The practice of information architecture is undergoing a tectonic shift away from creating individual websites and towards designing cross-channel experiences that span both the digital—from desktop to mobile—and the physical—from print to storefront. While the information architect’s skillset is well-suited for this new challenge, our existing tools are not.

##Service blueprints aren’t exactly what we need

Imported from the field of service design, G. Lynn Shostack’s service blueprint is often suggested as a tool for cross-channel planning. Yet it’s not a perfect fit:

  • Too process-oriented. Service blueprints present customer actions sequentially. While desirable for planning specific flows (such as a checkout process), it’s obstructive when trying to outline a comprehensive strategy.

  • Minimal attention to channels. Service blueprints document the “physical evidence” associated with each action, but fail to account for how a single action might be performed on multiple channels.

  • Meant for a different purpose. With their lines of interaction, visibility, and internal visibility, service blueprints simply weren’t intended to be used for planning cross-channel information architecture

A service blueprint by Brandon Schauer
A service blueprint created by [Brandon Schauer](http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandonschauer/3363169836/).

##What do we need, then?

Before brainstorming solutions, we should clarify the problem. Andrea Resmini and Lucas Rosati have discussed five principles for designing successful cross-channel experiences; Peter Morville advocates six; to me, these three seem the most fundamental:

  • Consistent. Each channel should enable users to perform a given task in a like manner. For instance, a bank customer experienced in paying bills on the web should find the corresponding smartphone bill-paying facility familiar, even on first use.

  • Optimized. Each channel should play to its strengths. Desktop applications are optimized for large screens; mobile apps for small ones. Optimization is in tension with consistency.

  • Continuous. Each channel must be aware of all the others. Add a bicycle helmet to your shopping cart on the Web, and it should appear in the cart on your phone.

##A starting point

The CHU Cube
Resmini and Rosati's CHU cube.

What would a tool that aimed to facilitate consistent, optimized, continuous cross-channel planning look like? In Pervasive Information Architecture, Resmini and Rosati presented their CHU cube which places tasks and channels each on their own axes.

Ammendment: After publishing this post, Gianluca Brugnoli of Frog Design pointed out its resemblence to the Touchpoints Matrix he himself developed in 2009. I hadn’t come across this tool before, but the similarity is striking.

The Touchpoints Matrix by Gianluca Brugnoli
The Touchpoints Matrix by Gianluca Brugnoli.

##Building on the foundation

Juxtaposing tasks and channels is a useful starting point, though the CHUbe’s multidimensional layers make it a bit unwieldy. For our diagram, let’s do the following:

  1. Identify user tasks—these become the X-axis.
  2. List channels—these become the Y-axis.
  3. Prioritize and describe each per-channel task—these are the table cells
  4. Identify shared components—these are listed in a bottom row
A Cross-Channel Blueprint

I call this a cross-channel blueprint. The exercise can be performed by a lone designer or collaboratively with sticky notes or in front of a whiteboard. It brings about:

  • A global view of important user tasks
  • The possible channels through which users might attempt those tasks
  • A set of task priorities for each channel
  • A set of channel priorities for each task
  • An overview of which components need to be shared across channels

##What do you think?

This is but a first attempt at a developing a tool suitable for the new era of cross-channel information architecture. As such, it needs practice, iteration, and experimentation. If you’ve been working in this space, please chime in with how the cross-channel blueprint jives with your own experience.

See my article The Rise of Cross-Channel UX Design on UX Matters for related reading. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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