Information Architecture (IA): The Unsung Hero of User Experience
November 06, 2019
When we provide insights and opportunities to potential clients on their websites, included in that list are nearly always opportunities on their information architecture (IA).
Information architecture is the structure of the pages on your website. It maps out what’s in your global navigation, what pages live under those pages, how deep your website structure is, etc. It’s the first thing we look at when evaluating an existing website or starting a new one.
Why are there nearly always improvements to IA? I can only guess it’s because it’s something companies believe they can DIY. Don’t be fooled! The same reason we test websites is the same reason we don’t recommend you DIY your IA - you are not your target audience. You are too close to your products, your inner workings and your legacy infrastructure to create or evaluate your IA.
Design trends come and go; “good design” is somewhat subjective but something we’ve seen time and again is that people will look past the design for content. If content is the bread, IA is the butter (or dairy-free buttery spread for me). If content is king, IA is queen (or another king, or two queens…). The point is… even the best content isn’t as powerful, doesn’t taste as good or provide as seamless of a user experience as it can if it’s in the right order. That’s where a good IA comes in – the unsung hero of UX.
A good IA is the difference between a seamless user experience and a klugey one.
So how do you know if yours is good or bad? Test it!
Car sorting is a common method for evaluating your IA. You can conduct an open card sort where people are asked to organize topics into categories of their own choice or closed sorting when you select the categories and people place the topics inside those categories. Card sorting can be done in real life with post-it notes or cards or online.
Usability testing is a great way to test if people are able to find content and accomplish common tasks on your website. It’s a great way to uncover issues within your IA.