3 ways information architecture and design can help transform innovation

When an organisation is undergoing transformation, especially in situations of high uncertainty, the questions arising quickly become about people: what level of conversation will you implement? What relationship quality will you foster with the audience to inform these changes? Many devices can be used to that extent, from annual plan diagrams to inspirational seminars, however they can miss a key aspect of the organisation’s resilience: creating a shared sense of purpose. Building original dedicated mediation tools can provide multiple ways to deal with key moments of change. By engaging teams through the creation of data driven narrative experiences, information design can help audiences understand the issues at hand and adapt to them.

Modelling strategic issues to prompt all stakeholders to align

When working on an innovative solution, what is at stake – beyond the creation of value – is defining strategic alternatives: favouring specific initiatives, stopping others in their tracks, etc. How can we make sure all stakeholders are aligned with these choices? And how can we convince them to allocate new resources to the project?

Modelling can be used to describe a diagnosis, an experiment or the strategic objectives for a specific topic. That’s how they can inform future design choices. With their help, decision makers can obtain a shared perspective of the experiments (and their assessments). Information design helps ensure that the organisation stays consistent with the vision of how a product or service should be used, at all stages of the development phase: there is clear continuity in the cognitive paradigm between strategic intentions on the one hand, and the experiences resulting from the design process on the other.

During a recent project with an industrial company aimed at an audience of engineers and developers, we outlined the target criteria that would give us a clear picture of future developments from a use standpoint. In another project, we developed a common language for the designers (architects) of future Grand Paris Express stations in order to provide them with a common framework to design and assess passenger routes.

Matrix of service areas within a train station – Attoma assignment for the Grand Paris Express project
Assessment framework for perceived quality – Attoma assignment for the Grand Paris Express project

Organising future experiences to anticipate potential developments



Working on transformation projects also involves sparking a dynamic within the organisation. How can we make potential changes and developments our own? The mediation of information through metaphor, enacting and manipulation can help us imagine daily life in the future (projecting into new situations, imagining future premises or equipment, integrating). They also allow us to integrate expertise within the framework of an ever-evolving business process: by onboarding new roles within the organisation for instance.

Design challenges are no longer restricted to the designer’s ability to depict future situations using information design. These challenges now involve designing tools (generative or not) capable of supporting knowledge sharing and reflection within a group. These boundary objects are foundational in building a project community (in the short or medium term), with members that may sometimes have divergent interests.

Being able to navigate between the following three main components will promote stakeholders’ engagement and ability to anticipate the future, resulting in greater progress when designing future use cases (Elizabeth Sanders).

Make: use your hands to externalise and give shape to ideas in the form of physical artefacts (collages, mock-ups, etc.)

Tell stories: verbal description of future use cases (organising these use cases from information logs: photos, videos, symbols, drawings, etc.)

Enact information: enacting (or simulation) consists of using one’s body in the desired environment to express ideas about past, present or future experiences (providing a game board, rules or constraints, and pieces for the game).

Source: Sanders, Elizabeth & Stappers, Pieter Jan (2014). Probes, toolkits and prototypes: Three approaches to making in co-designing. CoDesign. 10. 10.1080/15710882.2014.888183.

It doesn’t matter how you fit into one of these categories, the important thing here is to navigate and combine them in a way that adapts to group dynamics and the project’s maturity level. Thus at the beginning of any transformation process, the artefacts to be produced will usually be maps (experience maps, future maps, areas maps, etc.) because at this stage, it’s all about understanding “foundational” motivations. Later on, it will be a question of developing prototypes to “sell” the project (to garner internal buy-in for instance).

Developing a language of truth, valid for all stakeholders

The further an organisation’s transformation projects are from its core business, the greater the need to call upon external partners. Each of these partners then brings their own “truths” on board. These are institutionalised in discourses, methods and artefacts. So the challenge lies in overcoming these differences and spurring convergence between all stakeholders: to build a discourse community, and an infrastructure conducive to the development of renewed artefacts (knowledge, financing methods, decision-making systems, skills, etc.).

Relationships between environments where such “truths” are historically deeply rooted (like in the field of mobility) can sometimes prove conflictual, and new discourses very difficult to implement. Information design thus aims to alleviate such friction by steering discussions towards more rational topics, mediated if necessary by external knowledge: inventory and analysis of the categories and objects perceived by users (what do we mean when we say “direction”, “train”, “line”, etc.) in light of the latest insights in cognition, and then development of a new naming strategy by recomposing existing elements.

Information taxonomy – Attoma project for Île-de-France Mobilités

The structuring and representation of these new “truths” make it possible to lay the foundations for common discussions. From then on, new artefacts can emerge through decomposition, recomposition and transformation into new original projects.

In that sense, according to Krippendorf, a design artefact must be readable, discussable and usable in particular situations in order to be acceptable by their respective discourse communities. Therefore the material created must present the following characteristics:

Reproducible and communicable within the discourse community: design objects that meet the sharing standards in both entities (e.g.: what are the expectations if the back-and-forth occurs through quarterly project reviews?)

Readable (i.e. meaningful to all stakeholders): develop narrative codes on the edge between reassurance and emergence (e.g.: the terms “car” and “driver” were kept when the automobile emerged to recall existing uses relating to horse-drawn carriages)

Consistent with practices within the community: build a working architecture that is understandable to all stakeholders

Open to future compositions and recompositions: create an open information architecture, open to quotes, references, interpretation, revision and renewal (using tools such as Miro or Figma for instance).

Information architecture: still a hot topic?

The rise of so-called “AI” tools for the general public questions the meaning of our representations. If instant visualisations become possible, what can we expect from now on?

Information architecture makes it possible to translate available data into experience(s): to activate knowledge, engage teams, incite transformation by moving away from the strategic phase towards the operational phase, and by springing into action through the creation of common meaning. In projects with high levels of uncertainty, the challenge for both the designer and the client is the same: understanding the information available in order to draw knowledge from it, define overall value, recognise how an environment is structured, and outline the field of possibilities. Within these projects, design is a strategic endeavour. By promoting a high-quality conversation between individuals and their environment, it gives rise to the notion of “associated milieu” (Simondon). The mutualisation of knowledge helps sustain competence, a strategic asset for any organisation!

Acting as a cultural bridge between eras, the designer enables synthesis in order to drive transformation. With or without Midjourney.

Do you want to know more? Engage a conversation? Contact us at attomalab@attoma.eu

Simon est consultant senior Design et Innovation. Il accompagne les clients Attoma dans la recherche et l’exploration de nouvelles propositions de valeur par une conception soutenable, basée sur les usages, et informée par la recherche de preuves transformatrices. Il pilote des missions dans les domaines Power & Utilities et Industries manufacturières.