Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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About Information Architecture

Monday, April 3, 2000
by Mark Hurst

The word "information architecture" is used quite a bit in the Web industry and is closely related to customer experience. Sometimes customer experience and information architecture will arrive at the same solution -- but they aren't quite the same thing (though they're both valuable to any e-business).

The main difference between information architecture and customer experience is the foundation of each. Customer experience is founded on empathy with, and understanding of, the customer. Information architecture, on the other hand, is based on an understanding of information.

Another difference lies in the tools of the two activities. Information architecture focuses on containers of information -- site maps, content inventories -- while customer experience focuses on things closer to what customers actually experience: conversations with customers, research on competitor and comparable sites, and a deep understanding of the company's marketing and product strategy.

Site maps, which customers rarely use, are rarely in the toolset of customer experience work (though again, they're valuable for information architects to understand the information contained on a site).

In this informative interview, Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville from Argus Associates offer this definition: "Information architecture involves the design of organization, labeling, navigation, and searching systems to help people find and manage information more successfully."

My definition of customer experience, in turn: Customer experience involves helping customers accomplish their goals quickly and easily on a website. And if customers particularly need better navigation or searching, those should be improved as well.

Richard Saul Wurman coined the term "information architecture" decades ago. He's the author of the excellent "Information Anxiety" (an early inspiration for me) and the creator of the influential TED conferences. Here's an interview of Wurman and a recent review of "Understanding USA," his most recent book, in Fast Company.

Another resource is this column from last October, which gives a good description of the information architect's tools. The content inventory, content map and site map are all described.

And finally, this Saturday, April 8, I'm scheduled to speak at the ASIS conference in Boston, which will feature leading information architects. I plan to speak about customer experience, how it differs from information architecture, and how information architecture should be contained within customer experience work.

Related article: Mark Hurst interviewed by Lou Rosenfeld (August 30, 2000)

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