Whether you want to call it “design thinking,” “human-centered design,” or “user experience design,” the approach, goals, and strategy are all very much the same. It is a way of putting the user at the centre of your design process every step of the way, to develop and deliver the best possible solution and experience. While user experience is often thought of through the lens of providing customers with products or services, there is no reason it cannot be turned inward to the design and development of an organization’s tools, programs, and processes, where your colleagues are your users and the product or service is your information governance (IG) program.

One of the common struggles faced by organizations is the implementation of their IG programs at the level of the individual. Without the buy-in and understanding of these users, it is hard for organizations to have a truly successful program implementation. This can be further complicated by a lack of understanding of what IG is, its purpose and importance to the organization, and how it directly impacts each individual. Investing in a user-centred design approach for your IG program can help to mitigate these factors and demonstrate to individuals that you value their needs in the development and implementation of your program.

Design Thinking – The Basics

Design thinking is a term that has recently and increasingly been found in the spotlight, but what does it mean and how can it help in the design of your IG program? Design thinking is an approach to identifying and exploring the underlying issues at the root of a problem, considering and testing multiple potential solutions, and developing the best one to address the problem. It is an approach that puts the user at the heart of the process, requires creative thinking, and relies on the generation and testing of prototypes.

User Experience Strategy

As with any project being undertaken, it is wise to begin by developing a strategy. User experience design requires a balance between business goals, organizational culture and context, user needs and behaviour, and content (documents, applications, metadata, etc.). 1 Every situation and organization is unique, and in order to develop an appropriate strategy it is important to establish an understanding of what the organization wants to accomplish for itself, and what it wants to accomplish for its users. When defining these needs from the perspective of an internal facing program it may seem as though these are one and same, but this not necessarily true as there will be various stakeholders with differing perspectives and requirements. In the context of an IG program, what the business needs is a program that can be successfully implemented and followed to reduce risk and exposure to liability, whereas what users need is something to help guide them to make the right decisions about managing their records and information.

A number of disciplines are relevant to the design thinking process. It is therefore important to ensure that a multidisciplinary team is brought together with the skills and perspectives required. The relevance of each area of expertise will depend on the specifics of the project being undertaken, but may include project management, user research, usability evaluation, information architecture, content strategy, accessibility, user interface design, and visual design. 2

Understanding Your Users

A key aspect of design thinking is understanding who your users are, not superficially, but to have a deep understanding of user needs and values, as well as their abilities and limitations. In order to focus on the core of the problem, you need to understand how your users think, what they are trying to accomplish, how they go about accomplishing this, and how your system, service, or product can be designed to help achieve their goals. This requires creative thinking, determining the right approach, and asking the right combination of questions to get the answers you really need.

The best way to achieve this understanding is by conducting user research. A variety of user research methods offer different insights, so it is important to select methods most appropriate to achieve organizational objectives and that lead to meaningful results. Examples of user research methods include surveys, interviews, contextual inquiry, focus groups, use case analysis, task analysis, scenarios, and usability testing.

In order to understand what your users need, you first need to understand who they are. Depending on your organizational structure, you may have different users or groups of users who will be required to manage and interact with different elements or aspects of the IG function, and who may have specific needs. For example, who is responsible for determining retention rules? Is there a designated individual within a particular business group, or is this process automated? Creating personas of the different types of users identified can help to provide sample cases that can be leveraged during the development of your program. These fictional characters help to bring together disconnected data collected during user research, to represent the needs of a range of related users.

The Design Process

The design thinking process is inherently iterative. Once an understanding of the context and users is established, the process requires the generation and testing of different solutions, followed by refinement and reimagining based on the insights gained, before repeating over and over until the desired solution is identified. There are many variations of the specific processes (e.g., spiral, waterfall, agile/lean, etc.), but all incorporate this iterative framework. Regardless of which specific method is used it is important that the user be involved throughout the design and development process.

As part of the design process, factors of user experience that an organization might consider focusing on include whether aspects of the program are useful, usable, findable, accessible, credible, and valuable. 3 While these factors were originally envisioned in relation to web design, they are still applicable to the development of an IG program. For example, does the content of your program fulfil a need, is it easy to use and understand, is it easy to navigate and locate relevant information, is it accessible to all employees, can users trust the guidance is accurate, and do the elements included bring value to your users and the business? The design process can help to address all of these questions.

Facilitating Compliance

Having a user friendly IG program is important in helping to ensure compliance. When employees are able to understand and navigate the guidance they require, it is more likely that they will successfully follow this guidance, whether it relates to keeping records and information for the required period, protecting data subject to legal hold, ensuring personal information is properly deleted or de-identified, or assisting in e-discovery. Putting the time and effort into a focused and user-centred IG program will have long lasting benefits for the business. Information overload caused by sharing more than is necessary with users can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and lapses in compliance with established policies and procedures.

An organization’s culture, including the information culture, can also play a large role in how an IG program and related implementation guidance should be framed and delivered. This can be especially true when dealing with a global organization with offices and operations across numerous jurisdictions. In these cases it will be important to include appropriate users from around the world to help build a comprehensive understanding of user needs everywhere, in order to ensure the process and guidance is understood and meaningful to all. This may require a slightly different approach across jurisdictions to account for any distinctions in how users create, use, store, and dispose of records and information. These differences may also arise from a compliance perspective, recognizing different legal and regulatory requirements.

Leveraging design thinking can be an important factor to ensure the overall success of your IG program, from both an operational and compliance perspective.

1 Rosenfeld, L., Morville, P., & Arango, J. (2015). Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond (4th ed.), O’Reilly Media, Inc.

2 User Experience Basics. Usability.gov. https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-experience.html

3 Morville, P. (2004, June 21). User Experience Design. Semantics Studios. http://semanticstudios.com/user_experience_design/


Lisa Douglas is a member of Baker McKenzie’s Technology Practice. She currently focuses on information governance, drawing on a rich background in knowledge management, legal research, and library science to provide compliance advice on the enterprise information lifecycle.


Amy Quackenbush is an Information Governance Specialist with the global Information Governance group within Baker McKenzie’s Information Technology & Communications Practice in Canada. She has a background in records and information management, knowledge management, and user experience design. She helps advise clients on information governance matters relating to records and data retention, data privacy and localization, cross-border transfer, media/format, and digital transformation