5 rules for creating a good information experience
Information experience (IX) refers to the communicative aspects of a process or interaction that guides your behaviour.
Whether a physical sign, an application, an online manual, a website, a car, or a shop assistant (the list is endless), the information experience of your interactions are made up of several, interwoven components.
In digital information experiences, these components might include text, features, structure, placement, workflows, and so on. Together, these affect the user experience (UX) of the product, service, or system.
A good digital information experience is one that guides the user through the product, service, or system towards successfully reaching their goal.
Regardless of whether you’re creating product documentation or designing UI content, there are five basic rules for creating a good information experience.
1. Understand your target audience.
The type and amount of information your audience wants and needs depends on who they are and what they’re trying to do. Take the time to understand:
The goals and activities of your intended audience.
What your intended audience already knows, doesn’t know, and needs to know.
How to provide the information that the intended audience needs.
Don't just outright ask people what they want or need. Instead, ask users what their goals, tasks, processes, problems, and workarounds are. Answers to these questions are often much more informative.
2. Map content to your audience’s processes and tasks.
Whether designing for your cat or for end-users of an application, the precise audience for your information doesn't matter. What matters is that, once you’ve defined your target audience, you create content that is helpful for that audience. Create task-based content that’s structured around the intended audience’s workflow. Build this content and decide where it should go based on:
What the intended audience is trying to do.
The steps involved in completing a task.
What information and resources the intended audience needs to complete a task.
What content and resources already exist.
What concepts require explanation.
How to present information so that the intended audience can scan and find content that fulfils their information needs.
Provide only the information that the intended audience needs given the context and their goals. Reveal this information progressively so as not to overwhelm them with too much information.
3. Follow a style guide.
A style guide explains what language to use, how to talk to users, and expected writing conventions. These guidelines tend to be based on your industry, your company brand, your company’s guidelines for voice and tone, your target audience, and purpose of the content.
Following a set of guidelines helps ensure content quality and a good user experience of documentation and UI content. Specifically, you should create and use a style guide to foster:
Good format and design.
Usefulness (content that's understandable and easy to follow).
4. Create a plan for implementing content.
Even if you know your product really well, you should plan to ensure that you’re helping users perform tasks, not just showing off the product in all its glory. Create a plan that describes the high-level roadmap to organising, scheduling, creating, and publishing content. This will help ensure:
Content is part of the product, as a holistic user experience.
There's enough time to review content with others, in context.
You have the bandwidth to make improvements during the development cycle.
5. Evaluate and iterate.
After creating your information experience, you should evaluate and improve on it:
Validate the logic behind your information flow as the intended audience moves between tasks.
Identify information gaps, such as incomplete steps, missing context or explanation, or a lack of technical depth.
Identify and remove or fix confusing, out-of-date, inaccurate, redundant, or unnecessary information.
Check your content for errors and that it meets the requirements outlined in your style guide.
Test your content with your intended audience.
Why it matters
Information experience has less to do with the product and its features, and more to do with the experience it provides for the user.
Information experience dictates user satisfaction, as well as how effectively and efficiently a user can consume, understand, and apply that information in their user experiences with digital products. This applies to everything from the high-level and structural aspects of the UX (information architecture, workflow, etc.) to the specific details of the UI and how information is presented (wording, buttons, etc.)