Intuition by design: the power of information architectureApr 6 by Russell Dean
When websites, apps and other online platforms work well, it’s because they flow well, and when they flow well, it’s because you don’t have to think to navigate them: it’s all intuitive. When it’s all intuitive, it’s a sign that some serious time and effort has been put into information architecture, the practice of mapping the navigation of information within a broader system.
So, how does information architecture work? It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what information architecture is, because most of us will only notice it if it’s done poorly. Basically, information architecture structures and organises functionality and content into a format that users are able to navigate intuitively. It allows users to find their way through a website, app or similar without really thinking about it, essentially following ‘gut instincts’ that have already been considered by developers and strategists and incorporated into the website or app’s overall design.
Getting the information architecture process right means properly considering three important factors: your business context, your business’s content and your users and their behaviour.
When considering how to layout and navigate your information, you have to consider the broader context your business exists and operates in. This includes addressing your business’s goals, its culture, available funding and resources and what technology is at hand. How should people navigate your information in a way that aligns with your business goals? Do you have the right technology and resources to generate this flow in the easiest way possible?
A huge part of building your information architecture is establishing what content you already have and understanding what exactly needs to be navigated. Getting fully on top of your content involves a bit of a content stocktake or inventory. Understand what types of documents and data you use, what formats you use, how regularly new content appears, how much content you have and what your most important content is. This informs what content you flow more directly to, and what information can stem from a more important touch point. It’s also important for your information architecture structures to be scalable and sustainable, so future content can be just as easily navigated.
Understanding who your users are and how they use your platforms is crucial in getting information architecture right. What are they looking to do when they interact with your platforms? What are their information-seeking behaviours? What type of experience are they looking to have, and what type of experience do you want them to have? It’s important to do some road testing in your information architecture process. Get some people or groups representative of your audience to map their own way around your content, and look for common groupings or terminology. See what patterns emerge in the ways people are interacting with your content, so you can work out what the most natural pathways are.
Information architecture influences content strategy and user experience, two huge aspects of digital marketing. If you properly consider your context, content and users, you’ll be well on your way to effective information architecture and a seamless user experience!