Create a System Map to get where you’re going

Back when the internet was young and more about content than functionality, we talked about Information Architecture and created site maps. Site maps diagrams showing all the pages on a site. They are still used today but usually for really big, content-heavy sites. They are a necessary tool for content strategy and will help set both the structure of your content but also the language style you’ll use to name all those pages.

When UX came onto the scene and we started thinking about interaction design and focused our attention more on wireframes, site maps took a back seat to flow diagrams, user stories, and other feature-focused interactions. Again, wireframes and user stories are critical forms of documentation for UX designers, at NextWAVE we’ve found a gap where the site map used to sit. We call it the system map.

At NextWAVE we like to create a simple diagram showing all of the screens in the system. They are a little like the old site maps, drawings that use boxes to show pages or screens, but instead of only the hierarchical structure, they also show the overall system flow. 

While we know the map is not the territory, system maps are excellent at defining scope, identifying key places of integration with other systems, and uncovering unexamined assumptions about how things fit together.