Advocating for IA in Product: A Case Study with Citrix ShareFile (IA Summit ’16 Poster)

Poster Night, a social event at IA Summit ’16, showcases 30+ posters about methods, trends, case studies and more in the UX/IA field. Palak (user researcher) and I (UX designer / information architect) presented a case study about advocating for IA within product. IA within product is often overlooked because it’s not something as tangible as a website’s site map. Over the past few months, we teamed up as a duo to lead the project team through the redesign of our product’s Web App. For our card sort, we used the Modified-Delphi approach, which we’ve tried a few times on different projects and it’s been helpful with informing us!

Advocating for IA in Product


Here’s a PDF of our poster. As a bonus, here are our top 10 tips for advocating for IA in product!

  1. Have a duo if possible – a researcher teamed up with an information architect or a UX designer with IA chops can lean on each other’s expertise to make some good progress.
  2. Be adaptable, understand you may have to pivot based on your organization’s size and resources.
  3. Stay focused on the structure and build a foundation to move forward.
  4. Hard work = rewards; it may not seem like it at first, but keep going! Once you see progress, you’ll feel better. At the end, you can look back to see how far things have come along!
  5. Build trust in the people you work with and your stakeholders
  6. Invite people along the way – have them observe so they can understand what’s going on. Lean on people to help define categories and label change recommendations
  7. Combine both qualitative & quantitative data – it can help you make informed navigation decisions
  8. Build a story and reflect back on your process and iterations.
  9. Share your work with others – it helps advocate for the practice.
  10. Have fun! This can be quite the effort, so don’t forget to have fun during the process. Play your favorite jams, order in lunch for everyone, and tell really bad jokes.

Tools and Methods We Used

Questions about the process or the approach? Want to share what you’re up to? Feel free to contact Michelle (@soysaucechin).

Recap: A Day in the Life of a UX Designer

Our first A Day in the Life event explored the role of a UX Designer. Some UX designers do a little bit of everything (concepting, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and usability testing) on a project, while others might specialize or lean more toward one area of the field.
Our guest speaker for this session was Emily Holmes, the Director of UX for R&D at Hobsons, Inc. Emily talked about her role as a UX Designer on an innovation team, where she walked us through a case study of a project she worked on over the course of a year and a half. Since her team is small, she wore many hats over the course of the project such as user researcher, UX design, usability testing, and even a bit of coding. If you like variety in work, being a generalist UX designer often gives you the flexibility to perform different activities.
Her team’s approach leveraged the Lean UX method to concept, prototype, test, and iterate. For more on this methodology, Emily recommended these books:
  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  • Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
Below is the slide deck from Emily’s presentation.


Following the presentation and Q&A session, we headed over to the Design Studio for the activity portion of the event. Part of Emily’s process included story mapping, which is a method that illustrates the user’s story through a product or site. It’s beneficial because it allows the team to focus the users and their actions, rather than get distracted by feature issues and scope creep. For the activity, we tried out story mapping a user’s journey with a fictitious company.
The fictitious company was Jumpr, a roadside assistance company, who you could contact from your smartphone if you needed help (e.g., flat tire, dead battery, etc.) We broke out into four groups and tried our hand at story mapping a user’s journey (from requesting assistance, receiving the needed help, and paying for the service).

Here’s the set up slide deck for the activity:

Group of people collaborating on a story map activityDuring the activity, there were a lot of really great discussions going on not only including what the user will experience, but also problem solving such as “What if Jumpr can’t help the person?” or concerns about safety and liabilities. The discussions could have gone on for a lot longer, but it was getting late! At the end of the evening, we talked about the activity and what some big takeaways were. Some thought story mapping was a great way to get all the information out there from all different stakeholders, so everyone could be on the same page. It also helped determine and align priorities of what should be designed for the minimum viable product (MVP).

People enjoyed getting hands on with the activity; if trying out UX sounds like something you’re interested in, come out to the A Day in the Life series. Each month we’ll hear from a practitioner in UX role and try an activity to see what it’s like to be in their shoes.

“A Day in the Life” Series Kick Off with Lightning Talks

On March 9th, we held an evening of lightning talks to kick off our “A Day in the Life of UX Roles” series. The lightning talks served as a really quick overview of roles in the UX field. That evening we covered 11 roles – can you believe there are that many roles in UX!? The night was jam packed with information, but in a fairly digestible format. Lightning talks are a presentation style, where each presenter gets 20 slides and slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. It’s intense, but it keeps the presentation focused on what’s truly important, so you can get a lot of high-level info in a short amount of time!

The talks were aimed at providing a rough idea of what the roles are so attendees could see which ones are of interest to them. Then, if they’re interested in learning about a certain role, they can come out to a feature presentation, where we take a deeper dive into that role and try an activity to get a feel for what it’s like. These feature presentations will be happening once a month starting in April. To learn more about upcoming events, join the exploreUX – Raleigh edition meetup.

