While attempting to write a case study, a colleague of mine asked me for some examples of issues I had on a recent intranet redesign project. This was a good project for examples, as it really was a fun and challenging project to work on. I thought I'd share the examples and hopefully (as a practitioner) you'll find humorous, though the humour points to big problems!
More and more of my work has moved from straightforward information architecture and taxonomy work and more into the "why" behind information architecture and taxonomy. For me, the answer to this "why" became content strategy. I realized that content strategy can solve many IA and taxonomy problems I encounter. I decided to use my skills to investigate the problems and create solutions through the lens of content strategy.
One thing that's been around for a while but is rarely taken advantage of (at least on the digital property projects that I've come across) is dynamic content display. Maybe it's poorly understood, but it's an easy concept to grasp and, quite frankly, can feel very liberating. When I explain the concept to my clients, they typically respond with, "Yes, that's what we need. That's what we've been waiting for. Where have you been all my life? You had me at hello!!"
Once you understand what information architecture (IA) is, you may wonder why exactly it is that you need it, in order to have a successful site. Maybe your site has some usability problems or suffers from common taxonomy mistakes, but isn’t that something that anyone can just go in and adjust with a few tweaks of the design? Technically, yes. But you’re most likely only resolving a surface level issue with a band-aid fix, as opposed to addressing the real website problems that you’re suffering from.
Is your customer service team spending most of their time answering questions that are directly answered on your website? Is your bounce rate far higher than it should it be? Is the most used function of your website the search bar? All of these common website usability problems are symptoms and signs of poor information architecture. Information architecture (IA) aims to connect users with the content that they are looking for, in a seamless and intuitive manner.
When looking to improve the searchability on your website or intranet or in your CMS or DAM, there are a few areas where you can look to solve searchability problems. This second part in a two-part series focuses on solving searchability problems.
When I talk with customers about website problems, I frequently hear the refrain: "Our website search is terrible. People tell us it sucks. We need to fix it." Or "I can't find anything on the website and the search doesn't give me what I am expecting." There are a few areas where we can look to fix search problems. Normally, I start with user interviews and testing, then move on to reviewing site analytics, metadata, and taxonomy.
When working on a taxonomy project, one question always comes up, "How do we know our taxonomy works?" When spending time and money developing a taxonomy that is critical to business goals and technical needs, it's important to know that the taxonomy is usable and useful. There are several ways we can test taxonomies to ensure they work.
Combining multiple taxonomies can be a contentious issue: each taxonomy belongs to a team who has put a lot of thought into their taxonomy and may not easily let go of certain terms or features. However, sometimes taxonomies do need to be combined, and here are some tips on how to go through the process.
While you recognize that your company needs a website taxonomy or intranet taxonomy, you may not be sure how to convince management to provide resources to create, implement, and maintain a taxonomy. Here are some tips.
If you’re working on a taxonomy that doesn’t have the resources (right now) to do a lot of research and engagement with subject matter experts, there are still some actionable steps you can take to improve your taxonomy.
While each taxonomy project has its own quirks, there is a basic methodology we can use for planning, building, and maintaining a taxonomy.
After going through numerous taxonomy projects, I've learned a few things about how to work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to build a website taxonomy. Here is a presentation with a few tips for making the taxonomy development process smoother.
Having worked on many a taxonomy project, this presentation details a few (relatively straightforward) lessons learned. I like to share them so you can be more successful with taxonomy. The lessons learned include: ensuring you consider the next steps for the taxonomy, taking into account the abilities of the team and technology to implement and maintain the taxonomy, and thinking strategically before diving into taxonomy design. Enjoy the presentation! If you'd like to learn more, here are some links to visit: Case study: Taxonomy for Technical Non-Profit Taxonomy Driven Content Publishing
When first learning about taxonomies and how they're useful, it helps to know some basics. This presentation looks at why taxonomy is useful, some examples of how taxonomy is used on websites, and different links for learning more about taxonomies.
When I start working on taxonomy projects, it's common that some team members don't understand how taxonomy can help their website's user experience or the writer's experience in finding and re-using content. One of the easiest ways to explain how taxonomy works is to show examples of taxonomy. Here are a few examples of how website taxonomy can be used to improve search results, browse by category, and automatically build pages on a website.
A taxonomy is a list of terms you use to categorize and find your information again, without having to look through every file, image, document, or web page. Using a taxonomy in a corporate, government, or organizational environment allows you to find and re-use content and helps your users search and browse for information. This presentation gives you the basics of taxonomy with examples to illustrate just how useful it is!
When I take clients through the process of usability testing, they have some typical questions at the beginning of the process. How does usability testing work? How do we make sure everything is set up properly? How do we recruit users? Here’s an overview of what to expect as you go through the process of preparing for usability testing.
Many aspects of usability testing are under your control. Set your goals and your dates, create your test plan and execute. Analyze the results and put together themes from the feedback. Participants can tell you about their habits, how your website fits into their work/life, and how they would ideally use your site. Taken all together, you'll be able to uncover many issues with your website as well as gather valuable insight into your users' behaviours.
With every usability testing project I do, there are a couple of standard choices we need to explore and make. Here's a quick overview of the options.
User research allows us to improve our websites, intranets, products, and services. Sometimes I work with clients who are new to user research and they need to know what the process of user research is like and what to expect as an outcome of user research. Before we assume that user research will answer all our questions and fully illuminate a dark abyss, it's important to set expectations for what user research can do for us. If you're thinking about tackling a project with research in it, here are a few things to be prepared for.
On the surface, audience based navigation seems to make sense. In user-centred design, we design for the user. If we group information based on the different users we've identified, then the user will know where to look on the website. In my early days, I did once try my hand at audience based navigation and quickly learned a few things (and felt an immense amount of frustration).
You've probably heard that better user experience on a website is good for SEO, but what does that actually mean? There are a few specific ways information architecture and taxonomy improve SEO.
Maybe the website isn't well organized. Maybe users don't take the time to look through the website. Maybe users have had bad experiences in the past and can't be bothered to look on the website. Rest assured there are you can improve content findability with better website information architecture.
Here's a roundup of the articles and presentation for Diagnosing and Solving Content Problems from the 2014 Intelligent Content Conference.