Information Architecture

Challenges on a Large Information Architecture Project (and a bit of levity for your day)

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!

Why Is Information Architecture Helpful?

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.

What Is Information Architecture?

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.

Website Search Sucks: A Common Website Problem

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.

Website Navigation by Audience: 3 Reasons Not to Use It

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).

The Basics of Taxonomy Use and Maintenance

Keeping a taxonomy up-to-date will be very useful in repurposing content on the site, tagging content properly so you can find it again, and allowing visitors to filter the content. While this article generally refers to a website or site, a taxonomy can be applied to any objects within a content management system (CMS), or digital asset management (DAM) system, or other software that controls files. What Is a Taxonomy? A taxonomy is a fancy name for a controlled list of terms. You can use the taxonomy values to classify, categorize your pages, content objects, images, and other various files. A back-of-the-book index is used to find significant references of a topic or a person within the book's content. A taxonomy is very similar, allowing you to keep track of your content and find it again. When you create a page, you tag it with a term. When you want to find that page again, you can look it up by that term. Other people can find it this way, too. If you have used Amazon or Zappo's, you've used taxonomies. When you visit Zappos.com, you can narrow down shoe results by colour, size, width, brand, shoe style, shoe material. These lists are all values in a taxonomy applied to a specific shoe. It lets you narrow down your results to find the types of shoes you want. Why Use a Taxonomy? A taxonomy allows you to find all content related to a certain topic. If you wanted to find [...]

When to Use A Hierarchical or A Faceted Taxonomy

While doing a presentation on the Principles of Taxonomy, I was asked the question of "How do you know when to choose a hierarchical taxonomy or a faceted taxonomy?" What did I answer? When to Use a Hierarchical Taxonomy Hierarchical taxonomies are best suited to things where the relationship is well known. Denton (2009) wrote an article about faceted classification that talks about when to not use a faceted classification. He says, Hierarchies and trees (imagine indented lists) are best when the entities in question are viewed in such a way that they have one dimension of classification. Hierarchies divide and redivide things into groups where each new group is a sub-species of its parent group; everything that is true of a group is also true of its sub-groups and so on down... The classic example is Linnaeus' animal kingdom taxonomy. It is classified based on physical attributes. Mammals have hair, give birth to live young. Viviparous quadrupeds are all four legged animals that give birth to live young. Fish are cold blooded, live in the water, and lay eggs. We could, however, re-do this animal kingdom to group species by genetics. This would show a more accurate hierarchical structure, though to normal people, we may not be able to see the relation between items. If you are a cell phone manufacturer, you might have a class of phone and specific phones within that phone line. For example, Apple has the iPhone with specific iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S. Hierarchical [...]

Information Architecture Deliverables

In information architecture, there are a few deliverables meant to communicate the information design to all the stakeholders. Here’s a brief overview of what can be delivered on an IA project and why these things are important. This list of deliverables is by no means exhaustive. These are some of the typical ones I work with on a project, but I also do stakeholder interviews, user interviews, scenarios, etc. With the links I’ve provided, you can browse through the websites to learn more. Content Audit or Content Inventory A content audit or inventory looks at the content on a website, intranet, extranet or software program to see what is redundant, out of date or trivial and also to see what information can be kept. The audit/inventory can identify the different types of content needing to be accommodated in the site map, wireframes and design. This content audit/inventory is used with any new content needed for the site Learn more: http://usability.gov/methods/design_site/inventory.html Taxonomy and Metadata A taxonomy is essentially a way to categorize content in a content management system or digital asset management system (or records management system, etc.). To create taxonomies, the information architect looks at the existing content and finds the important words, looks at the new content needing to be accommodated on the site and finds the important words, and then creates a structure that spells out these words and their relationships. A taxonomy is a controlled list of terms with one or more terms being applied to each [...]