We've all been there. You get to a website and have no idea how to find what you're looking for. That's called poor website information architecture. It's what happens when essential steps in the website planning process are inadequately executed or skipped altogether.
Most people only notice information architecture when it is poorly executed, resulting in a website that makes it difficult for the user to find the information they need.
To solve this problem, information architects organize content in a way that goals of the website are met by integrating user needs, business needs, and content categorization.
Content categorization defines the categories or sections by arranging elements into logical groups, ranking the importance of each element of information and positioning them in a hierarchical order. It becomes a foundation of the content organization, the user interface, the navigation and the structure of the whole website. Content categories may also include a global navigation, which provides global navigation links that allow users to jump from one main site area to another without going back to a home page or a submenu.
Here are examples of the logical groups to choose from when you are planning the organizational structure that best matches your website needs:
Task organized websites show different tasks users can do on the site and guide them appropriately so that they can complete those tasks.
A great example is Cozi, which provides mobile and Internet-based applications to help families stay organized. It looks clean, organized and uncluttered, regardless of hectic schedules. It's also easy enough for anyone to use.
By Product Category
This structure can be used when users have the same basic task in mind - for example, researching a topic, buying a product, or discussing an issue. This is the most common on the web today and used for content, commerce, or community websites.
A great example of this kind of organizational logic is BizBash, the nation's largest event planning publication and directory, which give users a place to find special events and meetings by offering insightful editorial, sharing the ideas and strategies, providing tools and resources. Because everyone is there for the same basic purpose, the site is organized by categories.
This organizational logic is best used when your site serves two or more distinct groups of users with different (though often related) goals and interests.
User-organized sites group together tasks and topics that are of interest to a specific type of person. This organization system works well for matchmaking sites, which bring together buyers and sellers or employers and job-seekers. Also it can be effective on content, commerce, and corporate sites that focus on different types of customers.
Eoshealth, for example, divides its site by individual and employers.
Another example is Questex Travel Group, the largest multimedia organization in the world dedicated to the travel and hospitality industries. Their site allows visitors to choose from five audience channels: Travel Agents, Luxury Advisors, MICE Market, Affluent Consumer, and Interactive Services.
Many sites are organized by location or language in order to meet the needs of a diverse audience. However, this is less an organization system and more a way of directing users into different sites, each of which will then be organized by different criteria that are appropriate to the local content.
The Guggenheim Museum, for example, allows different users to access different sites based on their geographic region. Each site offers content based on the culture, and available exhibitions in that region.
Another good example of location navigation structure is Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Instead of creating different sites for each location, they have a grab and drag interaction to check out what each one is doing across the globe. The navigation makes you feel like you're traveling to and from each different location.
By Date or Order
This structure is best used if either the date or order of elements is essential to user understanding - for example, with timelines, journals, or event calendars.
Most print publications and web blogs are organized by date, beginning with the most recent entry and going back through time. The Nike website below shows the Evolution of Nike's Air Jordan shoe series using the timeline approach.
Some sites are using unconventional ways to guide the visitor through their content and let them explore and have a unique discovery experience.
A great example of this is the website for the Range Rover Evoque Edition with Victoria Beckham website, which has a very stylish and innovative presentation of the new car model.
Another interesting is example is Reverse Buro's website. This portfolio site uses a combo of both vertical and horizontal scrolling to show off their work. It's becoming more and more popular to feature pieces of work on their own screens with no distractions because it makes sense to showcase something without the added distractions of other elements surrounding it. This navigational method is not only intuitive, but it also creates a wonderful feel of innovation for this designer.
When user experience is great, people don't notice how much hard work was done to create such a seamless and well thought-out experience. It's important to understand how users look for information and plan your website accordingly.
The structure of any website is hard to change once it's done. So plan it out thoroughly when you are first designing your website so that you get it right from the beginning.