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UXA2023 Penny Goodwin - Information Architecture and product development

uxaustralia
August 25, 2023

UXA2023 Penny Goodwin - Information Architecture and product development

Information Architecture (IA) is foundational for great usability and user experience. But for IA to become embedded in the product development process, we must use the language of product: what user problems does IA solve and what are the commercial/ organisational benefits?

In this talk I will share ideas and approaches on:

- A better way to explain IA to product people/stakeholders
- How to frame IA work in terms of stories, strategy and metrics

uxaustralia

August 25, 2023
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  1. Note that this is an unedited transcript of a live event and therefore may contain errors. This transcript is the
    joint property of CaptionsLIVE and the authorised party responsible for payment and may not be copied or
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    www.captionslive.au | [email protected] | 0447 904 255
    UX Australia
    UX Australia 2023
    Friday, 25 August 2023
    Captioned by: Kasey Allen & Bernadette McGoldrick

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    Page 112
    STEVE BATY: Our next talk this afternoon is coming remotely via video.
    Our next talk this afternoon is coming remotely by video. I will stay
    here while we bring Penny up on screen. Penny is from Optimal
    Workshop. I can see you on screen. That is awesome. You can hear me
    OK?
    PENNY GOODWIN: Yes, all good.
    STEVE BATY: I will hand over to Penny. Please join me in welcoming
    Penny Goodwin, thank you.
    PENNY GOODWIN: Kia ora kotou, ko penny ahau. Hi, I am Penny, I am
    trying to drop my Kiwi accent enough to get my name out because people
    are having trouble with that. I work at Optimal Workshop, which is based
    in Atura, Wellington and in New Zealand. I am the head of product and
    have been in various product roles over my career and I am here to talk
    about IA and product development. Hopefully you haven't got those

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    Page 113
    letters mixed up and you think I will talk about AI. If I start talking about
    artificial intelligence, something has gone very, very wrong.
    What is this talk about? Information Architecture and product
    development are massive topics in themselves. The crux is the belief that,
    through intentional Information Architecture, there is a great opportunity
    to improve the products and services that we work on for the people that
    need and use them to help us meet business goals. Which kind of all
    sounds great, however for some reason, getting this work prioritised can
    be really difficult, so what is stopping us?
    Product managers. I am a product manager by trade and, to be
    honest, I think we might be the problem. I feel better now that I have got
    that out in the open. Today, what I want to talk to you about is the
    product manager's perspective on how we can embed Information
    Architecture into the product development life cycle.
    So, sit back and relax while I tell you about how the PM in your life
    is stopping you from achieving what you want to do. Hey, I am only
    joking. What I will cover is some of the barriers to adopting IA practice
    and why those barriers might be there, the opportunity we have with
    looking at IA earlier in the process and then some suggested approaches
    on how to make this happen.
    Now, before I jump right into this, in case you are new to IA, I don't
    want you sitting there the whole time going "What is going on?" A
    working definition that we use at Optimal Workshop for IA is designing
    the information of an environment in a way that makes sense for the
    people who need to navigate it. But my assumption here is that most of
    the people that are listening know a lot more about this field than I do, so
    I am going to jump straight into it.
    Sorry to bring the mood down and start with the problems, but
    awareness is always the first step and it is much easier to be able to

