By Anthony Poillucci
While analogies may not be the most sophisticated way of describing complex subjects, they tend to work pretty well for helping people understand a fairly abstract subject like Information Architecture (IA). When talking to clients about the importance, the cost and the time invested into something that they have probably never heard of, such as IA, I tend to use the following analogy.
What is Information Architecture?
Like building a custom house, a website redesign is a huge commitment. You would not dream of investing large sums of cash into a new home without a set of well-thought-out plans drafted by a proven professional who understands your specific needs. Neither should you commence a large scale website redesign without a well-thought-out IA done by an experienced professional who understands the goals of your organization. Essentially, the IA of your website is the blueprint and plans of your home.
Unfortunately, the IA phase is typically the most overlooked part of many large-scale website development projects. What IA allows you to do is to make sure that all decisions are carefully considered and tested before you bang that first nail.
A Space Designed for the Needs of the User
For your house, you have a set of needs. You might need three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a living room, a kitchen and perhaps that library you’ve always dreamed of. The arrangement of the space in a home can be compared to the arrangement of content types on your website. Just as the planning of a home’s space affects the way people are able to move around in it, the planning of a website’s content structure (its IA) affects the way your visitors navigate your website.
In your home, you would not put the kitchen on a different floor than the dining room, nor put the master bathroom in the basement, two floors away from the master bedroom. Instead, you would want to design the space in a way that makes sense for its use, so that people can intuitively find what they want.
In the same vein, your website needs to group “like content” together, so that users can find the information they are looking for and take the action they’ve come to the website to take. For example, if your organization is an institution of higher education, you don’t want students roaming around your website, frustrated that they can not find the course description they need any more than you want people roaming around your house, frustrated they can not find the guest bathroom.
The Foundation for a Successful User Experience
Like real architecture, IA is a complex discipline that requires analytical thinking, an understanding of user behavior and years of training and experience. My company has created complex IA for large-scale websites since the inception of the Web for clients ranging from a large global company’s intranet (with more than 400,000 pages) to dynamic publishing sites to entire university website redesigns.
Expertly crafted IA provides the foundation for a successful user experience. Before you get into design, coding or content development; you must develop an IA that will:
· Serve your users
· Inform intuitive navigation through content grouping, categorization and clear nomenclature (plain language)
· Inform page-level hierarchy
· Allow for growth in the future (so you do not have to tear down your site and start from scratch a couple of years from now)
· Serve SEO and searchability
· Inform visual design
With the right IA in place, users will be able to find what they are looking for quickly and easily, and they will not be calling you for help with information that should be readily located on the website.
Anthony Poillucci is vice president, Creative & Strategy at VisionPoint Marketing. For more information, call (919) 848-2018, visit visionpointmarketing.com, or send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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