The first thing a website is ‘jugded’ on by its readers is the overal ‘look and feel’ of the site. But for a website to succeed there is more than only the looks and feel, the practice of structuring information (knowledge or data) for a specific purpose should not be underestimated. This is known as Information Architecture (IA).
Web design and information architecture should always go hand in hand, a basic understanding of the interaction between the two is fundamental when designing web sites. Design is all about the ‘looks and the feel’ of web sites and information architecture is a important ingredient of a successful website – employing the principles of information architecture ensures that the users of the web site will experience functionability, ease of navigation, and specific content that can be found easily.
The first step you should take, when building a new web site, is to create some sort of rough site map or wireframe to describe your information architecture. By doing this you’ll help yourself to figure out how the site will function and where different sections and pages will be located. You can do this on paper or directly on screen, I prefer to do the second one – if the design, time-schedule, etc. of a web site allows me to do so.
Information architecture is a principle that should be turned to prior to looking into page-specific functionality and business and marketing strategies. When considering the information architecture of your website, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Purpose of the Web Site
The first step in the development of a website is to set your exact objectives and goals for that website, to help you develop a more successful site in the long run. Web designers should ensure that they are intimately aware of the client’s mission statement, objectives, organizational culture and brand.
Also the intended audience is a key item that should be taken into consideration at the beginning of the project, understanding the intended audience is probably one the most important aspect of a successful (commercial) website.
Structuring your Content
The structure and classification of the content of the web site will directly influence the user’s ability to find and manage the information within the site. When you are designing from scratch you should have a good notion of the types of content that will be included in the site ahead of time.
During the process of prototyping, the accent should not be only on the functionality of the website and individual pages, but on how the site will be navigated by the reader/user. You should always keep in mind how your target audience will be interacting with the site, not just how you want it to function.
Nowadays a lot of web pages are optimized for specific keywords, users can enter your site at any location. Google search for specific information can end up landing on a page deep within a site, before ever even seeing the ‘home page’.
So, you really have to make sure that when a user lands deep into your site, the users must be able to locate themselves and know how to navigate through the web site. Each web page must have a clear navigation that shows the user their location in the site and gives the user a quick way to any other pages of your site, just in case the first page they land on is not exactly what they are looking for. Information architecture can make the difference in a visit turning into a conversion/lead or a bounce.
Analytical Labeling of Web Pages
Labeling of the web site pages must be done in a analytical (and logical) manner that mirrors the actual content of the web site and strategic goals of the company. First off, make a site map, this site map should clearly specify the relationships and similarity between pages in a meaningful way- i.e. by content type, on bases of priority, in relation to the hierarchy and location.
Tip: don’t forget to use your keywords when labeling!
The term information architecture is most commonly applied to web development, but also applies to disciplines outside of a strict web context, such as programming and technical writing, see also the definition on Wikipedia.
Information Architecture (IA) is the cohesive structure that brings all of a website’s pieces together in a uniform manner. After the strategic plan, IA is the single most important element driving website success. It’s all about developing a useful, usable, and extensible information structure that saves time and money during and after development making your site not only intuitive but futureproof.