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    Page 114
    address them if we can properly articulate them. Have you ever kind of
    had issues where you are trying to get work into a road map or a backlog,
    or you have tried to change or evolve the development process in some
    way? It can be tricky. Let alone when you are trying to champion
    something like Information Architecture work and, for product people, I
    think there is a really widespread lack of understanding around what
    Information Architecture is and how it can actually help achieve some of
    those higher level outcomes. Therefore, I don't think it has been
    considered and if the importance isn't understood and if people aren't
    comfortable discussing it, it is not going to be debated on and it is not
    going to end up on that road map.
    At the moment, because IA work isn't considered normal in cyber
    scope of product development, Information Architecture considerations
    can only come up maybe after something is built and we aren't seeing the
    change we were hoping for. We start to look at our IA toolkit and consider
    the larger environment that the change operates in and the way that the
    information is presented, but it is usually be can a begrudging last resort.
    With all these problems, is there hope for IA, this little confused
    triangle on one knee is asking? I am saying of course and I think there
    are two shifts that I have noticed in the last 10 years in the product
    development process that can give us that hope. Firstly, product teams
    are getting better at understanding the importance of customer research
    within their work. Everyone seems to have had their light bulb moment of
    realising that they are not their users or they have had an assumption
    invalidated. Secondly, we seem to be getting better at prioritising and
    building things in a technically sustainable way up-front since by now we
    have all had to deal with the large scale ramifications of putting off the
    technical debt and all the costs associated with that.
    You could be sitting there going "not at my work", and I get it, I am

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    Page 115
    generalising, but in a place that is practising good product development
    and management, it is an expected part of the rhetoric when you are
    shaping works. It is time to shine a light on Information Architecture and
    bring that in as part of the conversation too.
    The opportunity that IA presents is a compelling one. As I
    personally have learnt more about IA, I have discovered what you already
    know, which is Information Architecture is at the core of understanding
    human nature, so words, concepts and space can all make a difference in
    the usability of your products and services. Words matter. They can mean
    different things to different groups of people. For example, efficiency to
    some, this word represents streamlining processes to save time and
    money, while to others you could be listening to that going "That is
    cutting corners and sacrificing quality". The same information can be
    interpreted into different concepts and ideas by different groups of people
    and then comes spaces and places, buildings and structures, these
    communicated things, even without words or diagrams and these all
    influence our behaviour.
    There is a really great example of this that some of you may
    already know. This is a photo of Grand Central Station and there was a
    case study of some tweets or whatever they are called now and they
    came out of this train station and another train station in the US, Penn
    Station, and on the surface, these two train stations are serving the same
    purpose, they are getting people where they needed to go. They had the
    same issues, delays, communicating changes to schedule but the tone of
    the tweets from users in both of these spaces were vastly different. In
    Grand Central Station, it was generally really positive, whereas the tweets
    that came out of Penn Station were overwhelmingly negative. That is all
    to do with the environment that was created. People were starting to
    treat Grand Central Station as a destination, above just somewhere that

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    Page 116
    you caught a train, so somehow they tapped into a whole other persona
    in there. I was going to put up a photo of Penn Station but, to be honest,
    it looks pretty flash and that doesn't illustrate the point I am trying to
    make. If you can picture your shitty local train station instead, that would
    be great. The point is that space influenced the behaviour of the users of
    that service and it is just one example of the effect that great Information
    Architecture can have.
    One of the biggest light bulb moments for me was the
    understanding that Information Architecture is all around you whether
    you intentionally do it or not. If it's going to happen anyway, you may as
    well think about it from the start. I think the analogy of a garden is
    perfect, so we have all seen or maybe own gardens that have just
    become completely overrun, or had plants that, even with the best
    intentions, haven't grown. You can end up with weeds choking out the
    very thing you were trying to grow in the first place and this is so true of
    software, where we often build and build and add content and more
    content and we get ourselves into a state. Number one, we need to weed
    our garden, yes, but, ideally, we should also plan our garden from the
    start and any additions that might come in the future. Put your carrots
    and leeks together from the start and you will see better growth but don't
    put your corn next to your broccoli, apparently. I went down a rabbit hole
    on this topic. The point is, intentionality in this area makes all the
    difference, so have a think about a product that you may have worked on,
    or are working on, and just think about is this a garden of weeds or
    flowers?
    We know that considering Information Architecture early is a
    compelling case, so we need to understand those barriers to getting this
    work done and how we can overcome them. One of those barriers will
    probably be the person that is in charge of the backlog, so your product

