Education Solutions in Office 365 and SharePoint – Information Architecture (IA) and User Experience (UX)

Continuing from the previous post: our Education Solution was started with a simple Office 365 SharePoint document library which was put together to demonstrate how version history, filtering, sorting, sharing, online editing, security, and many other features are available OOTB with a few clicks or taps. The demo facilitates additional discussion and ideas around building an Education Solution that will later be coupled with another system focused on professional subject matter and processes

Discussion now is around academics and generates questions focused on:

  • Who is using and managing the environment
  • What kinds of things people are doing in document libraries and other apps
  • How people are interacting and collaborating with each other and their content
  • Office 365 SharePoint‘s capabilities, other platforms’ capabilities and integration
  • How content is classified in an education solution, broadly and specifically to Machine Technology
  • Security
  • Defining content types (i.e. subject matter, properties, ownership…)
  • How people view “their data” and responsibilities around it
  • Scheduling, due dates, milestones, and management/tracking thereof
  • Projects
  • Professional Development
  • Etc.

Information Architecture and User Experience

Early and persistent focus on Information Architecture (IA) and User Experience (UX) are essential competencies and components to focus on when delivering a production ready solution in SharePoint and Office 365 (lifecycle management, process management, customer/relationship management, and so on). On one end, you may expect thousands of users, heavy security and compliance requirements, complex data management, and automation. On the other hand, your system may focus on basic collaboration, task tracking, and document management. Or, of course, somewhere in between. The points I’m setting up are :

  • Pick the right amount of effort for your requirements and don’t over-engineer
  • Try to create a targeted interface that keeps everybody focused on their primary tasks. If possible/appropriate, tailor this to different roles and responsibilities
  • Plan for expansion later but (see first bullet) avoid paralysis through analysis
  • Even a small IA and UX design effort yields large results – this is especially true for Office 365 SharePoint

Within a few minutes, the discussion yields dozens of thoughts on the who(s) and what(s):


Within 15 minutes, the mind map was 4-5 times larger than the above image and we’re left with plenty on which to focus our IA efforts.

UX is a huge discussion. If you really drill into how people are thinking about their tasks, individually and as teams and as companies, you can build an intuitive system that truly makes people and groups more efficient, effective, accountable, and successful. You can evaluate the best metaphors, idioms, and layouts to deploy to reduce cognitive friction and quickly move people from novices into experts of the system.

For this project, there isn’t a lot of resource time to allocate towards a heavy UX investigation. We should, and will, address some of the basics though:

  • Implement best practices for an effective mobile experience – a huge subject with many underlying discussions
  • Organize information based on iteration/revision/approval of an expanded IA diagram
  • Focus on using the best platform for the solution (e.g. local SharePoint, Provider Hosted Add-Ins, 3rd party services, etc.)
  • Introduce proven design patterns and strategies for improving productivity overall
  • Remember our audience: Teachers and Students in an Educational Setting that hosted in a standard classroom and on a shop floor.

With the stage set we can continue refining, designing, and prototyping.


Next Posts: Office 365 SharePoint IA Design, Wireframes, and Prototypes

Categories: Education Solutions, Machine Technology, SharePoint, Software Development

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