Design Your Knowledge Management Future
Designing a knowledge base involves more than just categorizing a set of content and indexing it onto a page. In fact, a well-formed knowledge base can seem almost magical in its ease of use, power of search, and quality of results.
So, how can we create these types of intuitive, efficient experiences? We do it by working carefully and continuously to map the user’s questions and queries to well-structured content objects that directly reflect those requests.
A useful metaphor in designing a knowledge base is designing ‘paths for travel.’ In one sense a knowledge base is like a map of a territory of information, which each user traverses to get to their specific ‘knowledge destination.’ Consider the customer experience as a whole: What is their true destination?
As we keep this focus in mind, we should be able to clearly see how we want browse and search to behave, and how content should be organized and modeled to provide the best results.
This requires a series of specific steps:
1. Map your territory—where do users go?
- Demand: What do your customers and support agents ask most often?
- Data: What core information can you provide?
- Depth: How much detail is needed?
- Design: How should they engage it?
2. Design the pathways
- Scripts: What content is best delivered step-by-step?
- Browse: What types of specific topics are useful and intuitive?
- Search: How do your users like to define their needs?
3. Provide an appropriate variety and richness of content ‘destinations’ by offering:
- Simple Q/A, how-to instructions, promotional objects, alerts and bulletins
- More detailed instructions, diagnostic steps
- Larger procedures or policies broken up by core tasks
- Detailed step-wise content in a decision-tree format
4. Guide travelers onto/across paths as needed
- Treat the path as the entity (the line of inquiry toward an answer)
- Bring data across channels as users move from one to the next (e.g., web – chat – email – phone)
- Leverage the focus of one channel to the next experience
- Again, consider the customer experience as a whole: What is their true destination?
Give users choices about how to evolve their session. Perhaps present search as an evolving option during the process, provide process-focused knowledge interactions when appropriate (e.g., scripts, decision trees), and avoid “game over”—a termination of path with no options.
Notice this “path” metaphor doesn’t focus on search algorithms, detailed metadata attribute specifications, user experience wireframes, etc. Those are elements of the delivery vehicles for your knowledge.
The knowledge is the asset being delivered, of course! By keeping the focus on how best to marry users’intent with the best information you have, the right technology design decisions will more easily be made.
At the end of the day, one still needs to execute the core design elements of an effective knowledge base—here are the focus areas that help make that happen:
- User experience: navigation, search, viewing options, links, ratings, etc.
- Taxonomy and metadata: subject tagging, object properties
- Content structures: content types, templates, formats and style standards
All too often, those designing a knowledge base become distracted or preoccupied with the technical minutiae of these components. By mapping out your journey in advance, you will both enable and optimize the design of these core elements, and help ensure that your users and content marry up happily ever after.