The Benefits of Developing, Defining and Outlining an Information Architecture
Are you new to website development? If you are, you might think that it’s easy to simply design a website and allow content to magically populate the site. Unfortunately, It’s not really like that. Over the years I’ve come to realizing that understanding the content and the architecture of information is the most time consuming and hardest part of a web development project. Once this is in place, design and development is easy.
What’s your IA?
To figure out your IA (information architecture) you’ll need to ask yourself what pages your website needs. Let’s use a basic website with two levels of navigation as an example.
The top level or main navigation is what would be seen when a visitor first lands on your home page. Usually those pages on an information website will be:
- About Us
A second level would include navigational items beneath one of the top level navigation items. For example, under about us might find these web page titles:
- Mission Statement
An information architecture is when you plan out all of the information so it’s understood and arranged based on relevance and hierarchy before you prepare a design mockup. This is important when understanding how to design call-to-actions, banners, email/newsletter signup, news and events.
The Relevance of Content
It’s important to keep content under relevant navigational titles. If we look back at our navigational example, we’ll find that all of the secondary navigational pages are all related to the top level navigation. If we were to drill down to a third level, some pages we might find under staff are:
- human resources
- information technology
Then perhaps under those levels we might find an individual’s name in the department they work in.
It’s key to establish a method or process where you will place information in the most logical spot for visitors to find the information they are seeking quickly and easily. Once we’ve described the information architecture, we can begin to create a wireframe – a basic outline of the hierarchy of content. An information architecture is also known as a map of your website or site map – it’s a guide to help place information together in logical ways to create hierarchy and order.
How to Build your Information Architecture
Paper and pencil (or pen) will work best. Sit down at a desk and figure out the top level navigation items (limit the top level to 7 or 8 items) then start building the architecture of information beneath each top level navigation item. I find it helpful to create a final electronic document to make edits, amendments and updates as the site evolves.
How have you developed an information architecture in the past? Tell us about your experiences below!