach for designing information architecture—for simple to complex Websites and apps:
  1. Design Research
  2. Concept Generation
  3. User Scenarios
  4. Wire Frame Mockups
  5. Prototyping
  6. Usability Testing
  7. Implementation
  8. System Testing
An Information Architect adds value because designing Websites that work both effectively and saves end users time. In the long run, this saves corporations money.

Designing Information Architecture

How do you do Information Architecture for a Website?

Information Architects do research by first doing a needs assessment (Website Audits) or competitive analysis, using methods-of-design research and procedures.

These documents should include: specific research and a design plan, a competitive analysis (Website Audits), and supporting documentation.

Information Architects consult closely with clients or corporations to determine what their needs will be prior to designing and implementing a Website.

User-Centered Design

Who has to use all of these online products?

The answer to that question is clear: human beings use Websites.

What Does an Information Architect Do for Clients?

Information Architects meet with clients or stakeholders to interview subject matter experts—to get at what the real need is for a client’s business requirements and for end users.

This means developing a viable design plan and solution prior to implementation of digital design products.

Understanding requirements for design plans are helpful to Instructional Designers that desire to produce high-quality Websites. In the long run, end users do benefit from user-centered design.

Information Architect Do Research

If the Website (design or multimedia product) is structured and navigational systems developed, end users can more effectively use a Website and then concentrate on learning or using Website.

Information Architects use a variety of computer software programs to produce required documentation.

Information Architects use Visio to do flow charts, as well as Adobe Creative Suite, and/or Axure.

Information Architects might develop a few working prototypes using Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, Flash, and Dreamweaver).

Then experienced computer/Web programmers do specific cmputer/Web programming, or other complex code refinements necessary and required for any particular project.

The Information Architect is primarily concerned with the conceptual design part-of-the-project, incorporating user-centered design into every design product, including aspects of computer/Web programming.

1. Design Research

A lot of design research involves doing extensive research for an IA Design Plan, which should match stakeholders business plan, goals, and objectives. Conversely, Design Research includes: concepts or designs that work right for end users.

Technical writing skills are necessary in order to jot down notes for an IA Design Plan, including being able to draft and write professional usability reports for projects.

The IA Model is a systematic approach for doing Information Architecture.

However, it is only a guide. Steps can be done out of order to accomplish specific project requirements.

Following a systematic approach greatly increases user-centered design for digital design products prior to implementation.

2. Concept Generation

Working together as a team and participating in concept generation and brainstorming activities.

3. User Scenarios

Information Architects develop user scenarios or use case scenarios to show how an intended audience could use Websites. Websites are designed with end users in mind.

Information Architects design Websites, using data from research. Then Websites are specific to end users goals and objectives.

4. Wire Frame Mockups

Information Architects develop and draw wire frame mockups to show how a Web page will be designed.

Other deliverables are done at this point in the project, including flow charts, interaction flow charts, and schematics.

Card sorting sessions could be done prior to producing Information Architecture documentation.

If user-centered design is the main objective, based solely on intended audiences, then one might consider doing card sorting first.

Business plans have to be taken into account, including designing for intended audiences.

5. Prototyping

Experience prototypes can be developed quickly, as Web pages, or as paper prototypes. They can be used to collect data from end users. One can also do Rapid Prototyping, using napkins, using paper (pen and ink), drafting and sketching out design concepts by hand, using Adobe Creative Suite, and using Axure.

6. Usability Testing

Specific usability tests pertinent to projects are written to test Websites with goals and objectives for end users.

Usability Inspection Methods by Jakob Nielsen
Handbook of Usability Testing by Jeffrey Rubin

Instructional Designers and Corporate Trainers are taught about doing Formative Evaluations (Usability Testing, writing plan reports and administering tests to end users), which includes doing usability testing.

Oftentimes Websites are designed for intended audiences, but design flaws prevent end users from fully using these products efficiently.

7. Implementation

When a Website or other digital design products are ready to be launched, then Implementation happens.

8. System Testing

System Testing is done to make sure it all works right. Modifications are made to Websites, as necessary or required for improvements.

Systematic Professional Approach

While Instructional Designers or Corporate Trainers use The ADDIE Model or other ISD Models, Information Architects and User Researchers can take a systematic approach, using The IA Model.

Using The IA Model requires having specific vocational skills pertinent to the Information Architecture industry.

Other relevant skills in design, human factors, human-computer interaction, and design-related fields supplement skills.

Successful User/Design Research

Following a standardized systematic approach provides Information Architects and Instructional Designers with a better way to document their researched findings in detailed reports.

A systematic approach incorporates high-quality designs or well thought out conceptual ideas into design products.

Another good reason for using The IA Model is that: it gives one a way to more readily, easily communicate with stakeholders, as well as with team members.

The IA Model provides a systematic approach for doing specific Information Architecture design research, and it helps in an iterative design process to communicate to others and do high-quality work.

If a good model and systematic approach is followed, then it provides a solid framework for every person on the team.

Using a model is an excellent way to communicate and document conceptual ideas. It enables researchers to do brainstorming and create excellent designs.

The IA Model was developed by Steven Heitman, Senior User Researcher and Information Architect (IA) Specialist, during his development and research phases for the MAEd Dissertation and Online IA Tutorial.

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Steven Heitman
IA Design & Usability

Sr. User/Design Researcher
Information Architect
User Experience Designer
Interaction Designer
Product Designer
User-Centered Designer
Usability Tester
Technical Writer
Corporate Trainer
Project/Product Manager

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Updated: March 1, 2022