Good design is good for business, “said Thomas Watson Jr. decades ago. It was a premise he did not deviate from and on which he built IBM, proving that he was right.
In the 1950s, Fred Brooks, one of the world’s most respected and today one of the world’s most respected IT and software engineering experts, developed the IBM OS / OS 360.
In recent years, Fred Brooks has been heavily advocating the importance of the so-called information architecture (IA) when designing a software solution or building a website.
In this text, I will talk about these two concepts – website design and information architecture, as well as their interplay and importance.
“Having a systems architect is the most important step towards conceptual integrity. After holding the software engineering lab for more than 20 times, I began to insist that small student teams, of four people, choose a manager and an architect. ” Fred Brooks
What exactly did Brooks mean when he said that every team of developers should have an architect? And why is it important to start with this approach already in your student days?
If you are interested in finding out the answer to these and other related questions, continue reading.
I will try to point out in this text:
- what is an information architecture and what does one such architect do?
- why is it good (and desirable) to have someone involved in information architecture on a team of UI / UX designers?
- how can information architecture improve UX design?
- what is the difference between information structure and navigation?
- how does IA contribute to better SEO results?
Well, let’s get started.
WHAT IS INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE?
If you are already familiar with the term, you may also know that the founder of modern information architecture is Richard Saul Wurman, a graphic designer and architect known worldwide as the founder of the TED conference.
Because he believed that the structure of information should be built the same way a building is built – starting from a solid foundation. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for further understanding of the term.
We know that a good website structure is responsible for the foundations of good UI / UX design, and (now) we know that its architecture is responsible for building it.
Although the originator of the idea of this type of architecture is not a web designer by profession, his understanding has greatly contributed to understanding the importance of how data is presented, as Wurman often points out that the way information is presented can be even more important than information itself.
INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE AS THE BASIS FOR BUILDING UX DESIGN
Designers of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) apply the principles of information architecture on a daily basis, without even realizing it. Information architecture is certainly a significant skill within UX design, but also in disciplines such as programming, technical writing, content strategy formation, or interaction design.
Just like when designing a building, building a website can take many forms and is based on a precise, purpose-built structure and a solid foundation based on ideas and goals.
“The developer (…) builds castles in the air, from the air, creating by the effort of imagination. The rare mediums of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and process, so well suited to the realization of a magnificent conceptual creation. ” Fred Brooks
WHAT DO THE INFORMATION ARCHITECT DO?
The task of the information architect in the team of developers and web designers is to organize a large amount of data, classify it, map it, structure it and determine their position on each of the pages on the website.
The scope of his duties includes:
- classification of data and determination of hierarchy of structural data
- sitemap creation
- determining the types of site pages
- forming the structure of the site pages
- placement of objects on the site
- making frameworks, sketches and website models with composite elements (wireframes)
- development of navigation system within the site
- categorization of website structure elements
- organizing content on the page
While there is often no position of an information architect as such, that job is very important to the success of a website. Data UI / UX designers and developers, as well as SEO experts are involved in data structuring, apart from architects, since much depends on the site’s infrastructure for further optimization and positioning when searching online.
WHY IS SITE STRUCTURE IMPORTANT?
Building a website structure is a very important task for every web designer, especially those involved in UX and UI design, because the structure is created with the users in mind, knowing their needs and anticipating their moves. It is necessary, however, not only to anticipate the moves, but also to evaluate in advance the feelings of the users of the future site, bearing in mind the following questions:
- if they reach a single page on a site through a specific link, will users at all times know exactly where they are and how to get to the homepage?
- will they quit further search if they fail to find the About Us page first?
- will they be frustrated if they are unable to find where the contact form section is located on the site?
Just as traffic signs indicate to the traveler where something is located, so does one website’s infrastructure need to have points at which users will orient themselves and move on.
This is nothing new, of course, because here we are talking about a site navigation structure that will categorize content, split it into specific categories and position it on the site.
Therefore, it is always good to create a site structure and scheme, which is the most commonly used microformat called Schema.org.
