When iteratively designing and evaluating experiences, the order in which you do this is very important.
It starts with content – you must have the content to design the information architecture. I remember learning this lesson when, at one company, Marketing was looking for our Art Director to start creating comps for our next generation website and applications. Without content, there was nothing to design to – the content was the “food” for art direction. Without knowing what the content was there was no way to know how to design it.
This is also true to for the information architecture. You need the content to determine the logical grouping of the information, the hierarchy, correct terminology, etc. And you really need to get the information architecture right first before incorporating the visual design. You can imagine if you are reviewing a design and people are confused and you don’t know if it’s the terminology or color or graphics getting in the way – is it because its grouped this way or with this color? You got to nail down the information design first – before testing the visual design.
And once you are confident that your information architecture and visual design is correct – then you create your interactive designs – and that present another set of problems that you will want to keep distinct from the information and visual design. In some cases, you may have to revise the information or visual design because of the interaction – even more of reason to have confidence about what and why worked in previous evaluations.
As you progress from information design to visual design to interaction design, your designs should increase in fidelity and broaden in audience. Start with something simple like paper prototypes for evaluating information design, graphic comps for visual design, and higher fidelity prototypes like HTML for interaction designs that bring it all together. All of these can be as quick as needed.
Also increase your evaluation audience. Start with a few internal stakeholders who understand the market, customers, and end-users then increase your audience size and closeness with your target audience as you progress. Ideally, you will involve your target audience when appropriate to ensure the experiences that you are designing meet their need prior to production.