Managing your IA with MindMeister and Treejack

What is the best way to manage a changing information architecture (IA) during the draft and test phase? Over the years I have found the following method very effective.

Three tools: Mind Meister, Google Docs and Treejack

Three tools: Mind Meister, Google Docs and Treejack

So you have conducted ethnographic research, analysed your existing content, completed multiple card sorts and consulted with stakeholders. 

Now you are ready to get into the nitty gritty of pulling a draft IA together. But where and how to store and manage this draft? Keeping in mind it is likely you will have multiple changes based on stakeholder input and testing results.

The challenge is on - you need to create a document, or set of documents with the following functions:

  • Records the relationships between complex levels of hierarchical navigation
  • Really easy to interpret by a wide range of stakeholders 
  • Compatible with other tools
  • Flexible and scalable and super quick to update and test
  • Captures how the IA has changed over time

For many people Excel is the tool of choice in this situation. But I would like to propose the addition of two more tools to make this job a whole lot easier.

Information architecture tools

I suggest you use three tools:

Don’t get me wrong I have a soft spot for Excel, for example, I love pivot tables, and being able to take an export from Google Analytics to do quick and dirty analysis of what pages need to be cut. But I find that not everyone shares my appreciation for Excel and quite a few people find looking at a spread sheet overwhelming, hard to read and confusing. 

I have also noticed that some people try to compile an IA in Excel without really knowing how it works and end up making a bit of a hash of it - far better to use simpler tools you can really get your head around.

Enter Mindmeister (or another brainstorming tool of your choice). This tool allows you to create an IA very quickly in a way that is easily understood by even the most tech naive stakeholder. Not only can they instantly see the patterns and groupings you are suggesting, you can make changes together on the spot.  

This tools displays an IA visually in a way that allows stakeholders to quickly understand the overall structure and as a result understand the hard decisions that have been made. They also have an opportunity to make label suggestions and see them reflected in the IA straight away. This may cause its own problems - I will leave the stakeholder management discussion for another time :)

It is then really easy to export a version of your IA to place into Treejack - a wonderful tool to test and validate your draft IA. Treejack will very quickly show you black holes and honey pots and is an excellent source of evidence to justify your decisions.

The method

This is an overview - it is best to play around to find the path that works for you. 

  1. Either type your labels directly into MindMeister (gets a bit boring after 100 entries) or paste an existing IA from Excel directly into the import function (you need to enable experimental features via settings to do this)
  2. Chop and change and consult to your hearts desire
  3. Export your map into Treejack by right clicking on the central item of your mind map and click “Tools” and then “Copy as text” - you can then just paste into your current test (this also pastes really nicely into Excel - in case you have someone who wants to see it in this form or you want to do a bulk edit)
  4. Update and repeat as many times as testing requires

I use a clunky, but serviceable set of versioned and numbered mind maps, corresponding with my Treejack tests, to record how the IA draft has changed over time. If you have a more elegant solution I would love to hear it.

So what do you think? Why not give this method and try and let me know how you go.

Disclaimer: I have not received any incentives from either Excel, Google Docs, MindMeister or Treejack. I use the paid version of MindMeister because I have so many maps and because I want to allow multiple authors - but you don’t need to pay if you only want to try one or two.