At Inktrap we spend our time designing and building a variety of digital products. We always design with the intention of creating the most efficient and enjoyable experience possible for the end-user. Part of our design process is determining the best way of organising, structuring and labelling content in the most effective way, so that the user can easily find information and complete tasks. Also known as – Information Architecture (IA).
When a product's Information Architecture is done well, users shouldn't even notice. They should be able to easily flow through the content presented, find the information they need and know what step they need to take next.
The Information Architecture is usually documented in the form of user flows, site maps and wireframes. This documentation should work as a blueprint, outlining the product's infrastructure, features, and the hierarchy of the content included. As well as flows showing how the users will move through and use the content. All this will eventually help you design your navigation system and interactive elements.
Here are 5 steps to get you moving:
1. Get to know your users
In order to improve our Information Architecture we need to make sure that we know who our users are, what they need, and how they like to get their information. It's wise to gather all relevant data about your users before working on your site architecture. We normally do this by carrying out a discovery phase.
At Inktrap we define a discovery phase as a short period during which we research, gather evidence and gain insights to develop our understanding of a perceived problem. In a discovery phase you'll not only find out about your users and their needs, but you'll also define your business objectives and goals for your product.
By finding out all this information you can make sure you're designing your content so that the interaction with it is as effortless as possible.
2. Come up with user personas
Once you've gathered some information about your users, a useful exercise is to come up with one or multiple user personas. You're designing your Information Architecture for a specific audience, so knowing about their goals, how they behave, and what motivates them, is crucial. Give them a name, age and background that generally aligns with your target user, and use your research to outline their goals, motivations and frustrations. This will help to understand why they're using your product, how they think, and what information they need.
3. Create some scenarios
The personas you've created can be put to good use by doing some scenario mapping. A scenario is a story about someone (your user persona) using your product to carry out a specific task or goal, like booking an appointment or sending a message to someone. Creating a scenario and doing a walk-through of your product from the perspective of your user persona will help you find pain-points and flaws in your architecture, and can help you come up with ideas on how the user journey can be made even more effortless.
Doing this, you'll focus on your users and their tasks rather than your product's organisation and structure, helping you to design a customer-centric flow so the way your content is organised creates the optimal user experience.
4. Review your content
Once you've outlined who your users are and what they need, it's time to review the content you have to make sure that you're providing the right information in the right place, in a way that your users will easily understand.
Some things to think about are...
It'll be much easier for your users to understand your product if your content is consistent, and you're providing a coherent experience throughout their journey. Create consistency across the product with a global navigation that follows the user through the whole interface, such as a header, a footer, or a menu button in the same place on every page. Don't be afraid of keeping to convention; your users will be used to being able to reach certain functionality in certain places, such as being able to find navigation menus either at the top or on the left.
Avoiding information overload
Scale back the content as much as possible so you don't give your users too many options, but a clear path through the content to the information they need. Use concise and relevant headers and images to organise your information, making it more readable and easier to navigate through.
Remembering your goals
Throughout the design process it's a good idea to keep going back to remind yourself of your goals. Get rid of the content that doesn't serve any purpose for the user to complete their goals, and make sure the content you keep is in line with your brand and the way you want it to be perceived.
5. Adjust visual hierarchy
The visual hierarchy of your content is created by how you arrange and design elements on a page. The most important information should be designed and placed in a way that it will be the first thing the user notices on the screen. Most Westerners read from top to bottom, left to right, so placing elements in the top left corner of the screen, and creating lots of contrast between it and the rest of the content, will focus users' attention on it.
Making sure that the content on each page is organised according to the hierarchy of the information, will ensure the users doesn't have to sift through unnecessary information to get to what they need first and foremost, meaning they can gather information and complete tasks more quickly.
So, spending some extra time creating really good Information Architecture so that your users can find what they want quickly and easily, will pay off. In the form of better UX, happy users that keep coming back, and better conversion. The goal is to create a simple and adaptable IA, so it's future-proofed for any additions or changes you might want to make later on.
My IA is perfect now! What's next?
Work on overall UX, and perfect your UI design. If your website's Information Architecture is great but your usability is lacking, users will find what they're looking for but struggle to complete their tasks. IA work is never truly done. It keeps evolving with your product, and there's always room for improvement.