Schema.org was launched by Google, Bing and Yahoo to create a common framework of standardized schema sets for structured data tagging on web pages. Since then, the term Schema.org has become synonymous with the term structural data.
Structural data are tags that are added to the HTML of a page and help search engines better understand the content of that page or its elements. Using approved standard formats, they provide additional information that makes it easier for search engines to parse relevant information on a page.
INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE AND NAVIGATION: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
One of the basic differences between the information and navigation structure of a site is its vastness. The information architecture builds the complete structure of the website, which functions as a backbone linking all existing data, while navigation is one of the elements of that structure and is a system by which users of the site move from page to page.
When it comes to navigation, most often the structure is split up so that there is a cover page, About Us page, product or service page, contact page, ordering page and the like.
Most often, the front page is the first one that comes across and should be comprehensive. However, one important fact should not be overlooked: every page on one website could be the first page that visitors come across. It depends on whether they came to the site by direct search for a company name, or followed a link to a specific article, or first entered the product or service description page. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that enough navigation content is uploaded to each page so that people can continue immediately to their goals.
Therefore, when designing, it is very important not to lose sight of the question to which every user at every moment of their stay on one site must have a precise answer. That question is – where am I now?
Designers create navigation structures to make it easier for them to navigate through web pages, but navigation should not only show where it can go, but by clearly marking the user’s current position, they should indicate where they are.
A good practice example in this regard can be seen on the BBC News website.
After the question about the current position, the following questions may arise for the user:
- how do i get to the homepage now?
- how do i know what this company is all about?
- how do i order a product?
- is payment through this site secure?
- is this store online only or can i go to see the range in person?
- what is the address of the shop?
- who is behind all this?
- how do i contact the owner?
For all these and many other questions, the user should find the answer within the site without thinking too much or taking too many additional steps.
Main site navigation is the most important, but we should not neglect the so-called useful navigation, which includes company information, company address, contacts, links to profiles on social networks and other similar information, which should also be easily visible to the user.
PRINCIPLES OF GOOD INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE
Data organization and content hierarchy within a single website may imply horizontal navigation, that is flat or flat, and may also represent vertical navigation or deep system. When you map the site and its structure, you can clearly see what it is about.
Basically, if we have a positive user experience in mind, a horizontal hierarchy is always a better choice because it does not burden many sublevels or steps in the path to the desired information. If one is designing, for example, their personal portfolio site there will be no need for a complex depth structure. On the other hand, however, when it comes to more complex sites and systems with a lot of different information, such as the BBC site, for example, a structure that delves deeper into more sublevels could be a more logical and inevitably more functional choice.
Therefore, when creating a site structure and schematized view, the rule is simple – logical choices should be used.
Also keep in mind the so-called speed rule, which points to the importance of getting information quickly and easily on one site. That unwritten rule, then, would be – the faster, the better.
Whenever possible, shorten your homepage path as you would other pages. But, we repeat – only when possible. Don’t for the shorter journey of sacrificing content. Quality content has been and will remain one of the most important elements on your site.
For example, in one online store, the content will be broken down into categories and categories into sub-categories and so on, but no exaggeration should be made. It is optimal for the user to come in 3-4 steps from the initial page to the information originally requested. Anything beyond that can be frustrating and repel users.
As always, things are simple. If a site visitor is satisfied with the result they find, they will continue to research. Therefore, an organized data structure is required, as it would not be necessary for a visitor to be lost in a sea of random information scattered across pages without any meaning or order.
The categories should therefore be set up in a similar way and visually look the same or similar. It would be good if the product or service descriptions were formatted the same way to make the site appear as clear and transparent as possible.
Of course, the application of information architecture helps in all this.
ANALYSIS TO THE QUALITY DESIGN OF THE SITE STRUCTURE
Website owners have access to all the metrics related to their online presentation. This includes, but is not limited to, pageviews, keyword search frequency, bounce rate, and conversion rate, which indicates the number of users who met the site owner’s expectations and achieved desired goal – buying a product, ordering a service, completing a survey, signing up for a daily, weekly or monthly newsletter and the like.
