Understanding Information Architecture and Its Role in Website Design

When it comes to re-building a website theres a lot of content to sort through, understanding what you want to communicate and the structure it should take is called Information Architecture. We are here to help with an explanation of what is it is, and how you can go about it.

Article Info

December 20, 2023 6 mins

What we will cover

When it comes to building a website, and in particular rebuilding a website, understanding the information you want to communicate, what structure it will take (i.e. website template) and how it all fits within the navigation are difficult and critical decisions that should be undertaken before you even begin to get excited by designs.

Card sorting is a really excellent tool that can be used to audit what you currently have, dream up what may be, and be re-ordered over and over again into content types (templates) or a navigation structure. 

But let’s start at the beginning…

What is Website Architecture?

Website architecture, commonly known as information architecture (IA), refers to the thoughtful organisation of content and/or navigation within a website.

It steers us clear of the lure of design and whizzy functionality and focuses our mind on the user and what they are here to find out from us. This means that from the off we are creating a blueprint of pages to create the most seamless user experience.

And what Does Information Architecture Mean in UX?

UX means User Experience.

Website architecture is the framework that allows users to easily find, understand, and interact with the content they seek, in other words, information architecture is the very foundation of UX.

A UX designer is looking to enhance user satisfaction by improving the usability and accessibility of the interface through the layout and interactions. The term UX designer

Why would you bother with information architecture?

Every organisation has someone it serves, if our customers come to us with a complaint we do our best to resolve it for them, even feedback from potential customers is valuable to us to help us convert the next one. The reality is this, noone ever leaves a website and messages the owner to explain why they were turned off, potentially your best customer just left your website and enquired with a competitor, just now and you had no idea.

If the average conversion rate of a website is between 2-5%, that means at least 95% of visitors leave without doing the action we would like them to. So, the better we understand their needs, the more enquiries we will get.

According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group (a renowned user experience research and consulting firm in the US), websites with clear and well-structured information architecture can experience up to a 50% increase in user task success rates compared to websites with poor navigation and organization. 

This means that users are significantly more likely to find what they’re looking for and complete their intended tasks on websites that implement thoughtful information architecture.

How to Create Customer Focussed Website Architecture 

Creating a well-structured website architecture requires a strategic approach and careful consideration of user needs – a common exercise we employ in our workshops.

Here are the key steps involved in the process:

  1. User Research: Understand your target audience’s preferences, behaviors, and expectations. Conduct user surveys, interviews, workshops, and usability testing to gain insights into how users think and what they require from your website. If possible, conduct keyword research with the terms you get back to see what others may be searching for and survey your team for ideas.  
  2. Content Inventory:  Take stock of all the content that will be part of your website, the card sort is such a great tool here, write down an individual page name on its own bit of paper. Add any other ideas from your keyword research or team. 
  3. Hierarchy and Organization: To establish a clear hierarchy for your content, categorise the content based on its importance and relevance to user needs. Try and group your card categories by type, for example we understand that Ts & Cs, Privacy & cookie policies all belong in the category “boring”, sorry I mean “legal”. Creating a structure that reflects the relationships between different pieces of information will start to guide the structure and naming of the top level navigation.
  4. Navigation Design: You will now have many groups of content and will have to decide what is worthy of the top navigation. The more you place here, the more clutter and cognitive load you place on your user. Consider merging multiple cards into one longer page or moving sections into the footer or larger archives like an info hub.
  5. Wireframing and Prototyping: The card sort has done it’s job, now its time to consider content for each page. The idea here is to understand your content a series of templates (it’s critical to understand the common templates and their uses*link). Note that the more templates you have the greater the time and expense to create your project. Now you can begin to develop wireframes or prototypes that visualize the layout of your website – these can be a rudimentary pencil sketch through to a polished exemplar design. This provides a tangible representation of how content will be organized on each page and helps you identify potential issues in the user flow.
  6. Labelling and Signposting: The website should be taking some shape now even without a piece of code written, and there should be a mental map of user tasks being resolved. Begin to consider the language around these tasks. Try to use familiar language that aligns with users’ understanding of the subject matter and choose clear and concise labels for menu items, buttons, and links. At the bottom of every template, consider where the user may need to go next and create “Call To Action” (CTA) blocks, these large colourful blocks with links in them, guide the user to the next part of their journey.
  7. Testing and Iteration: If you have the time and resource then you could test your website architecture with real users through usability testing. This will enable you to gather feedback and identify any pain points or confusion users encounter. This information will enable you to refine your IA, making necessary adjustments to enhance the user experience. The more time you can prioritise making your digital presence better, the more you will please your potential customers.

Why is Website Architecture Important?

Taking the above steps into account, a traditional website project plan would have skipped straight to the design (number 5 of 7), and it still tempting to jump to design with a picture in our minds without doing the research first. 

In order to resonate with your audience you need to design for them, and that starts with understanding their needs. Workshops are an excellent tool for you and your team to firm up your ideas and get external perspectives.

Using the evolved thinking of information architecture creates the backbone of effective website design. It empowers users to effortlessly navigate digital spaces, discover relevant content, and engage with websites in a meaningful way. 

By understanding the principles of information architecture and following a structured approach, we can build user-centric experiences that resonate with our audience and foster longer-lasting, mutually beneficial connections.

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