Jesse James Garrett quietly published the second edition of his requisite “The Elements of User Experience” last year, almost ten years after the first volume issued. Reading his book in light of today’s SharePoint governance plans is a fascinating hindsight exercise.

Mr. Garrett’s work is essentially a forerunner to them. The second edition is as relevant as the first: if you’re a classically trained Records person, chances are you could use some summary advice. I recommend incorporating his guidelines into your SharePoint 2010 Records Governance Plan if you’re producing one for your organization.

 
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Elements of User Experience, from Jesse James Garrett
 

Mr. Garrett encourages us to review our SharePoint 2010 implementation for the corporate intranet from two perspectives: product as functionality or product as information (we’re interested in both). Furthermore, he disassembles the two views into five panes, from base layer to top:

Strategy, or

  • user needs: what users will want from the site; and,
  • product objectives: business goals or business drivers.

Scope, or

  • functional specifications: detailed description of the "feature set" of the product; and,
  • content requirements: description of the various content elements that will be required.

Structure

  • interaction design: define how the system behaves in response to the user; and,
  • information architecture: the arrangement of content elements to facilitate human understanding.

Skeleton

  • interface design: the presentation of information in a way that facilitates understanding;
  • navigation design: the set of screen elements that allow the user to move through the information architecture; and,
  • information design: set of screen elements that allow the user to move through the information architecture.

Surface, or sensory design: created by the finished product.

Mr. Garrett states simply that content is king and technology is as important as content in creating a successful user experience. A successful user experience is all that matters in a SharePoint 2010 Records Management environment.

Strategy Pane

If you’re writing your SharePoint 2010 Records Management Governance Plan within Mr. Garrett’s framework, the absolute first step is to define your organization’s strategy.

Ask your matrix committee of assembled stakeholders and power users two questions: 1. What do we want to get out of this product (product and corporate objectives)? 2. What do our users want to get out of it (user needs)? Consider records management governance against task analysis, a concept in which every user’s interaction with SharePoint 2010 takes place in the context of some task that the user is performing. 

Your scope strategy section will contain not only a list of corporate objectives, but also an analysis of the relationships among the various objectives and of how those objectives fit into the larger context of your organization -- objectives which should be supported by direct quotes from stakeholders and users inside the document. How would you measure successful interaction? With indicators that will track achievements after the product has been launched to see whether it is meeting both corporate objectives and user needs.

Scope Pane

Scope defines requirements. We want to know what we’re building and what we’re not building. Never mind the “why,” advises Mr. Garrett. Ask instead, “What are we going to make?”

The debate between SharePoint 2010 features as vehicles for functionality and the corporate intranet site as an information medium begins on the scope plane. Recall the difference between requirements and specifications: requirements are stated in the beginning of the project to describe what the system should do while specifications are written at the end to describe what it actually does.  

Some defined requirements will apply to SharePoint 2010 as a whole while others are mapped to a specific feature. Users are the most productive source -- ask them. Capture functional specifications. Be positive and be specific. Avoid subjective language. Describe what the product will do to prevent bad things from happening. Leave as little as possible to interpretation.

This is a good moment to remind your company that content requires constant maintenance. At this time, take an information inventory. The size of each of your content features has a huge influence on the user experience decisions you will make. Meanwhile, prioritize requirements. Easy correlations between strategic objectives and requirements will surface.

Structure Pane

If the discipline involved in creating a structured experience for the user is interaction design and information architecture is structuring the user experience, then conceptual models are users’ impressions of how the interactive components we create for them will behave. Have a quality and error handling section ready. Content could be structured in one of two ways:

  • Top-down approach, or creating the architecture directly from an understanding of strategy plane considerations (recall the terms “product objectives” and “user needs”).
  • Bottom-up approach, which also derives categories and subcategories that are based on an analysis of the content and functional requirements.

Mr. Garrett uses familiar terms like attributes, metadata, files, objects, nomenclature, controlled vocabulary, thesauri and metadata to describe organizing content. Interestingly, he alludes to a full-time headcount that manages the organization’s information as a necessary and vital member of the product (i.e. the SharePoint 2010) implementation team.

Skeleton Pane

Define the skeleton pane through navigation design and information design. Navigation design is the specialized form of interface design tailored to present information spaces. It provides users with the ability to go places. Information design, on the other hand, involves communicating ideas to the users. Mr. Garrett writes,

It’s the glue that holds the other components of the design together. The key is to group and arrange the information elements in a way that reflects how your users think and support their tasks and goals. Information design plays a role in interface design problems because the interface must not only gather information from the user, but communicate information to the user as well.”

The wireframe design is your organization’s page schematic, which is necessary to formally establish the visual design for the site. Wireframes are extremely valuable.

Surface Plane

Finally, sensory design. Your records management components must be attractive to the user community. Touch and hearing are out -- unless your Records Center site collection plays Bach every time a user opens the page (which I don’t recommend). But you might convey a brand identity. The user will appreciate a design that follows a smooth flow and gives users a sort of guided tour of the possibilities available to them without overwhelming them with detail (you’ll get a guided tour when you first construct the SharePoint 2010 Records Center, by the way. You may choose to emulate it).

The key is to identify recurring design elements that appear in different contexts throughout the various Records interfaces, navigation and information design problems in the product. Meanwhile, this records governance plan should document all of your team’s design preferences. In an era in which most people stay in their positions about 2.5 years only, this is a good corporate investment.

In Summary

Mr. Garrett advises:

  • Understand what problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Understand the consequences of your solution to the problem.

How many sites are designed by default, mimicry or fiat (when personal preferences instead of user needs or product objectives drive user experience decisions)? Your Records Management Governance Plan makes your function unique within the organization. You pre-planned it. You communicated it. You documented it. Now share it.

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