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Inspiration for Information Architects

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Shawn Scott

One of the most important responsibilities of an Information Architect is to solve problems creatively. Inspiration for problem solving comes to each of us in a unique way; at different times, from different places, and in different forms. Inspiration can come from an energizing and uplifting experience or from an unpleasant one. One scenario inspires you to continue in a similar direction while the other may inspire you to make a course correction. In either scenario, inspiration can be used as a tool to improve upon a future user experience.
Inspiration can come from physical activities, reading a book or article, looking at something online, etc. People save their inspirations through various media like Tumblr, Pinterest, Trello, bookmarking links, peg boarding articles or even sticking them on the refrigerator as a collection of daily reminders. Browsing Dribbble or Behance and copying ideas will not lead you to the best solution for your client’s unique problem. You’re looking at the solution to someone else’s problem and you don’t get to see the process that led them to that solution.

How is inspiration useful?
Before you look for inspiration, you must first define what your problem is and identify what needs to be fixed. This could be a bug in a system, the flow of information on a website, the user’s experience, or a flaw in navigation structure.

Inspiration can help us think outside the box and create fuel for problem solving. It is important to keep inventory of examples that work well and inspire you. This can be a good way to start building inspiration for a project and forming an idea.

There are many different methods to organize and evolve ideas/inspirations. Some that I find useful are:

  • Making lists
  • Grouping information
  • Whiteboarding ideas
  • Sketching
  • Collaborating with others directly
  • Group team building exercises

What’s the next step?
As an IA, data organization and the flow of information are your top priorities. When addressing a problem, you should start in the discovery phase of your process. This is where you can define the root of the problem and begin your research. Once you have started collecting information from users and stakeholders through interviews, surveys, and analytics, you can start organizing that information via the following methods.

Once you’ve organized your gathered information, you can start developing solutions. These methods of organizing information can help you identify alternative ways to structure your content. I personally prefer to work through a sketch book or a white board where I can sketch out wireframes, process flows, and interactions to compare side by side. Your first, second, or third solution will rarely be your best. Digging deeper and playing out multiple ideas is typically how you will find the best solution.
At this point, you can start to confirm your findings by testing and gaining user and stakeholder feedback before beginning design and development.
As someone who helps create user experiences for others, I am constantly evaluating my own user experiences on a daily basis. This can be anything from grocery shopping, booking a flight, using my mobile banking app, or interacting with the interface of my car. If an experience stands out to me for any reason, good or bad, I will take inventory of the moment and refer back to it later on as inspiration for future projects.