It’s better to think of Information Architecture (IA) as the lifeblood of User Experience (UX). Even with this, an overwhelming majority of developers still structure their sites based on opinions and common sense. That explains why simplicity rules. But there has to be a more organised way to go about it.
In comes Information Architecture, if you’re planning to set up a site with tons of pages, then common sense dictates you start by doing a thorough architectural analysis. Your website is a living thing that breathes, tasked with one thing — to guide your visitors through a vast expanse of information.
Meaning, the designing bit isn’t something you just hop into. You have to give it some careful thought and do some little bit of due diligence. The end goal should be to come up with an intuitive navigation system — and to say the least, this doesn’t happen by chance.
IA is a critical ingredient in this, and that’s because it strives to ensure there’s a balance between users’ desires and business needs.
When a user lands on your page, you can bet there’ll be four questions running through their minds:
- Have I landed in the right place?
- Does this site have what I’m looking for
- Is there a chance they have something even better from what I’m looking for?
- What am I to do now?
As a web designer, it’s your job to respond to all these questions through the design you come up with. You do this by:
- Assuring your visitors that they’re indeed in the right place. Let them know upon landing that you’re the person they’re interested in.
- Making it easy for the visitor to navigate the site and find what they were looking for. That may require you to include a search bar and clear navigation.
- Making sure the visitor understands the options they have. You should have a series of links and menu options to show them where to head next. If they’re interested in reading more of your posts, there should be a link for ‘related posts.’ If they’re checking your products out, there should be another link for ‘see more’ and so forth.
- Give them an option to take action.
How to Optimise Your Website UX through IA
To achieve your goals, you have to focus on helping your users achieve their goals as well. Your role in all this is to serve your users through the website you create. The more they’re satisfied with the services you offer, the more you succeed as a web owner or business person.
But first, you have to fully understand the aspirations, goals, and problems your users have. And here’s how you go about it:
Gather enough info about your site’s users
You have to begin by getting into your targeted site users’ head. Find the answer to the following list of questions before working on your website design:
- What problem will I be solving?
- Who needs this?
- What’s this site meant for?
The earlier you define your business goals and objectives (preferably by writing them down), the more you’ll have an easy time identifying the problems to solve and how to go about it.
This also allows you to stay focused, and work on even better results. Find a way to talk to your users. Interview them through phone calls and live messages. You may also consider running a series of surveys.
You have one goal in this — and that is to understand your users and what they want and the reason they want it.
Your users may have different use cases and intents, and that’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Write User Stories to Come up with a Design for Real People
You’re not designing your website for everybody, but for that one particular person. And that’s the role customer persona play in all this.
You have to begin by understanding that customers’ personas are based on facts. They’re a fictional representation of your customers but based on the factual data you’ve collected about them.
Personas represent the goals characteristics, motivations, and behaviours of the people that will be frequenting your site.
Once you’ve established this, the next thing you do is connect the use cases with the persona you’ve created. Use cases let you describe or decide on the actual purpose of the project you have.
Use cases comprise of two critical components: goals and actors.
Actors are the people that will be using your website. At this point, your focus should be on the personas you created. Goals, on the other hand, are the list of all the things that you wish to achieve.
You’re not just creating one user case, but a string of them. In which case, you have to ensure each use case has:
- A more specific goal
- Actors that will be performing the tasks that inch you closer to that particular goal
The goal you assign to each use case can be anything in the lines of reading a blog post, downloading software, taking a test, booking an appointment, and so on. So basically, use cases define your goals and purpose. They also describe the problem you’re trying to solve.
Understanding them is the first step to improving the lifetime value of your customers.
Build Your IA with Scenarios, Metadata, and Pages
There’s no way around this — you have to understand your users. You have to understand their intention, their reason for checking you out, and the goals they wish to achieve.
It’s through that that you can figure out the most suitable way to present your content in a manner that makes sense to them.
There methods that you could use to achieve this:
Work out the metadata
Metadata is the information you provide about another piece of information. It’s what users use to find what they’re looking for whenever they query anything into the search engine bar.
For instance, you’re online shopping for a coffee grinder. Your first stop is Google searches. But you end up not finding one after browsing through the search results that show up. That goes to show that none of these sites invested in their metadata.
So yes, creating the right metadata is the first step to designing a useful website.
Creating useful metadata shouldn’t be that hard. First, you have to start by figuring out what people want. In the case of a coffee grinder, people tend to be more concerned about blade size, colour, and brand. You have to make sure you’ve included all these parameters and variables.
The metadata for a book must feature the book titles, author, description, ISBN, cover image, and release date. In other words, you have to plan for it.
Create User Scenarios
You end goal should be to create a pleasing user experience. This requires you to think of all the scenarios that feature user personas.
Scenarios are nothing more than short stories about someone (personas in this case) using your site to accomplish a particular task like shopping around for something or booking a ticket to an event.
Find a way to work scenarios into the personas you created. In simple terms, try to attach a story as to the reason a particular persona would want to check you out. You can do this by answering the following questions:
- What does this specific persona wish to accomplish on my site?
- What can I do to help them see the task at hand through?
- What do I suspect will cause friction?
The point is to focus on the user and the tasks they’ll be accomplishing, rather than the internal structure and organisation of the site. By doing this, you should be able to develop some insights as to what types of content to include and how they should be organised.
Map Tasks to Individual Web Pages
Before you even think about the designing bit, you should have some content on the ready. Content precedes design. And as Jeffrey Zeldman puts it, any design that lacks content is nothing more than a decoration.
You have to start by figuring out what happens on your site’s pages and how many pages do you wish to create in total? Also, note that there are two things that each page is expected to do:
- Help users accomplish one particular task.
- Make the step that proceeds it more comfortable to accomplish.
So every time you’re designing a website, your aim should be to make sure that users can easy accomplish the intended task on that website. However, in most case, achieving this objective would involve performing a series of other smaller tasks.
It’s the relationship that exists between tasks that defines the experience. Speaking of which, each page you design has to have a hand in building the chain of tasks.
Generally, your site will have three types of pages:
This is what helps users find what it is that they came to find. It’s what leads them to it. Which is to say, its primary goal is to direct user somewhere else.
It’s the most important page that could easily throw the bulk of your visitors off. Typically, people use the home page or the search result page as the navigation page
ii. The Consumption Page
This is the page where users are directed to. It’s what brings them to your site, and it includes articles, pricing information, product listing, videos, and so on.
iii. Interaction Page
This page allows users to enter data and manipulate it. It includes contact forms, sign up forms, and the search forms to name a few.
The Final Thought
Information Architecture has one crucial role to play in web designing — and that is, to ensure users can find what they came to look for. It’s meant to perfect your navigation system, and make sure users can find the products they’re interested in.
Let’s just say that creating the perfect user experience to optimise your site isn’t exactly a finger exercise. There’s always more to consider and factor into the designing process.
This is to remind you that MediaOne Marketing is always open to serve you. Drop us a message and let’s talk about web designing, user flows, Information Architecture, and your project in general.