In IA Practice
Summary: If a site tries to meet everyone’s goals equally, it will be mediocre and confusing. If you want a good site that holds together over time, use a performance continuum to address these tensions and agree on how to balance the conflicting demands.

You probably have a range of people creating content for your website, and their goals probably conflict with each other regularly. That’s a pretty common situation, given all the jobs that a website has to do.

The problem is, if a site tries to meet everyone’s goals equally, it will be mediocre and confusing. If you want a good site that holds together over time, you need to address these tensions and agree on how to balance the conflicting demands.

For example, an online news site may have one group that wants to emphasize local news that people can’t get anywhere else, and another group that wants to emphasize national news that people are interested in. One of the key functions of information architecture is to address competing interest. To do that, we use an intention model, which acts a continuum. An intention model provides a nuanced way of talking about what good means. It is an excellent tool for modeling the goals of big, mixed groups of stakeholders.

intention modelIn this example, we’d make one side of the continuum is local news and the other side national news. Both are important, but having a clear, agreed upon sense of where to strike the balance between them will enable the team to make better, more consistent, and more successful decisions, right away and into the future.

On the continuum, stakeholders indicate where they think the website strikes the balance between the two ends today, by marking an X somewhere along the line. People do this for the current state, and for the desired future state. The results and discussion are powerful in aligning goals.

For any website, there are many sources of tension that need to be balanced—we typically identify 10–20 continuums.

To sum up:

1. Discover your continuum questions.(e.g., local v national news)
2. Survey your stakeholders to see where they land on the continuums
3. Discuss the results with all the stakeholders and develop a consensus for the future state

Need an alignment job?

Over the years, TUG has developed a proven process for translating competing goals into a plan that aligns your vision. The result is a digital place that will delight your visitors. We’d love to hear about your project and share how we can help.

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