Information architecture is arguably one of the most valuable and necessary aspects of your website, and a task often shared between designers, developers, and content strategists. Information architecture involves the creation and structure of a website, app, or other type of digital project allowing users to understand where they are, and where the information they are seeking is in relation to where they are. The aim of information architecture is to ultimately fulfill business goals, reach your target audience, and increase conversions across all platforms including desktop, tablet, and mobile. Information architecture, commonly referred to as IA, serves to create usable content structures out of complex sets of information, using user-centered design methods: usability tests, persona research and creation, and user flow diagrams. It's also important to note that information architects and user experience (UX) designers work closely throughout each project. UX designers take a site's information architecture one step further, considering not only its navigation, but its ability to facilitate engagement. UX designers work to make things more profound, targeting their users on an emotional level to trigger a response. UX design adds context and a deeper story to a user's natural behavior, which gives them something to take away from their experience. Author Darren Northcott explains IA/UX as such:"UX encompasses the whole spectrum. It's like taking a cup of IA, mixed with a dash of usability, a pinch of content strategy and whole lotta creativity. Or, even simpler, UX is the love child between a Creative Director and an Information Architect." Below is a guide of what you can expect from the complete IA/UX process:
User Research and Analysis
At the beginning of the IA/UX process, it's important to identify and understand the problems a website is trying to solve, the business goals, as well as the user's behavior and informational needs in order to bridge the gap between them. Through extensive research, one can start to map out the on-site tasks that must be accomplished and the features that will be necessary to facilitate them. During this phase of the process, our team here at Blue Fountain Media typically uses some of the tools below to help the effectiveness of their efforts:
- Axure - a desktop application that gives IA/UX professionals diagramming, documentation, and interactive tools to quickly design and share interactive prototypes and specifications.
- Balsamiq- a rapid wireframing tool to help sketch out user interfaces, focused on the ideation phase. It also reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but using a computer.
- Good 'ole Pen and Paper - because they'll never be obsolete!
Navigation and Labeling
Once there is a clear understanding of the businesses' users, the information they seek, and the features they need, a site structure (also known as a "site map"), navigation, and labeling system will be designed so the findability of information is both efficient and effective. If the project is a website redesign for example, identifying the commonalities and relationships among the information that currently exists and restructuring it into a more logical manner is standard. Some design methods and common client deliverables during this time include content inventory and and card sorting. At this stage, you can also expect to receive two deliverables - user & task flows, and a sitemap.
Designing the Interface
This is where the magic happens! A simple schematic is necessary to display the new user pathway and features of each page your new website, or redesigned site, has. It's common for developers to be brought in at this state, as prototypes, site functionality, and functional specifications must be communicated. Design methods included in this section of the process include sketching and paper/electronic prototyping. At this time, you can expect Wireframes, Interactive Prototypes, and Functional Specification Documents, as deliverables.
User Testing and Iteration
Prior to your website launch, each prototype is tested with users to validate decisions, gather the results, and identity what is statistically significant, and literate based on the findings. Once the site goes live, another round of conducting, done through a variety of user testing methods, and updates to the site are made as necessary by the IA/UX team. The only design method used in this last portion of the process is user testing.Deliverables will include Interactive Prototypes, QA (Quality Assurance) Scripts.
Designing a good website depends heavily on a good UX, and designing a good UX depends heavily on a good UI. Although using the right tools at the right time is important, it is vital to remember that creating amazing user experiences relies on keeping users top of mind. Staying aware of this throughout the design process will ensure whatever it be that you're designing serves as a positive experience for all.