Designing a Website

Information Architecture centered on customer needs and usability

Information Architecture is the process of defining a website’s structure and content layout in a manner that is intuitive for its target audiences. The key to this is usability. It’s imperative to design a website with the customer’s needs in mind. If a customer can’t easily complete their task on the site, they’ll go elsewhere. And in the world of Web 2.0, they may tell everyone about their negative experiences through social networks and blogs. This article outlines what inputs are needed to this process, what outputs are completed and some approaches to complete the information architecture.

Inputs to the Process: To start the process of information architecture, the following information is required.

  • Requirements: Requirements includes the overall web strategy and business objectives for the web site as well as detailed business, functional and content requirements. The full documentation on all content available for the web site needs to be provided.
  • Target Audience(s): It’s impossible to create a web site that will suit the needs of all users; therefore the focus of the user-centric design needs to be on the target audiences for the site. The navigational structure and the content may be different for each target audience. As a result, the audience prioritization that takes place during the Business Objectives planning is critical for this exercise.

Outputs from the process:

  • Sitemap: A sitemap is produced during the information architecture process. This sitemap details the navigational structure of the web site at all levels. It may even include informal navigation structures based on target audiences (i.e. you may also be interested in….). Naming conventions for navigation elements are also defined. The sitemap outlines what each web page contains for content
  • Wireframes: Wireframes are page templates or page structure mockups that show how the page will look from a navigation and content perspective.

Approaches: What type of activities can be performed to better understand the customer’s needs and how they will navigate the web site? In all cases, the information architect and/or business analyst can role play an audience; however, the best approach is to use a real person from that target audience.

  • Card Sort: This process entails creating an index card for all navigation elements determined during the requirements review process and all content to be displayed on the web site. Then, by either role-playing or using an actual person representing the target audience begin the process of putting content under navigation elements as it would make sense for that audience. This activity helps determine if the navigation works for the content or how it may need to be adapted.
  • Prototypes: Prototypes are sample parts of the web site. They can be paper-based or an actual website (sometimes with full functionality, sometimes they are simply html mockups). Have a user navigate the prototype trying to find a particular piece of content or functionality. Watch and document, ask questions after they have completed the task.
  • Scenario Maps: Scenario maps are more about defining what type of content and functionality is needed for a particular audience and not so much about navigational structure. The activity involves defining a real persona and a task they need to accomplish and then walking through the various activities that persona would do to achieve their outcome. Scenario mapping is a cross-channel exercise and involves how the employees of a business would help the person and what data/ technologies may be used to assist in achieving the desired outcome.

Information Architecture is a critical component of a website design process. Putting the customer’s needs first by designing a site that is easy to navigate and read based on their requirements is paramount for a successful website. The next steps for a web design include the creative design and the Application Architecture.

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