In this recap, I’ve provided a high-level summary of role. I’ve also included the slide decks, but they lose some context without their speaker. However, hopefully you can get a good gist to see if you want to attend a deeper-dive session (And there are some great resources in them!).

You’ll notice some overlap of activities and skill sets among the roles and you’ll see the people in the roles have  a diverse background. Part of what’s unique about the UX field is that people kind of stumble into it. In general, the UX field has a wide variety of activities involved so if you like to mix things up, you can, but if you like to focus on one thing purely, you can as well.

Generalist UX Designer – Emily Parker, WillowTree Apps

Generalist UX Designers are like a Swiss Army Knife of the UX world. They usually do a little bit of everything from concept, wireframes, design, and user testing. Emily gave us an overview of her role at WillowTree, a company in Durham that makes apps for other companies.


Interaction Designer – Allie Jacobs, Red Hat

Allie told us about her role as an interaction designer at Red Hat. She came into UX from a human factors engineering and hardware background. Interaction designers focus more on the logical interactions users would have with a website or product. Being an interaction designer allows her to be creative without having to contribute from a visual standpoint. The UX team she works on also created a resource called PatternFly, which is an open-source UI framework for enterprise web applications.


User Researcher – substituted by Michelle Chin, Citrix

Our presenter on the user researcher role had to cancel at the last minute, so I ended up pinch-hitting and giving a quick overview on that role. It’s one of the most vital roles in the field and I didn’t want it to go unrecognized at this kick off event. As part of my role at Citrix, I work closely with our two dedicated user researchers. Sometimes I help with upfront user researcher and then I also facilitate usability testing sessions. At Citrix, we use qualitative methods and quantitative methods. We then combine our findings from both methods to come up with the insights that influence product and design decisions.


Design Manager – Mark Congiusta, Cisco

For those interested in seeing the options for a career path in UX, Mark talked about what it’s like to be a UX manager. He currently manages a globally dispersed team at Cisco and advocates for his team, so they can focus on their work. Mark came into UX via a route of architecture to industrial design to programming to marketing and finally to UX.


Information Architect – Julie Grundy, Duke University

Julie works Duke Web Services, which is Duke’s in-house web team. She helps departments make sense of their content – in a way that website visitors can find their way through that department’s website. Part of her daily work includes researching who her client is and who their users are, designing a structure for the website, organizing content, and iterating on designs through usability testing.


Content Strategist – Tony Poillucci, VisionPoint Marketing

Content strategy entails the planning, development, and management of content typically in digital media (e.g. websites, social media, etc.). At VisionPoint Marketing, Tony helps their clients provide the relevant content on their site at the right time to their visitors. His research includes understanding the client, their goals, and their users in order to craft the right content. His role overlaps a little with information architecture, where providing the right wording for a site’s navigation is just as crucial to the content a visitor reads.


Data Visualization Specialist – Ari Sanoff, Truven Health Analytics

Data visualization is a discipline that focuses on visually representing data in a meaningful way to end users. Data – and a lot of it – is something that can be naturally complicated and overwhelming, so architecting it in a way that’s meaningful is definitely a challenge. Ari is an information architect that specializes in data visualizations. He gave us a quick overview on the different visualizations and the types of ways they could be displayed.


Accessibility Analyst – Dennis Lembree, Deque Systems

Accessibility is the design of products, devices, and services for people with visual, aural, and/or motor-skill impairments, and more. It’s an important aspect of website and app design, where companies want their websites and products to be accessible for everyone. Dennis’s job as an accessibility consultant is to evaluate a client’s product and identify areas that are inaccessible to those with impairments. He makes recommendations on how to fix them so they are accessible. In terms of UX, when a site or app is accessible, it’s also improves the usability for everyone. Dennis provided several resources in his presentation and if you’re interested in learning about accessibility and assistive technology, we’ll be hosting Dennis’s deeper dive presentation on Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 19th.


Visual Designer – Caroline Ford, Citrix

For products like websites and apps, there’s a level of usability involved with the visual design. Not only does a product need to look appealing, but the layout and visual hierarchy in the design is important to its successful usage. Caroline, a graduate of the Graphic Design program at NC State, has a strong visual design background, but showed us how she also includes strategy and research into her daily work.


Product Designer/Manager – Jacob Puckett, /

Product Managers help deliver solutions that meet customers needs, which sounds really similar to what a UX designer does. In some companies, product managers are separate from UX designers, however there’s some overlap in what both roles do (talking to customers, sketching ideas, pitching solutions, and so on). UX designers and product managers can work together and create a really strong duo. In Jacob’s case, he has a hybrid role of the two and he talked about what it’s like to work in that space. He comes from a design background and his career has grown to encompass this hybrid role.


