What makes a good Web architect? I'm glad you asked

A few key questions will help you and your client create the site thatsuits them
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The Independent Online

One of my responsibilities at the company I work for is tointerview prospective information architects wishing to work with us. IAs can come from a varietyof backgrounds. Some, like myself, have formal training in technical communication,but many come from areas such as video, anthropology, psychology, and even theatre.

One of my responsibilities at the company I work for is tointerview prospective information architects wishing to work with us. IAs can come from a varietyof backgrounds. Some, like myself, have formal training in technical communication,but many come from areas such as video, anthropology, psychology, and even theatre.

With so many diverse backgrounds, what can I ask to find the person who will make a goodinformation architect? I ask about their education, their experience with the Web, whatresources they use to keep current on the latest Internet trends - and if the answer is thiscolumn, I recommend that they get hired on the spot!

But there is one question that I askall of them. It goes something like this: "You are meeting a new client for whom you willbe doing a website. They have sent you some of the preliminary information, e-mailed overan eps version of their logo, and told you a little about the company. Now you are in the sameroom with the client for the first time, face-to-face. What information do you want toleave that room with?"

Basically, I want to know how the prospective IA would go aboutinterviewing the client about the website. I am looking for four specific points in theiranswer. If they do not have them, then I keep looking for a new IA.

Audience

Findingout who is going to be viewing your client's website is the most valuable piece of informationthat you can gather. The audience analysis defines the general categories of people who are likelyto visit it, what their motivations are for visiting, and what their expectations will be atthe site. Identify the people who will be using this site the most - and list your assumptionsabout them. Then identify any secondary audiences.

Goals

The goals of the site definewhat the client hopes they will achieve by creating and maintaining the web site. A direct goalmight be to inform the public about a particular product available in stores, but an oblique goalof the site might be to increase sales of that product. In the long run, these goals will helpyou and your client determine the success of the site by monitoring how well they have beenachieved.

Purpose

The purposes of the site define what your client hopes visitors will be ableto achieve: why they would come to the site and why they would return. Make no assumptionsabout the purpose. It is all too easy to think that you know more than the client does, butremember: this is their site. They are the ones who need to tell you what the purpose is.Sites may have several purposes, and not all of them will be of equal importance. You mighthave several primary purposes as well as several secondary purposes. For instance, a primarypurpose for a site might be to purchase a particular product, while secondary purposes mightinclude the ability to e-mail the product maker with complaints, comments, andcompliments. Identify the important tasks that will be performed so they are given appropriateweight.

Content and Functionality

Last, you want to find out exactly what type of contentis going into this site and how it will work. The content will need to support the purposes andgoals stated above, while being of direct and important use to the site's audience. Butdon't be afraid to change your audience, purpose, or goals if you need to refine thembased on the content that is to be presented. The content of a site is the star of the show -it is what your audience will see. It may turn out that the content the client has is unsuited forthe purposes and goals that they have established, and you will need to find new content orredefine the purposes and goals.

Conducting the interview

It is important during this stage ofdevelopment not to become mired in concrete expectations about the site. Instead, allow thesite design to develop fluidly. Take nothing for granted. Listen closely to your clientthroughout the interview, always asking them direct questions, letting them know that youvalue their knowledge of what they want their website to be.

The writer is the author of 'DHTML For the World Wide Web'. If you have questions, you can findan archive of this column at Webbed Environments or send e-mails to: jason@webbedenvironments.com

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