“Your story may not have a such a happy beginning. But that does not make you who you are. It is the rest of the story whom you chose to be!” echoes the Soothsayer to the Dragon Warrior Po, in Kung Fu Panda 2.
We all marvel at the way story is being told in a movie, right? How the story is played is nothing but ‘structure’ of the movie.
Start > Flashback > Resume Story > Story moves forward > Dream Sequence > Resume (Audience yawns :D) > Story moves forward > Climax > The End.
This structure – how a movie is presented to the audience, can be loosely interpreted as information architecture (IA).
You may have visited thousands of sites – look at this site too, there is a defined structure to the overall site – You have main navigation on the top (Home, About, Workshop). The content is posted every week – it carries a date stamp. You can always go and browse the old content using ‘Recent posts’ or jump directly to any topic using ‘tag cloud’. This all is a result of layout + content + information architecture.
How does one create the information architecture of a digital product / service?
- Get the ecosystem on paper.
- Get the user task flow.
- Visualize the ‘paths’ of links and link hierarchy – how the user will navigate the product using different paths.
- Think of flexibility: Can user achieve the same goal using 2 or 3 different paths?
- Think of ease of use: Can user intuitively choose the link to pursue a specific task?
- Think of user efficiency: Can user complete the given task in less time?
- Think of shortest & longest paths: Will the user browse ‘sitemap’ or directory structure or use the search utility on the website?
If you start thinking on these lines, you will visualize the structure of your digital product. That’s when you have finally created the information architecture.
Here are some examples of information architecture of websites / dashboards:
Example 1: Enterprise Dashboard
We start of with the ecosystem view of the dashboard.
The following image depicts how the user flow would be:
The third image shows the overall information architecture of the dashboard – depicting the ‘content’ heads, the paths / links, the hierarchy of the paths with respect to each other.
Example 2: Windows 7 Control Panel redesign
This is an attempt to redesign the Windows 7 Control Panel. The first image shows a mash-up of a mind map or decomposition of an action in Windows desktop.
The second image is nothing but a raw depiction of IA (the very first draft). The IA always gets improvised with the time.
It is basically a ‘bucketing’ exercise done to arrange most closely associated elements in one category. Exercises like these are often carried out with ‘users’ who are inexperienced designers – they arrange the data elements they perceive to be intuitive. This activity is commonly known as card sorting. Card sorting is a quick way to put a structure around your data elements. The elements are written on cards or post-it notes and arranged in ‘buckets’ or categories defined by the users.
Example 3: IA for a 4G telecom launch portal
The final version of the IA looked like this (designed in Mindjet Mindmanager):
So, how does one know whether the IA designed works or not?
Consider the following example:
Let’s assume that your digital product (e.g. an e-commerce site) is designed & launched with fanfare, perhaps with a brand ambassador. The hype generated excites the early adopters; users get registered in great numbers. But the users do not become buyers. Why? Over the months, user registration starts dropping. The stakeholders get the jitters. How can they overcome this?
Well, there is no unique solution to this – assuming that the branding has been great part of the website and there is a trust & safety sentiment of the buyer with the site too. There could be a possibility that the underlying IA of the website is not working.
How can one say this confidently? Yes, you can.
Look at the web analytics data – the click throughs of the user recorded in quantitative data form. Look at the web logs. You will see how users are coming to the website, what paths users are taking to reach to specific content, how they are exiting the website, how much time they are spending on the website.
Get your website dissected completely with web analytics data. You may have a look at the most popular web analytics products – Google Analytics.
The web analytics data will only tell you – what is happening? It is up to the designer to figure out ‘why’ it is happening. So looking at IA will only tell you the half story.
Got the story?