(The post was originally published on UXmatters.com)
In the digital experience economy, the architecture and design of user interfaces are as critical to a business’s success as the architecture and design of the technology infrastructure that supports them. Hence, the way a business views their digital system will ultimately determine their future successes and failures.
Information Architecture and Systems
To the information architect or theorist, information systems are indeterminate. We can study an information environment, or ecology, as a system, regardless of its modality. For example, information architecture can study Web content as a system of categories, labels, topics, media types, authors, and their interrelationships. Or we can study the targeted audience for content as a system of social behaviors and common language. However, the preferred approach would be to study Web content as a part, or subsystem, of the target audience’s social norms.
Thus, looking at the relationships between information systems, business, and marketing in the age of customer digital experience, we recognize that, when customers engage with computer interfaces, the system of record actually extends beyond the technology and into the domain of human-computer interaction and human experience. In such a real-world context, this is the system.
Further, just as we can describe a new system, we can also assume a new architecture. Today’s systems architects deliver a crucial business function—carefully planning the relationships between nodes that include networked devices, software, services, and data in the context of business activities. The artifact from these activities typically takes the form of areference architecture. As such, information architecture activities relate equally to the concepts, contexts, language, and intents that foster UX planning, or architecture, activities that articulate a strategy and roadmap for digital user engagement.
As businesses and technologists embrace digital transformation and digital experience as vital strategic paradigms, they must mature their digital initiatives by extending their notion of the system to include the thoughtful consideration of information architecture and customers’ digital experience.
A Basic Model
It won’t be easy to change business leaders’ and technologists’ mental model for information systems and their related architectural activities. We must remember that information systems architecture is built upon decades of mind-blowing innovations and proven results. So, the first order of business for the field of Information Architecture—as well as UX professionals—is to assert our own reference model for digital experiences, then communicate it when the opportunity presents itself.
I propose a model for digital experience architecture, shown in Figure 1, that leverages the UX design practice verticals that I’ve defined.  Further, to help reduce ambiguity in my visual model for digital experience architecture, I’ve created an accompanying manifesto.
The UX design practice verticals cover four business information system activities:
- context analysis
- testing, research, and analytics
- design architecture
- infrastructure architecture
In the circular part of the model shown in Figure 1, design architecture and infrastructure architecture represent a complete architectural whole, in which design architecture focuses on human engagement and infrastructure architecture delivers technology enablement. Both have content and research at their center.
This model also recognizes that design and infrastructure have different development lifecycles. But this does not mean that they are incompatible. Since they share an integrated architecture, experienced design and technology leads should be able to propose an integrated process.
Finally, it’s important to note that this model for digital experience architecture refers to activities. It is not about roles or titles. Whether 1 or 500 people take responsibility for the activities that this model comprises is a matter of organizational structure and culture. However, with that said, the model does imply two important architecture roles:
- Design Architect—The best-suited candidates for this role will have deep experience in UX strategy and planning activities—for example, UX designers, UX strategists, UX architects, and information architects.
- Infrastructure Architect—IT systems architects and systems engineers will continue to fill this role.
Design and infrastructure architects serve as key advisors to the Product Manager, Product Owner, or Service Owner, who is accountable for business strategy, operations, and the delivery of a digital experience as a product or service.
To Be Continued
In the digital experience economy, the architecture and design of user interfaces are as critical to a business’s success as the architecture and design of the technology infrastructure that supports them. Hence, the way businesses describe a system, or digital customer experience, ultimately determines their future successes and failures.
Advocating this new concept of the system and creating an architecture that’s tailored to the digital experience economy will benefit information architects and other UX professionals. Let’s experiment with these models and provoke businesses and technologists to engage in this important discussion.
Download “A Model for Digital Experience Architecture” (PDF)