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    Page 117
    manager. Let's discuss how we can win them around and the second is
    around lack of ownership and who can be the champions of the cause
    within your organisation.
    Starting with those pesky product managers, many people will know
    this but I just wanted to do a quick refresher on how we are making
    decisions as product people. Ideally, everyone in the organisation should
    care about Information Architecture, but if they don't, you will eventually
    get to the person who is in charge of the backlog and we are prioritising
    based on a number of things, so we are prioritising based on slices of the
    customer journey, data and metrics link to strategy, we are thinking
    about UX design, research investing and engineering platform
    architecture, looking at what our stakeholders think, our customers, our
    customer service teams. We are also trying to shield teams from senior
    leadership, as they try to switch the focus to the shiny new things. There
    is a lot going on in this space. The ironic thing is when I started learning
    more about Information Architecture, I saw a lot of parallels with product
    management as a discipline. This idea of taking amalgamous concepts,
    putting structure to it, helping various different types of people
    understanding and get value from it rings true for both disciplines which is
    a good thing because it creates that common ground.
    I am not saying we are simple folk but I am saying that we are
    usually generous. Our expertise is in the product development process, so
    we will understand the fundamental principles behind engineering and
    design and research and marketing but when we are given something
    new to consider, we are trying to understand how it fits in that bigger
    picture. Is it something to bring in or is this a distraction that we should
    be shielding the team from? Therefore, being able to communicate how IA
    fits in, and specifically the language you use, is really important.
    Sometimes I get something like this, "We want to do some

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    Page 118
    discovery and exploratory research, including understanding our users'
    ontology and taxonomy and after this we plan on modelling our users key
    abstractions and concepts and we will complete a heuristic evaluation of
    key pages". I am just sitting there nodding along but I am going blank,
    and so what I am translating this to in my head is OK, you want to
    understand user problems, what words they use and how they make
    sense of these concepts and make changes based on best practices?
    Really, it is kind of all about this framing and using generalist
    language in order to convey the impact of this work. Here is the kind of
    framework I want you to think about and the first thing is, as we all know,
    always start with strategy. Familiarise yourself with the company
    strategy, product strategy and ensure you understand, with the work
    you're proposing, that it would fall under that. Then move onto the story.
    Qualitative data here, quotes interviews, anything with customers that
    illustrate some of the points that you are making. Then, any data
    available. Maybe you have drop-off completion rates data or how much
    users need to use the help function. I will admit, quantitative can
    sometimes be really hard to come across and it is also hard to draw a
    definite conclusion of, especially related to something that is kind of a
    larger IA issue, but what I will say here is remember that is only one part
    of the story, so it is OK if you can't find that perfect metric that will tell
    that story for you.
    Lastly, a plan with a succinct hypothesis. There is always a problem
    that discovery work will spiral out of control, so being really clear on what
    we hope to achieve is key. We want to get to a place where Information
    Architecture considerations and research are part of the regular
    development process, so if you can be consistent with your approach, so
    everyone knows what to expect and build that relationship with your PM,
    that will help strengthen those future cases too.

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    Page 119
    Let's do an example and speaking of unruly gardens, earlier, this is
    Amazon in 2002 and there is a lot going on and apologies if you worked at
    Amazon in 2002 but if you did, come and chat with me. If we take that
    framework we were talking about before, first we want to start with that
    strategy. We can see here, retrospectively that, at the time, they wanted
    to encourage customers to buy more products, by bundling items and
    offering a discount. Because DVDs are the way of the future, they wanted
    to start there. I shouldn't laugh because they are doing very well. Point
    here is that the intent was around encouraging purchase of more related
    items.
    What we want to do next is start to create the story of what the
    journey is like for these users. For example, there is already an iteration
    out and that is where we do your usability tests and gather quotes like "I
    didn't even see that down there. I didn't see it as an option" but this
    could also mean broader strokes, exploratory research on this area. At
    this point we might be trying to highlight to the PM that no matter how
    much work is done on this little section down here, it won't mean
    anything if it persists inside this larger mess.
    Then we want to start talking data, so we might know at the
    moment that it happens all the time or users drop off at a checkout point
    at a high rate. This is why we have to start creating this case, then we
    want to move into providing the steps and approach. The hypothesis
    shaping. I think this is something you can do in conjunction with your
    product manager. I don't think you have to come up with this yourself,
    these people are experts in this kind of thing, bring them in on this. Your
    steps, they can include your customer interviews, your concept mapping,
    prototypes, A/B testing and I know this feels like a lot more work up-front
    to create the case but it makes it a lot easier to prioritise and get your
    product manager comfortable with this Information Architecture

