Information Architecture

Effective Techniques For a Successful Web Design

Bernard Mwakililo
Feb 26 · 6 min read

Have you ever visited a website and became frustrated because of the never-ending cycle that eventually turns into a rabbit hole? For instance, you click on one link, then it takes you to another, and again, and again… and finally, you come up empty — you couldn’t find the information or product you needed? Similarly, have you tried using the navigation menu and realize that the information you were looking for was not in the place you thought it would be? In solving this chaos, the information architecture (IA) of your website is the secret ingredient.

As architecture is ‘frozen music’, information architecture is ‘frozen conversation’. Any good conversation is based on understanding. — Richard Saul Wurman — Photo by Marco Zoppi on Unsplash

Website users are accustomed to finding exactly what they need, where they expect it to be. And when they don’t find it, they give up within a few seconds and move on because they don’t have much patience when it comes to bad user experience.

IA is the layout of all the content on the website. It provides an easy framework, definitions and explains the relationship between the content and features of the website. Good website IA is a result of extensive user research and testing. Below are some website IA basics and best practices.

Website Information Architecture — Definition and Facts

“Users need to be able to find content before they can use it — findability precedes usability.”
― Louis Rosenfeld — Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

When you arrive at a new place, you need something or someone to guide you. As it is normal practice, you use street signs and addresses to reach your destination. Likewise, you don’t want to waste time and get lost, so you need a sense of direction.

A website IA is the information linchpin of a website. It focuses on organizing, structuring, and labelling content in a way that helps users understand where they are, what they’ve found, what’s around, and what to expect with less effort.

As an integral part of the website formation, many people from time to time mistake user experience design (UX) for information architecture design.).

Both fields work tightly together to create blueprints for digital experiences but there are some substantial differences between the two. To put it shortly, information architecture design can be compared to a blueprint of the whole structure of a project and user experience design simply is a process used to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users.

Nugget From Experts

“But good information architecture can do more than just help people find objects and information. It can empower people by making it easier for them to learn and make better decisions.” — Donna Spencer — Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

According to Dan Klyn of The Understanding Group, website IA is the combination of the following 3 main components:

  • Ontology — discovering, defining, and articulating the rules and patterns that govern the meaning of what we intend to communicate.
  • Taxonomy — developing systems and structures for what everything is called, where everything is placed, and the relationship between labels and categories.
  • Choreography — anticipating the way users and information want to flow and creating a path for change over time.

Peter Morville of Semantic Studios, says website IA includes:

  • The structural design of shared information environments.
  • The combination of organization, labelling, search, and navigation within a website.
  • The art and science of shaping website experience to support usability and findability.

There are four questions you should keep in mind when talking about IA design:

  • What flow of users goes through the site?
  • How does information architecture help users search through information?
  • How is the information presented to the user?
  • Is the information helping users to find what they are looking for with less effort?

IA influences everything as part of interaction design that considers content, context, and users. This means that user needs, business goals, and different types of content must be taken into account while structuring website information.

According to Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” (published 1998 and was Amazon’s best internet book that year) the IA of a website needs to address different user needs. They distinguish 4 main types of needs:

  • Known-item seeking: Users will come to the website to search for something desirable and known.
  • Exploratory seeking: Users will come to the website looking for inspiration. They’re looking for something desirable but not sure what it is exactly.
  • Exhaustive research: Users are in a process of extensive research. They want to find as much information as possible.
  • Re-finding: A user needs a desired item again and is trying to find it.

Components and Principles of Information Architecture.

“Findability precedes usability. You can’t use what you can’t find.” — Peter Morville — Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

To be successful, you need to understand the interdependent nature of users, content, and context when you create, store, manage, and present information.

Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville in their book, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, note that the main components of IA:

  • Organization Schemes and Structures: How you categorize and structure information
  • Labeling Systems: the ways we represent information, such as the terminology considered appropriate for the target audience.
  • Navigation Systems: How users browse or move from one piece of information to another.
  • Search Systems: How users look for information (the way we search for information)
  • Context: business goals, funding, politics, culture, technology, resources, constraints
  • Content: content objectives, document and data types, volume, existing structure, governance and ownership
  • Users: audience, tasks, needs, information-seeking behaviour, experience.

There are lots of things to take into account when you build the IA for a website, beyond logically organizing the information. Information architect Dan Brown laid out 8 principles to design a good site structure.

  1. The principle of objects: Content should be treated as a living, breathing thing. It has lifecycles, behaviours, and attributes.
  2. The principle of choices: Less is more. Keep the number of choices to a minimum.
  3. The principle of disclosure: Show a preview of information that will help users understand what kind of information is hidden if they dig deeper.
  4. The principle of exemplars: Show examples of content when describing the content of the categories.
  5. The principle of front doors: Assume that at least 50% of users will use a different entry point than the home page.
  6. The principle of multiple classifications: Offer users several different classification schemes to browse the site’s content.
  7. The principle of focused navigation: Keep navigation simple and never mix different things.
  8. The principle of growth: Assume that the content on the website will grow. Make sure the website is scalable.

The Value For The Business Through Information Architecture

If users and customers cannot find critical information or perform the most important tasks on your website, businesses can lose out in many ways. IA can play a crucial role by organizing your website’s content in a way that aligns with how users think it should flow accomplishes a few things:

  • Build Reputation which results in leads and conversions increase.
  • Provides a great experience that users will want to come back and use.
  • Good for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which increases findability and rankings.
  • Prevents usability concerns.
  • Prevents content management issues.
  • Creates clear paths for visitors and enhances the user experience.

Final Word

Website information architecture is a product of careful thinking, intentional design, and accurate organization. If you’re a business owner who’s keen to grow and succeed with a website, book a free consultation meeting today at https://ellipsis.co.tz/hire.

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