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Information architecture: the basics

Our definition

Applied to websites, intranets and extranets, we define information architecture as the discipline that puts the right information in the right words in the right place.

Why is a good information architecture important?

  • If your visitors can’t find the information they’re looking for it might as well not be there.
  • Surfers are extremely impatient. If they can’t find what they want where they want it when they want it, they'll leave. Too bad if it's on your website somewhere else. They didn’t find it. And left.
  • Our user research shows that 7 out of 10 usability problems are related to:
    • Confusing navigation
    • Missing information
    • Too much information
    • Unclear presentation of the information
    • Incomprehensible content

Is information architecture only a concern for big websites?

Absolutely not.

Just because your website only has 20 pages doesn’t mean the information architecture can’t be a problem. True, it’ll probably be easier for a visitor to find the page they’re looking for on a smaller website.

But the story doesn’t end when the user gets to the right page:

  • Does the page contain all the information he needs?
  • Can he understand everything on the page?
  • Is the answer to his question clear?

What do we mean by ‘information’?

Information is everything you put on your website. Not just text but also pictures, videos, forms, …  

What is ‘right’?

‘Right’ has very little to do with what you think is right. It has everything to do with what the visitor thinks is right.  

The right information

  • In general
    • Which information do your visitors expect to find on your site?
    • Why do they visit your website?
    • What are their top tasks?
  • In detail
    • What are the most important things your visitor wants to know about each of your products and services?
    • Does your product page have all the information your visitor needs?
    • What kinds of pictures do your visitors like? Do you need any pictures at all? Have a look at some examples of meaningless pictures.

The right place

  • In general
    • Where do people look for certain information?
    • Does your navigation structure reflect the way your visitors think or the way you think?
    • Which information should be on the homepage? And where on the homepage?
    • What should your overview pages look like? What do people expect to find there?
    • Which lay-out directs their attention most efficiently?
  • In detail
    • Which information do your visitors want to see first about a product?
    • Which lay-out works best for your particular product: anchor links, in-page tabs, …?
    • Where should you put the action-button or the contact information?
    • Should the picture be on the left or on the right?

The right words

  • In general
    • Do your visitors understand the words in your navigation?
    • Do they know what they’ll find when they click on an item in your navigation?
  • In detail

Is it hard to get it right?

Well, yes. Making a successful website is not easy. For starters, you need answers to these questions:

  • Who are my visitors?
  • What do they want?
  • Which words do they understand?

You’re not going to find the answers to these questions by having a good old think about it. A brainstorm session with your coworkers won’t cut it either. And don’t even think about looking for it in your corporate mission statement.

There’s only one way to get these answers right: thorough user research.  

What do you need to do user research?

  • An open mind.
  • The strength to put your ego aside.
  • Basic knowledge of a few key techniques that have proven their merit. Techniques that aren’t all that complicated but nevertheless need to be used correctly.
  • The power of persuasion to convince your co-workers and bosses that their gut feeling isn’t necessarily right. Armed with the results from  the user research that shouldn’t be too hard. Facts trump opinions every time.  

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