What Are You Building, a Platform or a Program?
It’s important to know the difference between a platform and a program.
- We build platforms to manage content.
- We build programs to communicate a message.
You can see examples of both a platform and a program on the IKEA Web site. The site itself is a platform because it manages a catalog of products and services, as shown in red in Figure 1. The area shown in blue in Figure 1 is a program because it communicates a selection of products that are part of a current sale event.
So, when developing a Web site or application, one of the first steps on a project is determining whether you’re building a platform or a program.
Building a Platform for Destination-Focused Users
Any Web site or application could be a platform. Determining whether a site or application is a platform really depends on whether you’re creating a system to support content or you’re creating the content itself. Although you could be creating both a system to support content and the content at the same time, content creation generally requires a different process from creating a system to support content. Let’s assume that content strategy and content discovery are already complete, so we can begin to focus on the system requirements that are necessary to support the content.
The three primary objectives a platform needs to accomplish are as follows:
- scaling to support long-term objectives
- organizing content
- ensuring users can find relevant content
A Framework for Platform Planning
Now, let’s look at these three aspects of platform planning in depth, as parts of the Platform Planning Framework shown in Figure 3. Table 1 describes each key objective of platform planning in detail.
Download the Platform Planning Framework as an editable PDF.
|One of the keys to a good platform is not only accommodating content that currently exists, but creating affordances for content and functionality that would be desirable in the future. Think about for how long you’d like a platform to last before doing a substantial redesign. It may not be possible to foresee the need for certain features or content, but understanding what kinds of future features and content might be desirable helps in determining a site’s overall user interface and interaction design.||
Strategic road maps
|Information architecture is an important part of every platform. Without an information architecture that groups content in logical categories and utilizes a logical tagging structure, a platform would be unusable. Organization goes beyond categorization and touches on taxonomy, system architecture, and navigation design.||
Card sort or tree-testing results
|Ensuring that users always know where they are, what to do next, and what to expect when they take an action are all parts of findability. Creating a platform that ensures users can find what they’re looking for is not only part of establishing a proper tagging and folder structure, but also factors into interaction design, visual design, copywriting, and information architecture. Understanding what user flows are most important allows an information architect to eliminate less important user flows, if necessary, to keep users focused on the more important flows. When wireframing, an experience architect can express prioritized user flows, according to the saliency and hierarchy of different pieces of content.||
Usability testing results
Site search design
An easy way to determine whether you’re building a platform is to ask yourself: Are users focused more on the destination or the journey? If users’ focus is on the destination, you’re probably building a platform; if their focus is on the journey, you’re probably building a program.
Although platforms should focus on getting users to their destination as quickly as possible, once users have made it to their destination, creating a more immersive experience is valuable. For example, once users get to a product detail page on the IKEA Web site, they’ve essentially reached their destination. So, these platform-level pages can be more immersive than category, department, or collection pages.