Is your customer service team spending most of their time answering questions that are directly answered on your website?
Is your bounce rate far higher than it should it be?
Is the most used function of your website the search bar?
All of these common website usability problems are symptoms and signs of poor information architecture.
Information architecture (IA) aims to connect users with the content that they are looking for, in a seamless and intuitive manner. The Information Architecture Institute sums up IA as the “practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable”. To create effective IA, practitioners must understand their target audience, the content, and the platform.
What Is the Difference Between Design and Information Architecture?
When struggling with website problems or usability problems, your business instinct might be to consult with a designer. While this approach may resolve some surface website design problems, underlying issues often remain with the information design.
Think of information architecture as the blueprint for the building: the user interface is created and designed based on the logic and structure dictated by the IA. While placing a prominent search box on your website might increase usability, an Information Architect would ask why your users are struggling to navigate your website in the first place.
What Do Information Architects Focus On?
There are multiple components that information architects address in order to solve common website problems. The basic aspects of IA are the physical page structure, navigation, taxonomy, and labeling.
The page structure of the site designs the hierarchy and flow of information on the website to ensure that the user is seeing what they expect to see. On top of this is how the user navigates through the site. Intuitive or learnable navigation on a website is the crux of IA design.
A taxonomy is essentially how we group similar content and data together. How we categorize and decide to structure this data can significantly influence users experience. Common taxonomy mistakes are often the root of ineffective and difficult to navigate websites.
Labeling is exactly what is sounds like: the names, or labels, of the different pages, links, and areas on a website. This is a key step in ensuring that users are able to find the information that they’re looking for and requires user research to understand the words they use.
Who Needs Information Architecture?
In short, everyone. Even if we’re not aware of it, there’s an element of IA in any experience that we’re planning, whether it’s the layout of physical or digital space. When designing a website, you should be establishing your information architecture strategy before moving onto the user interface. However, if you currently have a platform that is suffering from common usability problems, consulting with an experienced Information Architect could save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.
The Information Architecture Institute: http://www.iainstitute.org/what-is-ia
Cameron Chapman for Web Designer Depot: http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2015/02/the-ultimate-guide-to-information-architecture/