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A Team Approach to Information Architecture
2008, Q2 (July 09, 2008)
By Amy Olson, Sangita Koli, and Dino Ruggiero, 2008 Graduates of the Duke Continuing Studies Technical Communication Certificate program.

During our time in the Duke Continuing Studies Technical Writing Certificate program, we had the privilege of studying information architecture with Ann-Marie Grissino for six weeks. At the end of the session, we applied the skills and methods we had learned to a final group project. Our assignment was to work in a team of two or three and craft a concept plan for a topic of our own choosing. Per Ann-Marie's instructions, our deliverables would include a project summary and goals, information about our intended audience, case scenarios and task analyses for the different audience types, a summary of standards, a site map, and a prototype. After forming our team, we decided to create a website prototype for consumers interested in hybrid cars.
It was helpful to have all the team members review each piece of writing; having multiple editors made for thorough and comprehensive reviews.

Getting Started

From the beginning, we realized the most effective way to complete this project was to share some duties and divide others. We conducted research on hybrid vehicles on our own. Then, as a group, we brainstormed about the scope of the website and its intended audience. We agreed to limit the scope of the site to only hybrid-electric vehicles; we then crafted a project summary and established the website's goals. We also agreed on three user types for our case scenarios. Most of this preliminary work was accomplished over email and the telephone, because, like most teams in today's workplace, we were in different locations and had very different schedules.

Developing the Deliverables

As we moved into developing the case scenarios and task analyses, we found it most efficient to divide the writing duties. We each chose one user type and developed the case scenario and tasks for that user. When we finished our scenarios and tasks, we emailed our work to our teammates for editing and review. Although we accomplished this effectively using Word documents and email, this task could have been completed more efficiently using a wiki or an online document-sharing tool. At that time, however, we were unfamiliar with those technologies, so we used the tools we understood.

Sharing our case scenarios and task analyses with our teammates provided a couple of advantages. It was helpful to have all the team members review each piece of writing; having multiple editors made for thorough and comprehensive reviews. Sharing our work with the whole team also allowed us to see how the others had organized the information in their case scenarios and task analyses. We then agreed on which style was best organized and easiest to read, and formatted all our scenarios to conform to that style. As we established these preferences, we began building our style guide as well.
coffee break

Up to this point we continued to use email and attachments to complete our work. As we moved on to the step of creating the visual design of the website prototype, we found it easiest to meet together in one location. We choose a day when we could each set aside several hours, and met at a mutually convenient location (actually, Panera Bread — what is better for teamwork than food and coffee?). Since the project did not require a working website, we decided to create our prototype page using PowerPoint. We found that we easily built on one other's ideas for all aspects of creating the website: colors, graphics, font sizes and styles, subject headings, and so on. We agreed that the final product was better in all ways because we chose to work on it as a team. After a long day of collaboration, we ended up with something we all felt good about.

As the project wound down, we again found it easiest to divide the remaining tasks. Sangita formalized the standards for the style guide, Dino documented the site map, and Amy finalized the web page's design. We continued to share our individual documents with our teammates and to benefit from their ideas and editing.

Wrapping it Up

In the end, our presentation was a success! Ann-Marie felt we demonstrated excellent information architecture skills and that we presented a great final project. We felt our project was stronger because we worked as a team. We were able to divide the work so that no one person carried the bulk of the load. Our individual writing improved since we had two editors to review all of our work, which also resulted in a more clearly written and better organized project overall. We had the benefit of building on one other's ideas in all areas of the project — if one of us had a block, we had two other teammates to go to for help. And last but not least, we had fun. We enjoyed getting to know one other better, our personalities worked well together, and we learned a lot about information architecture!

Amy Olson can be reached at amyolson2000 at yahoo dot com. Sangita Koli can be reached at sangitaandjaydeep at msn dot com. Dino Ruggiero can be reached at drugg at aol dot com. End of article.

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