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    Page 120
    discussion. I think you are going to get a really excited PM if this is what
    you present to them.
    Just to round off this case study, I went into Amazon the other day
    and it is still a hectic place, but they have changed the words from "Great
    buy" to "Frequently bought together". They have weeded their garden to
    create more space around the feature, so who knows, maybe an
    Information Architecture got in their ear over the last 21 years to ensure
    that though decisions were a little bit more intentional. One can only
    hope. Also, side note, they tried to upsell me from $23 to $102 which is
    outrageous.
    Earlier, I mentioned that apart from PMs, the other barrier that can
    exist to getting IA work done is lack of ownership and the confused
    triangle is back to ponder that question "Who owns the IA?" I groan
    whenever I hear someone say "Everyone owns it" because as we know, if
    everyone owns it, then no-one will own it. I guess my answer is a bit of a
    cop out too but the reality is, to make IA a normal part of that product
    development, life cycle, somebody needs to champion it and I think
    product managers, as generalists, are not the right role for this but I think
    we can be a really strong advocate. I think there is a really strong case
    for designers, researchers, product marketing as specialists in this area,
    so my suggestion is one of these faculties can own this or find those
    individual champions, as long as someone does it, but that is just an
    opinion, I am happy to debate that one.
    The role of championing Information Architecture about in sense is
    about bringing awareness to it. The suggestions on the screen, sharing
    examples with the company, telling a good story, getting stakeholders
    involved, those are general pieces of advice and I would be telling you
    that anyway, but I think the difference with Information Architecture is
    that many people don't realise an IA problem when they see it. It is one

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    Page 121
    of those things where, if you get it right, no-one will notice it, but if
    something goes wrong and you tweak wording or navigational - maybe
    you change the structure to appeal to a different mental model, letting
    people know those are intentional IA decisions, you can make those next
    time ahead of time, that is starting to get people more comfortable with
    discussing it. Let's just revisit the kind of sentiment from earlier around
    how we can embed IA into the development life cycle and I think there
    are three main takeaways that I think can help.
    The first is understand the opportunity. IA helps us build in a way
    that works with humans and we are still building for humans at this point,
    so it's still relevant. Everything has an IA, so you may as well be
    intentional about it and IA work can be an opportunity for business value
    too. Make sure we sing that kind of loud and clear.
    The next is work on that framing. Identify who your key
    gatekeepers are and work to understand what systems are in play. Spend
    time to frame it with language that will resonate most.
    Lastly, champion the IA in your organisation by adopting it as a
    faculty and becoming responsible for it. Report on IA with stories, data,
    tie it to company and product strategy, don't try and fight that good fight
    by yourself. Help others see their part into play and the benefits that they
    will be able to get from this.
    Get in touch with me if you want to discuss this debate, or maybe
    you just want to actually tell me how much you love the product
    managers in your organisation. That is always nice to hear too.
    Otherwise, we would always love to hear from you at Optimal Workshop.
    Thank you for listening. (APPLAUSE)
    STEVE BATY: Thank you, so much, Penny. I think we have got time for
    one question for Penny, if someone from the audience has one? You OK to

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    Page 122
    take a question, Penny?
    PENNY GOODWIN: Yes, sure.
    STEVE BATY: I look around expectantly. I think you are off the hook.
    There you go. Thank you, no questions. Awesome. Keep an eye out for
    Penny. You may find her over here later on but please join me in thanking
    Penny. (APPLAUSE)

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