For practical purposes, an investigation of the business context can be a good place to start. It’s critical to begin projects with a clear understanding of the goals and an appreciation of the political environment. Ignoring business realities is just as dangerous as ignoring users. A perfectly usable site that fails to support business goals won’t last long. The term “user-centered design” is valuable insofar as it moves the pendulum away from executive-centered design, but don’t let that pendulum swing too far.
Of course, context isn’t just about politics. We also need to understand goals, budgets, schedules, technology infrastructure, human resources, and corporate culture. Legal issues can also be important, particularly in heavily regulated industries. All of these factors can and should influence the shape of the information architecture strategy.
Research is not a one-way street. While conducting your investigation, it’s important to recognize the value of building awareness and support for your project. After all, you’re not a scientist studying rats. Your human subjects will have their own set of questions and concerns. For example:
Who are you and why are you asking me these questions?
What’s information architecture and why should I care?
What’s your methodology and how does it relate to my work?
The way you answer these questions will influence the level of support you receive throughout the project. Since most large sites today depend upon interdepartmental ...