Why Information Architecture is Worth Every Second
When creating an interface there are so many facets to consider. You already have so much to do, so is it worth it to take the time to make sure you have solid information architecture methods? The answer to this question is yes, if you do not take the time to make sure your information architecture is the best it can be, you run the risk of negatively impacting the whole user experience. To start lets talk about what an information architecture is. Information architecture is best described as the practice of organizing the information / content / functionality of a web site so that it presents the best user experience it can, with information and services being easily usable and findable (as applied to web design and development). So, you can see why it is crucial to the success of your interface and that it is definitely worth the time.
As we dive further into the topic of Information Architecture it is important to learn why not just anyone can create information architecture for UX and add it into your interface, there are specific information architects for this purpose. The design of a website should reflect what a user thinks and feels. An information architect will have a clear understanding of the way that users think in regard to, reviews, scenarios and user interviews, this is why the information architect should have the job of designing this part of the interface to make it the best that it can be.
When information architecture fails, it causes a significant amount of failure with users. Here are some of the most common mistakes we see with information architecture. Having little to no structure, no linking to related items which makes the site frustrating and causes users to leave. Search results not being integrated into the site, for example finding a book about elephants that you searched for but being unable to easily find a way back to all books about elephants. Not having an overview page for the categories on your site means that users are likely to miss important information and products. Extreme polyhierarchical structure, meaning that items are listed in several different categories which confuses users and can causer users to leave the site without buying anything. Next, we have microsites, so a website dedicated to a single product that then becomes outdated and you have to make a subsite that will integrate to your main site through links to the main pages of the website.
Let’s also touch on some navigation mistakes that are examples of poor information architecture. Navigation should be easily visible on your page so that users do not have to search around for it and get frustrated. Also, keep your navigation stationary, having it bounce and move around will make it extremely difficult for users and they will likely leave your website, this could be a rollover or an element that spins or bounces. Keep navigation consistent from page to page, if the Home button is in the upper right hand corner on one page, it should be in the same place on each page, it should not all of a sudden be in the upper left hand corner, keep it consistent and simple to use. On the same token, use only one navigation technique, adding more makes the website bust and overwhelms the user. Finally, when it comes to navigation use general terminology, do not make up fancy words and labels for the sections of your website. If you do this you will have users who do not understand and get confused.
Now, lets look at why you should use an information architect to help your interface be the best it can be. An information architect will make a complete plan for your interface that should involve the following aspects. Defining the goals of the company, this can be done by meeting with stakeholders and other members of the company to ask questions and gather information, this can determine what you want to do with the interface. Next, they will figure out the users’ goals, this process should start with defining the target audience and then you will be able to find potential users and discover the purpose that they will use your website for. The architect should study the competitors, are they easy to understand, can you navigate on the first try? How is information organized and displayed? Also, take a look at trending web designs during this step because this will help you keep ahead of competitors.
Once those steps are complete the architect should draw out a site map to determine how users will find and use the contents of your interface. Plan out simple navigation and divide the content into like groupings then put those on the map. After this they will want to do some cross browser testing, which includes photos, click points, links, layout, and structure. There are so many browsers, and this can be a daunting task, but this is important to the structure and integrity of the information architecture to make sure it will be equally accessible across browsers. Both the cross-browser testing and the mapping will help with user testing, now is the time to allow users to check out the information and see how they do. Find out their objectives and observe whether or not they are achieved to know what changes should be made to the information architecture.
When thinking about doing user testing an information architect will obviously need to find some participants for testing, this involves finding members of your target audience who would likely use your interface. For example, if you are making a website for kids to use at school to learn about math, then you would want to observe school children navigating the web and then have some of the children test your app. It is important to spend some time observing patterns and behavior before making your app because you are likely to learn some very important things that will save you time, effort and possibly money. Going back to our example, if the kids are not searching around for math games, but instead just clicking on the game with the most colorful and exciting game cover image, then you know you should spend more time on the quality of your cover image than you should on the search function of the site. You should still have the search function, but you know what to focus on based on the observation you did.
By seeing all of the steps that an information architect uses to create a quality information architecture you now have a better idea of why it is so important to the success of an interface. Taking the time to find an information architect who knows your goals and your users’ goals and is able to create content that fulfills those goals and can be easily navigated should be at the top of your to-do list, even if it means that it will take you longer to complete your project.
https://www.nngroup.com/articles/top-10-ia-mistakes/ (Nielson, 2009)
https://uxmastery.com/testing-information-architecture/ (Spencer, 2014)