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Without a plan, you’re planning to fail. In the information age we live in today, it’s important that every organization works with IA designers to plan ahead, and make sure that content doesn’t turn into an illogical maze. Our team thrives on working with complex structures, and we are experts in organizing content in a clear and logical way.
The structure of a website is one of the most important factors in ensuring users find what they are looking for and understand it. Having a solid plan for design work is key, not only for potential users, but also for the success of the development team and any future web administrators, responsible for updating content.
Finding Your Way Around
IA designers divide content into buckets, and ensure everything has a place. They add intuitive labels to these buckets to ensure that users can quickly recognize each one, and correctly identify what they will find within it.
For example, think about your experience when visiting a supermarket. If you went to the store to shop for tomatoes, where would you find them? Although, tomatoes are considered a fruit by many, you would expect to find them in the vegetable section. What matters in IA structures is where customers expect to find a product. Successful structures mean quick recognition of labels, quick findability of products and a reduced bounce rate which shows users arrived at the right place. When dealing with large website structures, organizing content can be overwhelming. As designers, we always need to empathize with the end-user; to put ourselves in their shoes. One way of doing that is through card sorting.
Card sorting is a relatively low-tech and inexpensive method that leads designers to understand how a user might choose to organize and structure content in the way that makes the most sense to them. Remove yourself from the process, and ask end-users to help. Regardless of all the experience we have, there is nothing like receiving first-hand opinions from the people who will need to use the product.
Card sorting can be conducted in a number of ways such as actual cards, pieces of paper, Post-It notes or with card sorting software. We like Post-it notes best because they are easy to move around and re-group.
Card sorting will help you understand your users' expectations and understanding of your content. In a card sorting session, participants organize topics into logical categories, and they may also help you create category titles. While card sorting might not provide you with a final information architecture or menu for your site, it can help to identify trends and how many potential categories there could be.
Solid IA planning means that a person who lands on a website, will be able to understand their surroundings, and find their way around. Setting up the taxonomy tree is only one of the jobs of an IA designer. Another important task is directing the overall site flow, or another way of looking at it, paving the yellow brick road.
Site Flow, "The Yellow Brick Road"
One way to think about a website’s structure is to imagine the intersection of many roads including one way streets, three-lane highways, forks in the road, etc — we need to account for all of it. Drivers, like website users, must recognize their location, direction and surroundings at all times and never get stuck down a dead end street.
Every webpage is like a road, leading to and away from other roads. Every page has a purpose, but an end-user can navigate through the site in many different ways. A simple example is a Sign in or Register page. While some users have sign-in credentials on hand, and can simply enter them and continue, others have to go through the registration process. One page, two paths. A third path that may exist is the forgot password flow. These users would have to click a forgot password link and be rerouted to a password retrieval process. These directional splits, are called use cases and are important to consider, so that the flow of content carries people seamlessly through processes, and ends in goal completion.
Content Organization and Feature Placement
Another important aspect of IA is content organization on a page-by-page basis. Content includes elements like images, text, processes and buttons, etc. IA of a page includes planning quantity and content of copy, findability and spacial relationships, and methods to ensure user absorption and comprehension. Poor planning may result in high exit rates, high bounce rates and user complaints. The interplay of prioritization of elements, universal rules of placement, and basic design practices is the key to the success of the IA page structure.