Information Architecture (also known as IA) is the foundation for great Web design. It is the blueprint of the site upon which all other aspects are built – form, function, metaphor, navigation and interface, interaction, and visual design. Initiating the IA process is the first thing you should do when designing a site. Clients sometimes view the development of an IA to be impractical, both in terms of the time it takes and the skill needed to do it effectively. But this mentality is slowly changing. A good IA is incredibly effective, and knowing the basics of the IA process can save both time and money in the long run.
The following steps define a process for creating an effective information architectures.
- Understand the business/contextual requirements and the proposed content for the system. Read all existing documentation, interview stakeholders and conduct a content inventory.
- Conduct cards sorting exercises with a number of representative users.
- Evaluate the output of the card sorting exercises. Look for trends in grouping and labeling.
- Develop a draft information architecture (i.e. information groupings and hierarchy).
- Evaluate the draft information architecture using the card-based classification evaluation technique.
- Don’t expect to get the information architecture right first time. Capturing the right terminology and hierarchy may take several iterations.
- Document the information architecture in a site map. This is not the final site map, the site map will only be finalised after page layouts have been defined.
- Define a number of common user tasks, such as finding out about how to request holiday leave. On paper sketch page layouts to define how the user will step through the site. This technique is known as storyboarding.
- Walk other members of the project team through the storyboards and leave them in shared workspaces for comments.
- If possible within the constraints of the project, it is good to conduct task-based usability tests on paper prototypes as it provides valuable feedback without going to the expense of creating higher quality designs.
- Create detailed page layouts to support key user tasks. Page layouts should be annotated with guidance for visual designers and developers.
Developing an information architecture in this way enables you to design and build a system confident that it will be successful.
It simply isn’t good enough for organizations to build functionality or write content, put it on their computer systems and expect people to be able to find it.
Developing effective information architecture is an essential step in the development of all computer systems.
Effective information architectures enable people to quickly, easily and intuitively find content. This avoids frustration and increases the chance that the user will return to the system the next time they require similar information.
Remember: “People can only appreciate what they can actually find”