3 Ways to Improve Your Website with Information Architecture

If you’re planning on building a new website, there’s something you should know: it involves dancing. See, there is a dance that goes on any time a successful website is developed. Among the dancers are two critical practices that intertwine: graphic design and information architecture. Graphic design is well appreciated, but what is this “information architecture?” What does it mean to spend time architecting information?

Information architecture is the business of anticipating users’ needs and expectations, and then organizing & labeling the website to maximize useability and findability. The information architect’s goal is to ensure that the information on the website is appropriate for the intended audiences, that it is easy to find, that the site’s navigation is intuitive, and that the page layouts are logical and consistent.

Some common questions that information architects are concerned with include:

  • What are the website’s objectives and who are its audiences?
  • What information will the website provide?
  • How will that information be grouped and organized into a hierarchy?
  • What formats will that information be supplied in?
  • How will users navigate and search the website to find specific information?
  • How should pages and navigation be labeled?
  • How can the website prevent visitors from getting lost?
  • How will the website accommodate future information?
  • How can we balance the website’s objectives with the audience’s objectives?
  • How should we adapt to the mobile web for this project?
  • How can the information be written and formatted for search engine optimization?

Asking these questions leads to better websites. Here’ how:

Benefit #1: Promotes happy website visitors

Information architecture is really all about ensuring that visitors don’t have to think too hard to use your website. It promotes following standards that people see on the web all the time, such as placing the log in link in the top right corner of the site, and ensuring the website’s logo links to the homepage. It also implements signposts to prevent visitors from getting lost (e.g. providing breadcrumb navigation, highlighting the current page in the navigation bar, etc.) It builds information scent into links to help visitors find their way with confidence. Happy visitors mean happy information architects.

Benefit #2: Minimizes project overruns late in the development schedule

Information architecture seeks to identify all of the functional and layout requirements up front, before any graphic design and programming takes place. That way, the site is built right from the beginning and there is less of a chance of requiring major overhauls in visual design and programming late in the game.

Benefit #3: Helps to ensure your site is both functional and beautiful

One of the key deliverables from an information architect is the website’s wireframes. Wireframes are where information architects and graphic designers dance, because they involve decisions traditionally made by graphic designers, but that also have serious information architecture considerations.

Wireframes are black & white sketches showing the basic layout of the website’s pages. They reflect decisions about the site’s navigation system, the sizing of page elements, and the placement of content on the page, before any further design work is done. By developing wireframes, many graphic design tasks have already been completed before the graphic design team truly gets to work selecting colors, fonts, images, motifs, textures, etc. Often, however, there will be information architects and graphic designers working on the wireframes together.

The goal here, really, is to ensure the visual design and decorative elements serve the purposes of the information architecture of the site, rather than focussing all the attention on the beauty of the site. That way, you end up with both highly refined aesthetics and the all important usability and findability your visitors need.

Bonus Benefit: Promotes happy website editors too

Information architecture doesn’t stop at the publicly viewable parts of your website. These principles apply to the back-end administrative side too, where you edit and add content to the website. This is the Content Management System, and it needs to be customized to suit the website it is powering. What we’re talking about here is database design, asset management, and metadata management. Read more about Content Management Systems or contact us to learn how we can customize a Content Management System for your next project.