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the five phases

From an Information Architect's point of view and for all practical purposes, the production and ensuing administration of a web site entail five major phases. They are the:

The fifth phase, the Administration Phase, is more part of the overall program that ensures continuity of the newly implemented information architecture, which I eventually get to below.

As an Information Architect, I'll focus on the activities associated with these phases in the following manner:

the five phases

Though it's often argued by Information Architects that it's best to work in a linear fashion, completing one phase before starting the next, real-world scenarios often dictate some sort of overlap between phases. As previously mentioned in this series, this is especially true where a number of personnel are involved in the project, and need to start working as soon as they can. The amount of this overlap varies from client to client, and is usually driven by time constraints.

Define the project

The first phase, the research phase, begins with a review of existing background materials and meetings with the folks who will make up the strategy team. During this phase, we'll gain a high-level understanding of the goals and business context, the existing information architecture, the content, and the intended audiences. We'll then quickly move into a series of studies, employing a number of methods to explore the information ecology.

Develop the functional specification

The results of the research conducted in the first phase provide a contextual understanding that forms the basis for development of an information architecture strategy, resulting in a functional specification. From a top-down perspective, this specification will define the highest two or three levels of the site's organization and navigation structures. From a bottom-up perspective, it will suggest candidate document types and a rough metadata schema. The functional specification provides a high-level framework for the information architecture, establishing a direction and scope that will guide the project through implementation.

Design the interface

During this phase, the Design Phase, the high-level strategy established during the second phase is developed into an information architecture, with the creation of detailed blueprints, wireframes, and metadata schema that will be used by graphic designers, programmers, content authors, and the production team. This phase is typically where the Information Architect does the most work. For this phase to be successful, all those involved in the execution of the design process must understand the importance of adhering to the instructions mandated by the functional specification. Poor design execution can and has ruined the best of strategies.

Produce the site shell

The Implementation Phase is where your designs will be put to the test as the site is built, tested, and launched. For the Information Architect, this phase involves organizing and tagging documents, testing, troubleshooting, and developing documentation and training programs to ensure that the information architecture can be maintained effectively over time.

Post implementation upkeep and maintenance

Last but not least comes administration, the continuous evaluation and improvement of the site's information architecture. Administration includes the daily tasks of tagging new documents and weeding out old ones. It also requires monitoring site usage and user feedback, identifying opportunities to improve the site through major or minor redesigns. This phase is typically addressed by in-house employees, specifically those trained to do so as one of the outcomes of the previous phase.

And there you have it, an overview of the entire process, from start to finish. Actually, the process never truly ends, as the last phase is really an ongoing phase, especially as you continue to add to your product or service lines, or both. Additionally, given the ever-changing nature of the way information is distributed via the web, what with new technologies constantly being introduced, the people responsible for your web content upkeep should remain gainfully employed for some time to come.

Now, maybe you have one last question before we get into the meat that makes up each of the five phases:

How will I be able to follow the progress of the project?

That's a relatively easy one to answer. Informed clients (those I help inform) can choose from a number of ways to track the progress of work. I'm generally pretty flexible, e.g.:

  • I can set you up with password protected access to a customized area on this web site that will allow you to track the project through each step and view deliverables;
  • I can deliver soft and hard copy to you at regular intervals, as well as status sheets, or;
  • For the most part, any way you prefer.

Regardless what you decide, the method of delivery will be established at or before the onset of work.

Next in this series: Phase 1: the Research Phase

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What's an "information architect?" | research phase | strategy phase
design phase | implementation phase | putting it all together



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