All this information is used to analyze and further improve and improve the business.
The results of the analysis may also indicate deficiencies in the site structure, navigation, or complete setup of the structural data. Therefore, they can also point to gaps in information architecture.
If there are a large number of visitors who come to a page that, say, describes a particular product category and leave it immediately, it clearly indicates that something is wrong. Because, the essence of such a site is to attract as many visitors as possible, keep them there and send them for further search or ordering form.
A low percentage of those who actually do this may indicate a poorly structured page.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
First, research where users came from a product-specific page, and then carefully analyze the content that is visible to users on that page.
Also try answering a few questions:
- is the product description clear enough?
- is the link to the page accurate?
- does the layout on the page prevent users from seeing the content?
- what can all visitors expect on one such page and are these expectations fulfilled?
Numerous studies have shown that the most common reason for leaving a site quickly is that users cite just – unfulfilled expectations. Also, the reason is the uncertain expectations, that is, the lack of a clear description, which is attached to the link that leads to a particular page. Therefore, when managing content, care should also be taken that the page titles in the URL clearly indicate what it is about. For example, you should not place the word gallery in the description of the link, unless the page that follows contains at least several different photos in a row.
If the same form is used for all product categories and if a problem occurs with one of them, then the same problem is likely to exist for all products in that category. In rare cases, it may be that a content-only change has been made within the content management platform. All options should be considered in order to successfully solve the problem.
While it is best to apply the information architecture during site design, it is also possible to make some changes to the code itself, which can help improve the structure.
HOW DO I CONTRIBUTE TO QUALITY SEO OPTIMIZATION?
Based on all of the above, we can conclude that the implementation of information architecture (IA) involves building a data structure and organizing parts of content on one site in a way that allows users to make functional demarcations between those parts. And we would be right.
The goal of implementing an information architecture is to make the organizational structure of information clearer, more accurate and more easily accessible to users.
But that’s not all.
Another important role of information architecture is to organize parts of the content in a way that will allow search engines such as Google, Bing, and others to properly understand the context of the content and therefore index the site and position it as it should.
Communication with search engines is not easy, but if everything is set up properly, it is certain that the site crawler algorithm will understand the message it is sent to. On the part of developers, web designers and SEO experts, this means that structural and contextual linking of data within HTML code should be done, which is achieved by using semantic HTML5 elements.
WHAT ARE SEMANTIC HTML5 TAGS?
HTML tags are most commonly used to format content and tell the browser what the content will look like on the page, but do not give any indication as to what type of content they contain or what role that content plays on the page.
Semantic HTML5 tags, on the other hand, address this deficiency by defining specific tags that clearly show what role the content containing the tags plays. This is explicit information that helps the algorithm understand the context and separate important content for a particular page from the less important one.
This is achieved by implementing semantic tags such as, for example, a site header, a navigation menu, main content, secondary content, site header (nav, main, aside, footer) within the code. If you are a beginner in this field, we recommend you read a very useful article published on the SEMrush portal, in which what we are talking about is very well explained in detail.
Instead of the classic conclusion, we convey to you the words of Stephen Olmstead (Stephen Olmstead), designer, researcher and vice president of design partnerships at InVision, who recently wrote in an article published on the Medium:
“It has never been clearer that good design is good for business. According to US research agency Forester, every dollar invested in user experience design is an investment that will bring in $ 100, which means that return on investment (ROI) reaches 9,900 percent. In addition, design firms in their business have proven to be more successful by 200 percent than those that are standard indexed among the top 500 in the stock market. ”
Stephen Olmsted made that pretty clear. We believe there is no need to further explain how good design is to the success of a company. And additionally – how well-designed a website is to be important for a successful business in today’s digital world.
I hope that with this text I have at least succeeded in bringing you closer to the notion of information architecture and pointing out its importance when designing a website.