Information architecture (IA) can make or break your website faster than design. There, I said it. While a beautiful design can draw your website’s visitors in and get them to engage, if they can’t find or access the content in a meaningful way, they bounce.
Amazing information architecture groups content together for your audiences in intuitive ways to take the guesswork out of what to do next.
Design vs. Information Architecture
Think of design as the skin. You see it first. Skin can be attractive or repel others. It’s superficial, but that’s usually what makes a site visitor leave without even trying to find content.
Information architecture is the bones. The site is put together in such a way to serve what others are looking for. If you slap great looking skin on something that is falling apart, you don’t have something that will stand the demands of your audiences.
One cannot live without the other, and they both work together to complete the experience.
An Example of great IA
Reddit has rabid fans. The design certainly isn’t the flashiest; however, it’s incredibly easy to find and interact with the content. The community of users, use the data-driven architecture in a variety of ways that doesn’t need an extravagant design. The design just has to work, not wow.
Information Architecture that Works
There are three types of IA that we celebrate.
Social media sites, and sites like Reddit, use this IA process because content is why people came to the site or use its tools. This happens a lot for data or community-driven sites because the audiences they serve are there to consume. Search engines, social media, forums, and more benefit from this approach the most. You’ll see these sites focus on topics or categories, like a knowledge base.
Sites that offer different content targeted to different people break down their IA by audiences so their visitors can filter to where they need to go right away. Content rarely mixes and mingles with the rest. This is especially useful when you have content for prospective students that you don’t want to mix with content for students who are already admitted. These audiences are knowledgeable about where they are in their process, and you can serve the right content to the right people at the right time.
Sites the provide services to any number of audiences may break down their content to be organized by the need of the audience. Service offices are great for this information architecture. If your office provides the same services whether you’re a former or current student, it may be best to organize your content to bring them to the same place. That doesn’t mean you can’t address a few details for that audience, but if your visitors know what they are looking for then make it clear where that lives.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
For higher education, many universities or colleges serve many audiences. Look at your analytics, and if you don’t have any yet, install them. Learn what content your audiences are consuming and determine if it’s easy to find. Is there content that is related? If so, what is the relation? Is it audience? Is it function? Is it a topic or an idea?
Plan your information architecture based on why someone comes to your site and serve up that content in a way they can find everything they need.