Creating Your Information Architecture (IA)
What is IA?
Designing or redesigning your higher ed website is about more then just colors and images; it is the organization or reorganization of your content and how it is presented to your audience(s). The term commonly used to describe the process and end result of this organization is called “information architecture” (or IA) and is used to organize various systems of information, including websites.
Why do you need IA?
Not only is IA important to organizing your website for your users, but it also helps with future additions to the website’s structure. This is especially true for those websites that are in a content management system (CMS). Each piece of information that needs to be added in the future will have a clearly defined category/location. IA also helps you figure out your users want/need access to from the homepage.
Who should be involved in the IA process?
Your website’s users, web content managers, and stakeholders. While everyone has their ideas and opinions on what should go on the homepage and what the main navigation categories should be, not every idea will be supported by research or usability testing. Keep each of the following concepts in mind during the IA process:
Consider your audience(s)
- Faculty, Staff, Administration
- Donors, Alumni, Community
Aim outward, not inward
- Don’t try to organize your website based on an organizational chart or departmental hierarchy. Your users come to your site for the information you provide, not to find out how your organization is structured. Keep in mind that your website is not all about you.
- Take on the perspective of the individual or group you are trying to persuade/inform when organizing your content.
Use card sorting
- Start with your main navigation categories, or “buckets.” Write every idea/topic on its own index card or sticky note and organize them all so they fit under one of the main buckets.
Trim the fat, consolidate
- Consider the importance and/or necessity of each piece/topic/idea that is going into your site. If a piece of content does not have a specific purpose, toss it.
User experience (UX) testing
- Take one or more individuals from each of your audiences and assign each of them a task to complete on your website:
- Have them find: a certain faculty member, information on program requirements, hours of operation/directions, specific forms or downloads
- Ask yourself these questions:
- Are your users finding what they need?
- Is your layout logical according to the user?
- What catches the user’s attention the most?
- If they got lost, where did the confusion begin?
Content before design
- You want to be able to place, not force, content on your website. Plan ahead for all types of content (copy, images, rss feeds, videos, etc.)
- If you plan to have an area for featured content on your homepage, make sure you know what that content is (or at least could be) before planning any kind of “feature area”
Your homepage is not a bulletin board.
- Make the most frequently accessed content available via the homepage.
- Don’t try to fit every single piece of information on the homepage. Be sure to let all content contributors know that space on the homepage is reserved for the users and their needs/wants.
- Try making a strict set of guidelines/requirements that content needs to follow/fulfill before it will be considered for placement on the homepage.
JumpChart – an online site map creator/organizer
GoMockingbird – wireframe (site skeleton) creation tool
WebSort – an online sorting tool
Usability.gov – another Information Architecture guide
Step-by-Step Usability Guide - a visual map of the complete design/redesign process
Confused by any of these terms? Check out our previous post: Geek Speak Glossary. You can also view the Google Doc version of this post for any updates or new resources. As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.
FIU Web Communications is a full service web team that provides support and consulting for departments at FIU. If you need help in implementing any of your web needs, please contact us.
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