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What is Information Architecture?
Information Architecture (IA) is the most crucial stage in the Web Usability process.
It defines the needs of your target audience, and ensures they are matched with your site’s content – by assessing of the value of the content, and restructuring it to match your audience’s priorities.
Why bother with Information Architecture?
Successful sites all have one thing in common – they enable their audiences to find the information they want quickly and easily. They achieve this by creating an information structure which is clear and simple, and focused on their users’ needs.
There are two main reasons to address IA early in the specification of your site.
Firstly, research identifies consistently that users’ top criteria for a successful website are that it:
- Downloads quickly to their machine;
- Contains relevant content is easily found;
- Can be navigated around simply.
Secondly, user-behaviour studies show that users are extremely ruthless with websites, quickly abandoning them if they get lost or frustrated. Having given up, the chances of them returning site in future are reduced dramatically.
Many people assume that the ‘best’ structure for a site follows the lines of their organisation’s corporate structure. This may be clearest for their employees, but they are rarely the main group they want to influence. Sites structured along these lines frequently confuse and frustrate their users.
IA does not address functionality or technology issues – it is non-technical and requires no programming knowledge. Most users have a lower level of familiarity with the internet than programmers or technical people, and this is an issue that IA aims to address.
IA is also not part of a site’s graphical design. Graphical design combines content and overall brand/corporate identity into consistent and attractive presentations. IA identifies what this content should be, its overall value to the site, and how it should be arranged to best meet the site's aims.