Information architecture

OK, you’re developing a web site. You want clear and consistent organisation of your content, understandable labelling, well-structured navigation and efficient searching systems? You need an Information Architecture .

How? Here how. (don’t see these as linear tasks, pick and choose, do when needed. And most importantly, communicate and iterate).

Content organization

Get the content organised. Scribble content headers on cards, spread them out on a table and ask your users to sort ‘em. This will tease out the ways in which users how users expect to find content or functionality. Using cluster analysis and expert insights, the card sorting exercises will help construct an organisational schema for the site. Appropriate taxonomies can be developed with an intuitive labelling system.

Site map

Start thinking about customer journeys. How will customers travel through the site. How will their goals be realised. A map will begin to take shape. Combined with the content organisaiton you are building boxes and lines. A site map is taking shape. Cool. Now lets think in parallel about the interaction design.

Scenario modelling

Done consumer research? Marketing guys talking segmentation? Cool! They’ll help with personas and scenarios. We’ll think in terms of real customers to articulate archetypal customer journeys. These are expressed in the form of “stories,” which are brief narratives that capture the essential functional features of customer journeys. The stories will be written in such a way that they can be prioritized and estimated against and are the language the development team will use to deliver software functionality. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Task analysis and user flows

I’ll delve back into the Human Factors tool kit that my PhD waffled on about and whip out that old HF staple, Task Analysis. Do a task analysis to assess the frequency, flexibility, and criticality of tasks and to identify required content. Customer goals are decomposed into component tasks, providing an understanding of the interactions between task components, interface elements and affordances for application design. From these, user flows can be created, identifying the process links, navigation and content structures that are necessary to support specific user tasks. This will allows the process flow to be effectively mapped, translating the customer journeys identified during the scenario modelling stage of the project into specific web pages. Phew!

Lo-fi wireframe prototype

We want to validate the Information Architecture and to explore high-level page designs, so we’ll create wireframes (AKA storyboards – that’s what the film industry guys use to explore their stories… AKA lo-fi prototype but prototype has technical associations and who uses lo-fi in their everyday language? Oh, it’s low fidelity). These are typically line drawing illustrations of pages mocked up in graphical or presentation software, and are intentionally simple to enable rapid modifications to be made. They can be presented to customers during customer testing and also enable the team to express their ideas in an easily comprehensible format rather than complex functional and technical requirements documents that often confuse or obscure usability goals.

And that’s it.

Iterate, iterate, iterate. Communicate, communicate, communicate. And you’ve an IA to be proud of.