Small Design Business Owner – Erik Johnson, PurposeUX

Erik provided an overview of what it’s like to go out on your own and start your own small business. Much like a generalist UX designer, him and his business partner handle all aspects of UX, and additionally all the aspects of running a business (bookkeeping, business development, and so on). While it’s challenging to balance it all, he mentioned how much he’s learned in the short amount of time of starting his business.

Transitioning to a UX Career Panel – Recap

For exploreUX’s inaugural event, we held a panel discussion on transitioning to a UX career.  Here’s a recap of the panel discussion from Sept. 17, 2013 in case you weren’t able to attend, missed a few things, or needed links to the specific resources mentioned. This is mostly paraphrased. Thanks to those that asked and answered questions from the audience. Karen O’Donnell also provided a recap on her blog. If you have specific questions on transitioning to a UX career, feel free to post a comment below.

Andrew Wachholz
User Experience Strategist, Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

Virginia Moore
User Experience Strategist, Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

Margo Kabel
Program Analyst (UX)
Human Factors, Office of Informatics and Analytics, Dept of Veterans Affairs

Michelle Chin
User Experience Strategist, Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

John Totten
User Experience Practice Lead, Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

Panelist from Transitioning to a UX Career panel discussion

How did you get into the UX field?

AW: Started doing traditional graphic design, but career has spanned the creative industry – interaction design, programming, interactive design, creative direction; made the natural progression from interaction design to why people interactive and what people are doing before/after.

VM: Fell into UX by accident – started in the communications field with a web team, worked as a subject matter expert (SME), was writing and contributing to content strategy and web content; became more involved with information architecture (IA), user testing.

MK: Worked on the IT side and consulted on the usability of sites, supporting acceptance rates, etc. Graduated with a master’s in Interaction Design and Information Architecture (IDIA) from the University of Baltimore.

MC: Started as a graphic design, then did quality assurance testing realizing that UX was the best of both worlds. Also a grad from the IDIA program at the University of Baltimore.

What is the most challenge part of the UX field?

AW: Educating people on the process and what is UX. Blurred lines with clients – they look at you as a designer and consultant in development side.

MC: UX is new to clients, they have no concept of it so having to step back and explain it in really basic terms. Since it’s new, they don’t understand how all the legwork (research, interviews, etc.) relates until they see the wireframes.

VM: Wireframes – showing depictions because clients can read easily read reports about research, etc. But helping them understand wireframes is challenging.

MK: Having to do presentations to internal people and to clients since they don’t know what we do.

What’s the value of UX? (from audience)

AW: We design for an audience – so we help the client understand their audiences goals and objectives. We walk through what the audiences are looking for, searching, and need. We also sometimes uncover things that clients don’t even want to know.

What are some complementary skills to have as a UXer?

MC: Knowing psychology and even understanding how to use persuasive design (a UX concept by B.J. Fogg) to explain what’s valuable and makes sense – there’s a lot of psychological things that come into play that I wasn’t expecting to have to brush up on.

VM: An understanding of branding – while working on any website, there’s a branding component. Knowing how to best communicate that.

MK: Speaking the language of whomever you’re working with – whether it’s developers or your clients like clinicians or veterans; Getting to know the subject to have the conversations and understanding their world. Listening skills are really important, too.

What is your ideal UX team and what is reality for you all? (from audience)

MC: We have a team at Rock Creek, but often the reality is that companies don’t have a team, they’re a UX team of one. At my previous employer I was a UX team of one and I really wanted to have the support of other UXers.

Audience member: As as UX team of one, network a lot and create a virtual team for support.

Rob Sharpe (audience): It’s beneficial to be a team of one because you have to leap; you make make mistake and you build up from that. It also gives you multiple skill sets.

AW: The perfect team has vested individuals on your team, where communicating frequently is possible and helps with exploring new ideas.

VM: The ideal team can even be with people who aren’t UXers, but understand UX well.

What UX book is on your bedside table or what’s the “gateway drug” book into UX? (from audience)

MC: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I read it awhile ago when I was a graphic designer and it really spoke to me, “Yes, I can do this, I can design things better!”

MK: It’s also a good book to suggest to clients since it’s an easy read.

VM: Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher – content is everywhere whether on the web, displays on your fridge, etc.

AW: The Neilsen Norman Group blog (Jakob Neilsen’s Alertbox); any of the A List Apart books (A Book Apart), Designing for Emotion

Dezzie Garcia (audience): A Project Guide to UX Design by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler

What are the skills you value in UX colleagues?

AW: Willingness to have an opinion, which is a valuable tool for everyone to have. Technical know-how is a huge benefit since it can help with designing.

