STC Summit day 2 – Modeling Information Experiences

I’m attending STC 2012, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. The first session on Tuesday morning is “Modeling Information Experiences: A Recipe for Consistent Architecture”, by Andrea Ames and Alyson Riley.

It’s 8:30 in the morning, and many people had a gooooood night last night. So tones are somewhat subdued. I’m yearning for another coffee. The presenters, Andrea and Alyson, are looking very game. They’ve promised to start on time, as they have a lot to say. This should be good!

Aim of the session

The aim of the session was to help people “deliver a consistent information experience across a broad set of content, audiences, or business requirements. Learn how user-centered experience modeling can help you deliver world-class information architecture. Explore examples from IBM’s work with abstract models and discover methods for using experience models at the team and enterprise level.”

A theme of the presentation was that information architecture (IA) is about both art and science. The art side of it involves creating a simple, elegant experience out of complexity.

The session is about defining a model. Models help us blend art and science in ways that give us consistent results. Note that a model is not the final result, the information architecture. Instead, the model is an abstract, to which you apply the details of your project in order to arrive at the architecture.

Building a model forces you to go through the process of knowing who your user is. The model is at a fairly high level, with the result that it is flexible and can scale. Building the model helps business people think, and helps the users think too. Models also help information architects to focus on user needs and business strategy. Models also encourage us to focus on the outcomes rather than on the rules.

The goal is an invisible architecture that allows people to focus on the things they need to get done. People (users) want to think about their goals, rather than about navigating our frameworks in order to get things done.

The four models in IBM’s information architecture toolbox:

  • Use model
  • Content model
  • Access model
  • Information model

Use model

A use model defines the ideal interactions between users and information: what people need, why they need it, what they’re doing when they need it, and how they’ll use it.

This model is a user experience concept, as well as an information concept. The use model for information describes things like this: If we need labels, what type of information does the user need about that label, and what combination of interaction and visual design can I create to give all the information the user needs?

You will use personas and role descriptions within a use model. You will also develop scenarios that describe how people interact with content, and what they are trying to do with it.

Content model

IBM’s content model is topic-based. The model defines the standard building blocks of content, from the atomic level to larger outcomes including subject, presentation, taxonomy and metadata.

Think about how you can reuse your atomic information elements, and help the company get more value from them. Perhaps you can make money from them, such as by exposing them on the web. The goal is to define standard information deliverables. Then you get into the templates.

Access model

Progressive disclosure is part of this model. This model brings together all the different access methods. It defines a vision of how people will find the information, including organisation, structure, search, browse, and more.

The aim is to define the overarching strategy for how people will access your information.

Information model

This is very much a model of models. It brings together the content bits, how people are using them, and how they can get to them.

For example, define what a common welcome experience looks like, or a common installation experience.


This looks like a lot of work. It doesn’t need to be. Take small steps, and start simply. Prioritise the most important goals for your business. For example, pick the area of navigation.

Alyson and Andrea believe that their models are largely(80-90%) transferable to other organisations.


For me, this presentation was a bit too abstract. The slides were text-based and conceptual. It would have been good to see some practical examples, or perhaps just walk through the steps of defining a simple model and how the model is used.

I admired the enthusiasm and energy with which Alyson and Andrea presented their information. It’s obvious that the models provide great benefit to their teams, business and users. It will be very interesting to see how well the models transfer to other organisations.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 23 May 2012, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you very much, Sarah, for your extensive notes. I sat in this fast-paced session, taking notes as fast as I could, but still missing many things. Great to have your notes to jog my memory and fill the gaps!

  1. Pingback: STC Summit 2012 wrapup – STC12 « ffeathers

  2. Pingback: A. Ames & A. Riley on info experience models at #STC12 « Kai's Tech Writing Blog

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