Have you ever been on a website or app that looks great and has cool functionality, but just doesn’t seem to work properly? Have you known for certain something is on a site, but no matter where you click or how you search, you can't seem find it? Have you ever been charged with overseeing a site redesign, only to find (after investing significant time and money) it still doesn’t work? I’d wager your answer to one - if not most - of these questions is “yes”.
Why are these issues so common? Chances are, the issue you are experiencing isn't because of the design, technical platform, technology built, or even the widely blamed user experience design.
It’s more than likely you are, instead, experiencing an issue with the information architecture of the online place you are visiting. You’ve certainly heard of user experience, or UX; the next big buzzword might just be information architecture, or IA.
So, what is IA?
Information architecture is the backbone of any site or application. If sites and applications are “buildings” made of information, the specific words we use - and how we organize them - are the bricks we use to construct these buildings. Think of it as the “infrastructure of meaning,” which all great digital structures are framed upon. Like most infrastructure, you don’t notice it until it malfunctions.
As the backbone of your website, IA is experienced by site visitors during different digital project phases in various ways. Information architecture impacts and ensures the following core site elements make sense and provides a cohesive user experience:
- Representation of Brand Architecture across complex related sites
- Page Titles & Breadcrumbs
- Landing page Strategy & Structure
- Page-level Information Hierarchy
- Search Results
- Filters / Facets / Sort Options
- Metadata & Tagging
Professional services organizations often have several services and capabilities to list. This is a core section of IA - one we must often work to refine.
You might ask yourself: what terms are at the high priority? What terms are nested? What terms include other terms? What terms have confusing synonyms - which one should we choose, and why? What terms are confusing and don’t help users understand just what it is that you do?
Now think about how a services architecture impacts all manner of core site elements: navigation, sitemap, wayfinding, filters, search, page titles, page labels, URLs, breadcrumbs, etc. Now expand your thinking about the intentional use of words beyond a services and product list, and the organization of these words to other parts of a website. Consider all the places strategic language as a structural element is crucial on your site. A strategically informed information architecture is paramount to creating a website with good user experience.
Information architecture isn’t a very flashy or exciting part of a redesign project. Unlike visual designs or interactive prototypes, information architecture is often represented in organized, hierarchical lists of words (web taxonomies), sitemaps, wireframes and controlled vocabularies (found in filters, facets and other sorting mechanisms).
Because of this, (as well as a general lack of awareness of the value of IA in the marketing world) there is often times a tendency to skip or skimp this phase and rush right from Strategy to UX.
However, ensuring a thoughtful IA phase between Strategy and UX is one way to avoid several common complications and misses in a site redesign. With a carefully considered IA phase between Strategy and UX, you can expect to avoid:
- Products that don’t make sense and are hard to navigate.
- Disorienting user experience (even though design, or UI might seem fine or even great).
- Issues with findability and scalability.
- Complications and increased budget in build.
As such, our goal at One North is to start with the correct IA as a backbone to any site or site section. We derive this structure from a deep understanding of your business, your users, and your competitive landscape. IA is important to us not just because it helps users find what they are looking for, but because of the wide impact it has on nearly every place in your digital ecosystem.