From Chaos to Clarity: Designing Your Website's Information Architecture

June 19, 2023

Last time I posted an article about common pitfalls while doing website redesigns and got a question about today's topic.

Photo of female ahnds holding pen and sticky notes in front of user flow wireframe on paper
Making paper sketches of information architecture is a great way to create drafts. -  Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“The best policy is to rather focus on creating an intuitive and visually appealing interface.” — Highlighted text from my previous article.

I am struggling so much with this and have been reading up on choice architecture. Any resources (or even a follow up article on this topic if i may be so bold!) you suggest to help with navigation design would be really appreciated! — Christine Reynolds

So where should we start? What is Information architecture (IA)? Information architecture is essentially the map users will use to navigate, hopefully, seamlessly through your website. Naturally, you what to make the directions on your website intuitive and easy to use.

The goal of information architecture is to organise the content of a website or mobile app in a clear and comprehensible way and arrange it into relations between the content pieces, allowing users to find what they need effortlessly.

Information architecture is also a part of interaction design when you think about it. It considers context, content and users. This implies that user needs, business goals, and different types of content must be taken into consideration while structuring a digital product’s information.

How to create IA? By asking the right questions. In the question in my previous article, I asked some additional questions as a reply to understand more about the context in which the information architecture will be implemented.

  1. But for starters is important to know that is better to think about the structure and the logic behind it, rather than the hierarchical approach. And of course think about the user, what they find important and want to have within reach. You don’t know? Then ask them 🤓Conduct user research. Pro tip: Any research is better than none!
  2. Make sure all processes are logical. When you create a process from start to finish and you add more steps, clicks, messaging and whatnot, ask yourself along the way, is this helping my user or distracting it? Does it make sense? Well, if you wonder how to determine which decision is right or wrong in terms of creating a process on your website, then you need to do some research on web design principles and ux best practices. Or hire a designer who can help you with that because there is so much more that can be done to create an informed and strategic decision. 😁
  3. List the priorities. When it comes to creating a map or information architecture in this case, you need to decide what's important and what should make the cut. Less is more. Don’t put all your company history on numerous pages that will not only overwhelm your user but won’t bring them any value either.
  4. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. The beauty of digital design is that there is always an option for edit. Make the first version of your information architecture, ask some colleagues internally to roam on the website and ask them to find specific information. That’s in some way user testing. If you can afford to do some real user testing with your user personas, that would be great.
  5. Check how others do it. Learn from the best. Review some navigation patterns that may suit your website’s content and goals.
  6. Don’t forget to iterate and test. Whenever you get a customer support ticket about your website make sure to address the issue with the deserved attention. The best way to learn something isn’t working is via direct feedback, ideally from your target audience. Make sure you or your customer support specialists are good at doing root cause analysis and solving problems is a fun challenge rather than a drag. Words like: lost, not sure, can’t find, where, and how are giveaways that you haven’t done a good job of creating good directions for your users. After implementing the changes is good to start with the testing yet again.

Software Tools for Creating Information Architecture

Now that you know what to have in mind when creating an information architecture is time to pick a tool and start visualising it. I personally prefer to start with pen and paper, for some reason helps me with thinking.

But when it comes to visualizing and creating an information architecture (IA), there are several software tools available that can assist you in the process. These tools offer features specifically designed to help you organize and structure your website’s content effectively. Here are some popular options:

  1. MindMeister: MindMeister is a powerful mind-mapping tool that allows you to create visual representations of your information architecture. It offers an intuitive interface and collaboration features, making it easy to brainstorm ideas, define relationships between content elements, and create hierarchical structures.
  2. Lucidchart: Lucidchart is a versatile diagramming tool that can be used to create IA diagrams, sitemaps, and flowcharts. It provides a wide range of pre-built shapes and templates to help you visualize your website’s structure and navigation paths.
  3. Miro: Miro is a collaborative online whiteboard platform that can be utilized for creating IA diagrams and collaborating with team members. It offers a range of pre-built templates, sticky notes, and drawing tools to help you visualize and organize your website’s content structure. Real-time collaboration and commenting features make it suitable for remote teams.
  4. Adobe XD: Adobe XD is a design and prototyping tool that can be used for creating IA wireframes and interactive prototypes. It provides a range of design tools and features to help you map out navigation flows, define interactions, and test your information architecture.
  5. OmniGraffle: OmniGraffle is a diagramming and visual design tool available for macOS and iOS devices. It offers a variety of stencils, templates, and drawing tools to create IA diagrams, wireframes, and flowcharts. With its robust feature set, OmniGraffle is suitable for designing detailed and precise information architectures.
  6. Figma template: I am sharing this one with my curious gang members as a special treat. 😊

Remember, the choice of software ultimately depends on your specific needs, preferences, and budget. It’s important to explore the features and capabilities of each tool to determine which one aligns best with your workflow and project requirements.

Integrating these software tools into your IA creation process can streamline your work and enable you to create visual representations that aid in communication and collaboration with your team.

Please note that it’s always a good practice to research and compare different software options to find the one that best fits your specific needs and budget.
For the nerds: Explore Other Resources for Navigation Design and Web Design Principles

To dive deeper into the world of navigation design and web design principles, there are numerous resources available that can provide valuable insights and practical guidance. Here are a few recommended references to help you expand your understanding:

  • Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug: This classic book is an excellent starting point for understanding the fundamentals of user-friendly web design.
  • NN/g (Nielsen Norman Group) Website: Nielsen Norman Group is famous for its research-based approach to user experience design. Their website offers a wealth of articles, reports, and usability guidelines covering a broad range of UX topics, including information architecture and navigation design.
  • Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond” by Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango: This book provides an in-depth exploration of information architecture and its application in various contexts. I personally haven’t read this one, but you can definitely give it a glance.
  • UX Design Weekly: This curated newsletter delivers a handpicked selection of UX-related articles, resources, and tools to your inbox every week.
  • Online Courses and Tutorials: Platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning offer a variety of courses on UX design, information architecture, and navigation design.

And always stay curious my friends! 🌞

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