Findability precedes usability. In the alphabet and on the Web. You can’t use what you can’t find. – Peter Morville
What bliss it is to visit a website, scroll through its pages, know where you are, and find information that you have been looking for.
This is where the essence of IA (Information Architecture) lies. In true sense, information architecture in UX builds the foundation of enhanced customer experience. Since the publishing of “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, the concept has gained even more attention.
But, what is information architecture?
Understanding Information Architecture
Take an example of buildings, the simple structural buildings that surround us. That building could be a cafe with a soothing ambiance, or a steel and glass elevated office space with beautiful cubicles. Both the structures are built to serve the needs of the respective user-base.
Similarly, a website has an architecture that is built purely from a customer perspective. So, if a website looks attractive, users can locate products, can navigate their way through a website, and can execute the intended actions, it has useful information architecture.
As for a formal definition, information architecture is the practice of structuring, organizing and labeling information to bring order and understanding to information products and experiences.
How are IA and UX Related?
In the words of Jakob Nielsen:
“Clear content, simple navigation, and answers to customer questions have the biggest impact on business value. Advanced technology matters much less.”
If you are under the impression that “Information Architecture” and “User Experience” are entirely exclusive, let us correct that misconception: they are not. Without IA skills, creating an effective and intuitive user experience is, well, quite impossible.
The basic thumb rule is:
Good Information Architecture = Good UX Design = Good Customer Experience
Clearly, every UX designer should practice IA daily.
The Three Principles of Information Architecture
To reach the best user experience that leads to satisfactory customer experience, three elements need to be in place.
a) Ontology: This refers to giving labels to the individually identifiable categories making it easy for the customers to understand.
Example: Yellow bell pepper and red bell pepper are tagged and labeled for a user to identify them separately.
b) Taxonomy: Is a classification technique where “alike” elements are grouped together. It is like a hierarchy that further helps in ranking elements.
Example: Taking the example of the grocery section of the superstore where you can find bell pepper under the “vegetables” section, which is further categorized under the “organic foods” section. Now how and where the bell peppers are placed also defines its taxonomy.
c) Choreography: Refers to the user flow, i.e., the path that the user most expectedly follows to accomplish the intended task. In simpler words, the choreography is the blend of ontology (meaning) and taxonomy (categorization) that work together to offer a user experience.
Example: It is the ease of movement across the store and the ease of finding bell peppers what defines great customer experience.
Now that we have the basics in place, let us discuss how you can use IA to create & improve your customer’s user experience, aka, customer experience.
Five Good Practices for Incorporating Information Architecture
1. User Research & Analysis Should be a Priority
Everything that an Information architect does is for enhancing the user experience of the website visitors. Understandably, knowing your audience becomes the number one priority.
If you understand your user and their mindset, you are already halfway through towards providing a great customer experience.
You need to find out the answers to:
- What kind of users visits your website?
- What do those users mostly look for?
- How much time do users spend on the website?
- Do the users easily find things on the website?
We know you might be confused and thinking it to be impossible finding answers to all the questions. But, do not worry! You wouldn’t have to struggle much on this. User research methods are always there to help you out.
We should discuss Card Sorting from these though. It is perhaps the most widely used.
A Short note on Card Sorting
This IA research technique focuses on users. Here the content labels are penned down on cards and provided to the users. They, in turn, are told to organize the card structure according to what makes sense to them.
There are two primary types of card sorting methods: the open method, where users organize the categories of the content as well; and the closed method, where the categories are pre-defined and users only organize the underlying content.
2. Working on Customer Personas & User Scenarios
This is one step ahead of knowing your users to the core. At the end of this step, you would be able to make out who your customers are, what they are looking for, and what mindset they follow?
If you are new to the process, you need to deep dive into the ins and outs of creating an effective customer persona. It would further help in building an information architecture web design that would be worth the hype!
Connecting the customer personas with use cases is equally important. A use case is usually a short journey-oriented story of how the user performs a particular task.
Here’s the kicker, there is always one use case for one customer persona. If a use case is to complete a transaction, the customer persona would revolve around how to go about (the step-by-step process) completing the task at hand.
The answers that you will get in the end:
- What are the goals of the website?
- What are the challenges that you would be facing?
- What can be done to overcome the existing challenges?
3. Working Through Hierarchy and Navigation
Maintaining a synchronous hierarchy and navigation are essential components of any website design project. Where hierarchy defines the structure of the content, navigation refers to how users maneuver through the content.
Two factors to focus on:
- What do the users expect of the website?
- How does the business want to represent the information?
Here is where a well-defined sitemap will come into the picture. Because it is this sitemap that can help you get a visual idea about the connection between the webpages and the corresponding content.
4. The Strategy to Label the System
Once the sitemap that reflects an ideal hierarchy and navigation are maintained, the next thing on the bucket list is “labeling.” It refers to the act of naming different pages in an intuitive format.
For example, if you are giving an insight into the company’s history, it would go on a page labeled as “About Us”, i.e., the most obvious thing to do. If you label this page as “Informative Data,” the user would get confused. What would be its consequence? Your job of offering an enhanced user experience would get ruined.
Moral of the story is to name the sections based on the commonality factor instead of the surprise factor.
5. Let us Orchestrate
Lastly, comes the most important aspect of all. Maintaining a synchronous user flow, i.e., the path that the user most likely follows to accomplish the intended task.
Here’s an example of the flow you need to focus on:
- Finding: The user always looks for a hamburger icon or a search box on the website when looking for an item. Make sure your user flow incorporates this first step of creating a meaningful user experience.
- Browsing: Once the products’ page appears, the user should be able to find the product they were looking for in the first place.
- Adding to Cart: The users should be able to add the required product to the cart without any hassle.
- Payment: The user securely enters the card details and completes the transaction.
- Acknowledgment: The user gets an acknowledgment that the payment has been received and the product will be delivered in time.
Information architecture in UX designing is indeed all about transforming complexity into clarity. It is the need of the hour when looking forward to a UX design that offers the extended gift of great customer experience.
All you need to do is take care of the understandability and the intuitive behavior of the website. And, bingo! You will get a delightful customer experience garnished with the right IA elements.