Making Decisions in Information Architecture

Posted: February 4, 2015

Lunch and Learns are one of the many ways we share knowledge with our team so that everyone will better understand the details and decisions that go into each phase of the work we do for our clients. As VisionPoint’s resident User Experience Specialist, I thought it would be helpful to share a high level overview of the process that I go through to make strategic decisions during the information architecture phase of a website redesign project.

Put simply, information architecture is the process of determining the best way to structure information and how to help users navigate through the available content. The most important considerations for IA are the user, the institution, the technology and the content.

The User

Empathy is the key to getting in the mindset of the user. User testing is extremely helpful for understanding their goals, needs, concerns and frustrations. There are always unexpected surprises that come up during user testing that will impact the IA.

Here are a couple of tips that we’ve picked up along the way

  • Users probably won’t read
  • They’ll select the first option that fits (not the one that fits best)

The Institution

Once again, empathy is key. You must understand the goals of your institution in order to make decisions that are strategically sound.

Consider how the brand is being reinforced as well. IA can have a huge impact on the way your institution’s brand is perceived. Taking note of key differentiators, and incorporating them into the organization of content, will help create a unique and memorable experience for the user.

The Technology

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will start this section off with empathy. In this case, we must have empathy for the developers that will be coding and maintaining the website. Understanding the limitations of your CMS before getting into the IA will help you make better decisions that will enhance usability on your website.

Another helpful tip when dealing with technology is to do your research. Finding samples of the functionality you want to achieve is extremely helpful. If something has been done before, there is likely a simple solution that will save time for your web team. Our developers like to use CodePen to test out front-end functionality. This is a great way to make a prototype of your ideas before fully implementing them on your website.

The Content

Without content, there is no website. It’s that simple. No matter how the information is organized, good content is essential for creating the best user experience possible. Once you have this amazing content, the IA will guide the users directly to the information they are searching for.

Information architecture is an important phase in the website design and development process. It is also the phase that is most often overlooked. If you’d like to talk more about the challenges and nuances of the IA phase, feel free to contact us. We’re happy to answer questions and talk shop.