VM: Timely advice – when we’re at the IA stage, they give me IA-related advice (and not information about wireframing).

MK: Getting feedback from colleagues

MC: Everyone has different disciplines so they bring their knowledge to the table

How can you advance in the UX space?

AW: Being willing to make mistakes and learning from them. Developing a close relationship with developers – as a UXer I made a lot of assumptions, but knowing what they do has helped in my work.

MC: Specifically if you’re trying to make the leap in transitioning to this field – incorporate UX work in your current job. Improve your UX skill set to have items to go into your portfolio, so you have the skills to transfer into a UX job.

MK: What also helps is showing the work you had an impact on, being able to show your contribution to the project.

Did you have to change companies to get the explicit UX title? (audience question)

MC: No, at my other job I was doing two other jobs in addition to UX work, and I left seeking a UX-only type job.

AW: My title came with a job transition. I had enough design experience but did two years of analysis before making the transition here.

VM: I had a boss that provided a lot of opportunities in user testing, where I was writing test plans, conducting tests, etc. I jumped more into UX work while at Rock Creek.

Is there any key software we should know? (audience question)

AW: Omnigraffle, Proty, Pop mobile app (Apple and Android) allows you to create a rough mobile app prototype.

JT: Fourth generation wireframing tools that are online subscription based, such as UX Pin (wireframes, clickable prototypes); Lucidchart; anything that diagrams (Illustrator, Axure to name a few others). Learn something that diagrams.

John Serrao (audience): For those with more of a developer background Twitter Bootstrap and Zurb Foundation is a great tool for digital prototyping. That’s more in demand on the product side of software development.

When hiring for a new member of your UX team, what do you want to see in their portfolio? (from audience)

MC: That they can actually do the work. In my portfolio I have samples of wireframe sketches, whiteboard drawings. You need to show that you can do the process because the final screenshot doesn’t show the effort that went into it – the wireframing, user testing, etc.

AW: Understanding the process – If you don’t have the capability to do an entire website or you have one small part, show that you understand the process. Explain that you understand how this is all a part of the working team, which shows your willingness to work in those directions.

Which way should I go in my career? Job descriptions often say a UX designer with 3-5 years of UX experience including design, IA, content strategy, prototypes, wireframes – you can do everything. On the West Coast, UX roles are starting to be more specific – UX researcher, information architect, etc. Any advice on which way to go – specialize or generalize? (from audience)

AW: Jared Spool talks about this all-knowing “unicorn”. Similar to when going to college, you take general classes, then specialize later on, specialize on after getting a wealth of info.

What areas are the most valuable if you had to pick one? (from audience)

MK: Depends on your interest. Understand the big picture and what you’re most passionate about.

AW: If you have to have an answer – researcher. It influences the decisions to come forth since you’re either proving or refuting one thing or another.

RS: Higher up within the chain of events, it depends on wealth, where you are in life, etc.

JT: No matter what field you go into, lots of jobs will list that you need to know a lot of things, which is logically based on what UX is. I don’t know of anyone that wants to be a pure wireframer. If you’re at the point of picking something specific, you need to evaluate if you’re really code slanted, etc. Determine the questions you need to ask to lead you forward in developing a strategy. Your wallet can be affected depending on your speciality or location.

UX is breaking down into multiple fields; the more specialized you are could lead to different rewards. You could go into one, then into another as different ways to enhance your career.

AW: The Midwest marketplace is different than here. In the Midwest, they want the unicorn. On the East Coast there’s a forgiveness factor, you don’t have to know everything. You have it good here, it’s cut-throat in Minneapolis. A better diversity of understading is your best basis.

Is quantitative or qualitative information more important? (from audience)

AW: Quantitative is valuable to have – it enhances your ability to compose and conduct research with an analytical mindset. The data helps state your case.

VM: If you don’t know numbers, it’s ok too. I work with smaller number and web metrics. It’s not that we don’t deal with numbers at all, but we deal with them on a smaller level.

AW: There are lots of books on assessing quantitative data from qualitative work, such as time/task complete rates. Jakob Neilsen talks a lot about research-based UX.

To get into the field, how can we get experience if we’re not able to able to incorporate it at our current job? (from audience)

MK: Volunteer somewhere so you can fit the experience in.

MC: Make a website for your friend, a small business or non-profit. My friend used a UX book and did activities in it to use in her portfolio.

JT: Create your portfolio site, follow the guide and create it – UX yourself. Also reinterpret things – look at the work you’ve done through a UX lens. It could just be positioning a project in a different way.

VM: Look at a site or an app and tell them what’s wrong, how would you fix it. Make your own analysis and set of recommendations. Invent something – if your audience was this, then what would you do?

JT: People into UX are into being told a story – where you are in life and how you pursued it. Have a story – they could be open to hearing about that and your journey.