In web design, information architecture simply means the neat distributive arrangement of form, function, navigation, interface, design, and content of a website through structural integration and proper labeling. Five comprehensive steps make up the information architecture (IA) process in web design. We’ll tell you about each of these steps in detail. Deconstructing the IA process Step 1: Understand your website’s goals a) Don’t be complacent: Never take to the MOW (my-own-way) methodology unless you are a pro in designing. But then, even pros pay attention to detail in the business orientation and brainstorming processes before they firm up plans. b) Listen to the parties involved: There are many websites out there that have a skeleton in the name of a website and lack flesh in terms of relevant business-specific design or content that could get them the much-needed traction. That’s why you need to develop a wholesome picture of the purpose, intent, vision, and goals of a business before taking to the canvas for the first draft or sketch. The views and perspectives of the client and every department of the web developer need to be heard first. After all, you have not been assigned a respective web design project just to put together any kind of digital vehicle without any forethought and afterthought going into the project. c) Document the best ideas and look into problem areas: Once you weigh the best ideas that have been produced in a brainstorming session, create a document and put all the best ideas in. This is an all-inclusive approach that gives you the power of approaching a task or problem from different standpoints. If there are any problem areas, list those worrisome scenarios and get back to the parties involved, seeking their suggestions once again. This way, you can create a perfect gateway for the mission undertaken in a project. d) Brief the client and team players: Once the master plan for site development is ready, tell the client and each member of your team everything about the project plan and its priorities. Apprise them of the possible problems that you may have to encounter. Maybe they can help you out with a solution. e) Ensure no crowding in the creative process: Once the creative process begins, ensure clear communication between all the programmers, code specialists, and web designers. It’s best to keep out people who do not know anything about the creative process. Once the creative plan is in place, inform the management and the client about the timeframe within which you can achieve the development targets. f) Factor in the short and long-term goals: Ensure flexibility in the foundational setup of a website if you are looking for a quick launch. That way, you can optimize development after the site goes live. The idea is to accommodate revisions to make the site more effective in the long run. g) Identify the target audience: There are many websites that pay no attention to the target groups at the time of site development. If you know your target groups, you can perfect the form, function, interface, and navigation, among other things. h) Have ready answers for obvious questions: Why will people come to your site? Will they keep coming back? The answer to these questions lies in the purpose that the website is going to serve. So, think objectively from the user’s point of view. Step 2: Laying down an information structure that suits the target audience a) Think of the possible market scenarios: Now, it’s time for you to take out the target audience worksheet and create relevant classifications for each of your product portfolio and organizational specifications. How do you create the classifications? Imagine that you are selling fashion goods. Your target audience categories could be Men, Women, Kids, and so on. With such an audience in mind, you can create a few market scenarios that run in accordance with the customer’s behavior. Create as many market scenarios as possible as it’s not just buyers that may come to your site. People may even be looking for information related to you and your investors, or better still some valuable piece of information that your site may have. Think simple. Think extreme. Think bizarre. After all, these market scenarios will help you put together an information structure that can immediately spark interest in the audience. b) Check your rivals’ websites: It’s always good to know what your competitor is doing. Examine the performance, style, and information structure of your competitors’ websites and compare them with the features and functionalities on your website. You may get to learn a lesson or two on effective customer engagements. Among the basic things you should look for are the download and navigation speeds, web page layouts and sizes, and the overall impression of your competitors’ websites. Step 3: Grouping and labeling content and functionalities the best way a) Back to brainstorming: By now you would have a fair idea of who your target audience could be and how they can be attracted to your website and engaged on a long-term basis. Now, all you need to do is prioritize content and functionalities. Ask each member of your team to get a copy of the project document (readied thus far) and break all the business priorities into content and functionality requirements. b) Take your pick: Aggregate the best ideas and see how each of the content and functionality action plan can be synchronized into a structure that makes navigation not just easier but also looks meticulously organized. From the content point of view, you need to decide the rules of the game by giving shape to the user protocols and information grids. These protocols and information grids enable transactions and engagements so they could be kept static or dynamic, depending on your requirement. From the functionality point of view, you have to decide upon things like sign in and subscription pages and related calls to action that could enhance the usability quotient of your website. Remember that none of these content or functionality solutions should be a unilateral expression of one or the other department. It should be an all-inclusive exercise that takes into account the best views from each department of your organization. These viewpoints will also help you arrive at an optimal plan of organizing content and functionalities and each of their elements in terms of group classifications in separate sections, labeling, and information structuring. Step 4: Methods to put information structure in place a) Create information hierarchy: By now you have all the plans to set the information structure in place. Create a hierarchical order for every element of content and functionality to finalize the site structure. See how you can organize content detailing the organizational structure, operational models, product catalogues, servicing documents, etc by creating multiple sets of information blocks that are interconnected to each other. For example, you may find four buttons on a fashion portal, namely, Home, Men, Women, and Kids. While the purpose of the first button is to guide you back to the home page, the other three buttons will have a vertical or horizontal break-up of nuggets of information catering to the respective target group. Again, websites that have huge data go for further subcategories in their information structure. Once you know the components of each of your content and functionality groups, managing an information structure becomes easier. b) Pay attention to navigation: How will the site be used? Will the users find it simple? Or will they be lost in the maze of too much information in a disorganized setup? Do you have coordinates that makes jumping from one window to another easier? Knowledge of the navigation system will help you optimize the information flow from link to link, and that will make the main menu easy to fall back on. c) Here’s how the site structure should look ideally: There should be a hierarchy of the assets you have in terms of content and functionalities. For instance, most websites have the following web page classifications: i) A menu on the main page with dropdowns: On a typical ecommerce website, you would find certain categories on the main menu. Like we said earlier, if it’s a fashion portal, it may have Men, Women, and Kids as the categories on the main menu, and these may have dropdowns serving many subcategories. Again, when you click on the subcategories, it may lead you to product pages, which may have further links to product detail pages. The importance of these categories and subcategories is such that they enable the user to find a multiple spread of solutions at one place. They are not scattered across the site in a disorganized way. The user would find them the moment he arrives on the site. Besides, you have the advantage of unique URLs and any page that brings in success on the SEO front will make your site a hit by serving the purpose of a landing page. ii) Information-centered pages: Any page that talks about the company’s corporate story, strategy, philosophy, mission, goals, or structure can be called information-centered pages. They help you understand the strength and reach of a brand. Companies that do not have such pages detailing credentials would find it harder to strike a chord with the customers. iii) Valuable content pages: These could be pages that provide users with certain authoritative or promotional content by way of videos, research documents, or market studies. iv) Site search results page: A data-centric site would ideally have a site search functionality helping out users. Therefore, it is essential to have all of your data integrated with the site search results page. Step 5: Getting the design right Design is the most integral part of a website. It keeps evolving from stage one of the development process. You start with sketches and wireframes and then move on to the practical design environment. The basic objective is to trigger a feel-good reaction from target audiences. It’s all about giving out the best user experience. The design of a website holds together the strength of a brand. Nothing is of any use if the design fails. Design helps you optimize the information structure.
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