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So Why Aren't and the Same? Posted on 09/11/2002.

On Bloug, Lou Rosenfeld relays a question from a reader:

"Can two or more entities have identical or nearly identical information architectures?

"Take Hertz and Avis, for instance. Obviously their labeling differs, but they are in the same business and serve the same kinds of customers. Could it not be said that their information architecture therefore overlaps greatly? ... What I'm driving at is this: Why should an entity need to do in-depth information architecture research if another similar entity has already been down that path?"

This is one of the things I was getting at in an awkwardly-titled article I wrote for Adaptive Path, The Pendulum Returns: Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations. In it, I wrote this equation:

User Goals and Tasks + Company Mission + Business Goals = Branded Design Solution.

The user goals tell us WHAT to design. The company mission tells us HOW to design it. And the business goals remind us WHY we're designing it.

As the reader points out, for Avis and Hertz, user goals are probably identical, and business goals are likely very similar. So that means the WHAT and WHY are aligned. But the company mission is potentially very different. What is the company's reason for being? What is it that sets it apart from other companies? What are its values? From's Mission and Values page: "Mission: To ensure a stress-free rental experience by providing safe, dependable vehicles and special services designed to win customer loyalty." It then lists as vaues Integrity, Quality, Value, Community Responsibility, Teamwork, and Respect for the Individual. Hertz doesn't promote any values on their site (nor could I find "values" on any other rental car site).

Still, we can make some assumptions here. Avis is very much about appealing to the individual, to persons -- it makes a very concerted effort to talk to you, the customer. Hertz, on the other hand, is more of a business-to-business deal, stressing the corporate. Hertz would likely offer a more no-nonsense experience, appealing to the business user. Avis would likely offer a friendlier, more tailored experience, allowed to meet the needs of specific individuals. Again, the users have extremely similar goals, and the business goals are doubtless identical (make money, squeeze margins, etc.), but how they achieve that is different, informed by their distinct reasons for being.

4 comments so far. Add a comment.

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Back before my days as a Fed, when I was a creative director with an IA background, I often wondered why I would expect several design directions out of my visual design team, but only one direction out of the IA team. Part of the reason is resource limitations: our team was large enough where we could have multiple visual designers on a project but only one IA. Even on those projects where we had two or three IAs on a project, our goal was always to come up with one information architecture.

Is it feasible to develop several IA approaches and select the best, as we do with design comps? After all, even though we develop several design comps, we select the best approach for implementation...

-- Dan
Posted by Dan @ 09/12/2002 12:39 PM PST [link to this comment]

I don't know that it is clear the business goals (models) are the same. The target market and the mix may be very different for each. Each may have different long term business goals as well. One company could be investing heavily in IT infrastructure and looking for shareholder returns/profits elsewhere while the other may be cutting costs across the board, hiring more staff and returning a similar payout to shareholders. Point: there are many variables in the equation.
Posted by -challis @ 09/14/2002 04:07 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, I might be slicing it a bit thin. And, I can't speak for Avis and Hertz. But here's how I'm thinking of it, based on lengthy discussions with employees at PeopleSoft, with whom I've been consulting on and off for 18 months.

One of the questions we return to repeatedly is "what are your objectives? what goals do you need to meet? what are your measures of success?" And I don't think I'm spilling unknown beans when I say that it's a mix of: lead generation; building awareness; increased revenue; reduced operational costs. And I suspect that folks at Siebel, Oracle, SAP, etc., all would say the same.

HOW they accomplish those goals is where, I think, the "company mission" comes in. It's where issues of "brand", and personality, and, I suppose, business model comes in. Again, perhaps I'm slicing it a bit thin, but I do think it's useful to distinguish the nuts-and-bolts business goals with the more conceptual/emotional approaches to achieving those goals.
Posted by peterme @ 09/15/2002 12:35 AM PST [link to this comment]

It is an interesting comparison. I would expect that their transactional model and interfaces are very similar per each user type.

My guess is that Hertz would gain in customer satisfaction if they moved the beginning of the transaction onto the home page as Avis has.

The other stuff on the site - whether communication around positioning, added content about the fleet, partner deals, travel tips, etc. is what dimensionalizes the online brand experience beyond the mechanics of completing the reservation forms.

Over the long run a best practices transactional model will be available to copy. Follower companies should strive for parity around those transactions.

Leader companies will put R+D money against evolving the transactional model and satisfying customers by bringing new ideas around the other stuff to the table.
Posted by Lawrence @ 09/15/2002 09:00 AM PST [link to this comment]

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