11 Dec 2017 by Megan Sirockman
Themes and Trends in IA and Digital Communication





Throughout the year, nForm consultants participate in a variety of events that pertain to user experience – from digital communication, to customer experience, to information architecture. While these events cover a diverse set of topics, we have noticed some persistent themes that apply to the work we do and also to our customers. I’d like to highlight two recent events we attended and our learnings from them – Forward Thinking: Digital & the Customer Experience and IA Summit 2017.

While attending the local IABC event, Forward Thinking: Digital & the Customer Experience, speakers were asked to discuss the digital world, its impact on how organizations communicate with their customers and how the customer experience is now synonymous with the online user experience. The three main themes we heard here were:

  • Aligning your Customer and Audience Needs with your Organization’s Goals. Understanding your audience prior to engaging across every channel is extremely important – whether that be in person, through social media, or your website. Developing any experience for your customers requires evidence-based decision making, where you take off your corporate hat and focus on audience needs. User- and audience-centric experiences become your differentiating factor knowing that these individuals are spending time with your product or communications, so the experiences need to resonate and be important to them.
  • Cross Functional Teams Working Together. Communicators are more and more dependent on entire teams to bring their content to life. Ensuring that your brand is heard and understood online by the right audiences and with the intended meaning requires different specializations. These include channel, usability, and technical considerations that may not be within a single team’s wheelhouse.
  • Being Adaptive to Customers in Real Time. Communication plans are essential to setting the overall direction of your strategy, but do not guarantee a successful online presence without adaptability. The plan needs to be responsive to change, and the way the plan becomes responsive is through the timely self-awareness of your brand. Organizations should be self-aware enough to listen to their audience and respond to it. Through this evidence based flexibility, you are able to understand the “why” in order to cater your strategy directly to your audience or users successfully.

We also attended IA Summit 2017 in Vancouver, B.C., where over a three-day period, presenters talked about the role of digital practitioners in ensuring that technology serves human needs and not the other way around. Sessions that we attended covered a variety of topics, but a couple of themes resonated with us and our work:

  • Experiences Suffer without Focus on the Audience. Digital experiences often suffer when an organization focuses on how they think something should work or what is easiest to produce, at the expense of how a user will actually engage with the experience. This can mean that different facets of the team focus too much on what they are good at and not enough on the holistic experience of what their audiences need to interact effectively. To avoid this, assumptions should be removed from the discovery process in favor of research into the real-life needs of our audiences as human beings. A user or audience member’s context should be used to drive the development of an experience to understand what those needs are so that they can be fulfilled. Without that need fulfillment step, it would be difficult for the user or audience to understand and internalize the content of the experience being presented.
  • Designing Usable Experiences is more than Visual Design. Effective visual design is only a component of creating a usable experience. Users form their impressions of your digital product through a quick and often irrational decision-making process that involves more than how the product looks. This understanding comes from the words that we use on the page and the way that users are able to assemble those words into a coherent, holistic model. Users make determinations by scanning for key words, groupings, and titles to make sense of what a digital space is and what they can do with it. Understanding that we are creating digital spaces for humans and their biases allows us to design more effectively.

For more information on the great IA Summit talks that inspired these themes, look for Language Arts for the Lizard Brain by Andy Fitzgerald and All Roads Lead to the Bathroom by Elissa Frankle .

Participating in conferences and events like these allows us to meet like minded individuals with potentially different and interesting perspectives on the work we do every day. Keeping informed and up to date on tools and trends used throughout our field also allows us to validate our own best practices as an organization. We will continue to attend these types of events in the future to learn from others as well as to share our expertise throughout the community.


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