Information Architecture Redesign — A retrospective
So we’re now at the half way mark with the UX Design Immersive course and our third project is in the books. This time the focus was on information architecture and content strategy, two areas that I’ve had zero exposure to prior to this project.
The task for this project was to redesign the information architecture for a university home page that was assigned to us. Unlike our previous projects, we were now given personas to base our work on which meant that the research and problem statement would be very different compared to our previous projects.
I was given the NUS Law faculty web site as my subject to redesign. My exposure to the world of law and jurisprudence is limited to say the least so I was facing some major challenges right from the get-go.
We were given 3 personas for this project, with the mission of focusing on one specific persona in order to make design changes to improve the user experience for that specific persona. The persona I chose to focus on throughout this project was Jessica, the current student.
My task from here was then to deliver solutions to improve Jessica’s experience with the NUS website, focusing on the information architecture and content strategy. In order to get a better understanding of the school and its students I went to visit the physical campus hoping to find some staff or students to talk with. At the time of my visit the semester had already ended, meaning that there were no students around. There was however some staff around and me and a fellow student managed to sit down with an admissions officer who was able to talk us through the admission process and highlight some facts about the student life. During the discussion it became clear that the staff actually didn’t know much about the content available on the website as they preferred to reference physical catalogues and documents. For further information about the student life at NUS Law we were recommended to get in touch with senior students through groups on social media. Another thing that became apparent during the visit was that signage and information across the campus was very poor, an aspect that I also experienced on their website.
Moving onto the task at hand, I started my project by assessing the current state of the website while keeping my chosen persona in mind.
There were some apparent issues present but in order to further state my problem I needed to conduct further research. My first step was to conduct a competitive analysis. I created a specific task for my persona and looked at how I could complete that task at the NUS Law website as well as two other Law schools.
Conducting this competitive task analysis helped me conclude several things. Columbia Law has managed to organise their content in a way that helps their user finish the task in fewer steps than currently available at the NUS Law website, making it clear to me that there is room for improvement in how the information is organised on the NUS Law website. However as I wasn’t able to complete the task at the Oxford Law website I can conclude that the information on the NUS Law website is findable but with an opportunity for improvement in terms of minimising the input and steps needed from the user to complete tasks.
Throughout this process I noticed several noteworthy elements on both the NUS Law website and the Columbia Law website.
Completing the task at the Columbia Law website I was able to notice some positive features as well as some negative. Compared to NUS Law, the global navigation contains more clear and understandable content for current students to navigate to information regarding their current studies. However in order to view the course list you will need to fill out a lengthy search form, which is a major negative point for my persona. Finally, the page with the course list contains a lot more supporting content as compared to NUS Law.
Having looked at some competitors it was now time to analyse and assess the NUS Law website even deeper. I conducted several methods in order to analyse the content and navigation, starting with compiling content inventory of several of the pages.
By making a content inventory I was able to assess the different types of content that are available on the website. In this case, I could easily see that most of the content was made up of links that are used in order to navigate through the site. Moving forward I realised that I needed to focus more on adding supporting content to the pages.
As we were dealing with a lot of navigation it seemed highly appropriate to conduct card sorting as a method of analysing and redesigning the content and navigation. I initially conducted closed card sorts to see how users agreed with the current navigation, before moving on to open card sorts where I could see how users would group and name the content based on their intuition. Based on this I was able to propose my own navigation and grouping of content that made sense to the users, I would test and iterate these changes through closed cart sorts in order to ensure that my changes helped users make more sense of the information on the website.
During this process I also created a sitemap that cataloged all the sections and navigation available on the website. After creating the sitemap I was created a new version to represent my findings throughout the card sorting. By doing these changes I was able to include sections that were relevant for my persona into the global navigation, removing redundant or confusing sections from the global navigation, changing any confusing language, merging sections that users would group together during card sorts as well as optimising the flow for my persona to complete certain tasks.
In order to justify my changes I would look at Abby Covert’s IA heuristics.
Specifically for this case I would look at improving the experience by making the content more Findable. The issues with findability was made extra clear by the fact that some very important information for my persona not being accessible through the global navigation on the website.
My next steps would be to create a prototype in order to test new navigation and flow with users. I started with a paper prototype to see wether users would be able to complete the same task I used in my initial competitor analysis.
After a few rounds of testing I was happy with how the users were able to complete the task so I moved onto making an interactive prototype with Sketch and Invision.
At this point I have become familiar with the process of iterating, and for each test case I conducted I would make some changes to the prototype to reflect the user feedback. I was able to make some changes to the navigation throughout this process by changing the copy and integrating some sections. I was also able to work on creating the supporting content with the interactive prototype as it allows for more dynamic content than a paper prototype.
With a working prototype I was now facing a dilemma, I initially wanted to create both a web prototype and a mobile prototype as my persona often accessed the website through her phone. However as the due date for the project was closing in I made the decision to scrap the plans for a mobile prototype as there wasn’t enough time to get the prototype together.
Now, with my redesigned navigation and content the process for completing my persona’s task was improved. It also fulfilled my goal of having more supporting content on the main content page for the task in particular.
Maybe most importantly though, you were now able to complete the task from any point of the website as this content now was integrated into the global navigation. This will also help users who land on a content page through side entry from a search engine.
At this point I did realise that my work is very limited as it only focused on one specific task and section of the website. However I believe that my work uncovered some universal issues on the website related to their current IA. In order to create a website that provides a good experience for their current students NUS Law need to improve the use of supporting content across their whole website. They absolutely need to create a standard for their syllabus in order to manage their content and make it accessible for users and making this information integrated with the calendar on the website. If they manage to minimise the amount of interface content they will be able to reduce the amounts of clicks and steps that users need to take in order to complete tasks which in turn will create a better experience for all users. Lastly, they need to build a purpose built mobile website as it’s currently not optimised for mobile at all.
I will most likely not aim for a career as an IA specialist after this course is done. However, this project made me realise its importance as an integral part of UX. IA will always be a factor in my future work and I’m happy that I got through this project and now know that I shouldn’t be afraid of the topic. It doesn’t bite and isn’t dangerous, but I’ll happily head into the next project focusing on some of the more creative areas of UX!