February 28, 2018
In a digital era of constant change, teams will find themselves playing “catch up” with user behavior and technology trends. However, as human behaviors evolve and trends come and go, there are four digital experience architecture activities that are here to stay.
Rise of the User Interface and Experience
Due to the economies of scale and the need to manage corporate risk, most enterprise businesses tend to own the core aspects of their technology infrastructure. As this happens, these organizations have little choice when it comes to operating like a technology company—even when they are clearly not. And now, with the focus on customers’ digital experiences, it’s become essential for technology strategies to consider the business impact of digital user interfaces.
In the last two decades, the practice of user experience design has helped to demonstrate how interface interactions can be improved by anticipating a broader range of human factors and the impact on a user’s personal experience. Today, user interfaces are entrusted to act as mediators in the relationships that we have with customers and employees; they serve as vital channels for generating billions in online revenue; and they are essential to countless hours of business-operational tasks.
Corporations have traditionally outsourced the strategy and design of their user interfaces to technology consultants or digital agencies. But, that will change. Since human-digital engagement is becoming more ubiquitous by the day, maturing organizations will have to adopt solid models for effectively owning their expansive digital ecosystems that serve thousands of employees and possibly millions of customers. If not, they stand the risk of becoming stifled in their response to the challenges of digital evolution that is redefining the way companies do business.
Together, the design of a user interface (UI) and its underlying technology infrastructure contribute to users’ experiences. As organizations mature and embrace a broader view of digital transformation, this perspective will be essential to managing growth and complexity.
The sooner teams adopt a model for digital experience architecture the better off they will be to handle scale and complexity. My model for digital experience architecture is comprised of four core activities.
- Context Analysis
- RTS (Research, Testing & Analytics)
- Design Architecture
- Infrastructure Architecture
These activities serve as “guide rails” for discussing a wide range of tasks that converge to address architecture, design, software engineering, and maintenance. The following is a brief description of these four activities.
Activity: Context Analysis
Context analysis is a practice of understanding the primary activities that set the natural constraints, dependencies, and scope of an intended interactive solution. Dependencies become more extensive the larger an organization becomes.
For example, in startup organizations or programs (within a larg organization), the objectives and constraints can be as simple as getting a working product to market as a way to get feedback and test value assumptions. Eventually, with continued validation, the product will have to align with revenue expectations or other measurable business expectations. More complex digital engagement can create relationships that extend into all aspects of a business. As this happens, it’s important to stay abreast of these relationships with /sound architectural modeling.
Information architects, experience architects and systems architects reliable critical thinkers that help teams to model the context of business, user, and technology infrastructure respectively.
Activity: Research, Testing & Analytics (RTA)
A foundation to architecture and user-centered design is the ability to understand the signals that are emitted from user activities and interpret such signals to make improvements to strategy and execution. Thus, research, testing, and analytics are key inputs for effectively improving the design benefit of a digital experience architecture. Each offers a unique value proposition.
- Research – Research is an activity that is either primary or secondary studies human behavior. They generate qualitative observations and interviews with users, customers, and owners of a system.
- Testing – Testing requires architects, designers, and other contributors to validate their implementations through the actual use of prototypes and interfaces that may be in production.
- Analytics – Analytics encompasses the measurement of user behaviors in the use of a system. Analytics reveals the use of interface objects and technical resources.While the output is purely data based, user intent can be inferred or hypothesized by observing patterns generated by thousands to millions of users. Such analysis is unfeasible for most primary research methods. Further, real-time analytics can be leveraged by algorithms and predictive models to prompt immediate interface feedback.
Activity: Design Architecture
Design architecture is focused on human-digital engagement as an enabler to business objectives.
Design architecture represents the strategy and implementation for complex digital user interface environments. The keyword is “environment.” For example, design architecture distinguishes itself from design thinking and design with the primary act to “see the forest from the trees” so that a target system can be rationalized and sustained.
As interfaces evolve into complex interactions that integrate with even larger information environments, understanding how “the forest” of digital interactions, owner objectives, and targeted user experiences are interconnected becomes essential in order to affect change on any part of that system.
Design architecture activities ensure digital user interfaces are grounded with coherent conceptual structures and accountable alignment with business needs and expectations. Activities within design architecture are:
- User Experience Planning
- Information Architecture
- Visual Design
- User Interface Design
- Content Publishing & Strategy
At scale, each discipline requires specialization and a comprehensive architecture that contribute to the enterprise’s design architecture. It’s important to note that design architecture activities have been maturing in the last two decades within the practice of user experience design. Seasoned practitioners that possess architecture, design, technology, and business saavy make for ideal leaders of design architecture.
Activity: Infrastructure Architecture
Infrastructure architecture is focused on technology enablement through the use computer science.
Infrastructure architecture comprises software engineering and physical information systems, and includes the activities to ensure effective deployment. Infrastructure architecture is the most tangible aspect of a digital experience architecture. It’s the code, software, transmission, physical servers, and devices. If there is no infrastructure, it doesn’t exist! Major activities of infrastructure architecture are:
- Front-end Code
- Database Design
- Back-end Software
At scale, each discipline requires specialization and a comprehensive architecture that contribute to the enterprise infrastructure architecture. It’s important to note that infrastructure architecture activities are rooted in the more comprehensive practice of enterprise architecture.
An Evolving Practice
Digital experience architecture and its core activities establish a new approach to best connect business goals with the factors of human-digital engagement. As the most complex digital environments still remain ahead, the core activities of digital experience architecture will be important to how we collaborate and produce value in complex digital landscapes.