In our last post in this series, we discussed the problems posed by the sheer size and breadth of the information economy today. Sites are now forced to compete with one another not just for hits, but for increasingly fleeting and scarce user attention spans.
Approaching this problem requires a multi-faceted strategy. Among very technical things such as site optimisation, it’s also vital that we consider information architecture, or the way information is structured and arranged within a digital info-space.
Going back to basics when it comes to the structure of your site is imperative if you’re looking to make navigation intuitive—and thus secure the love and attention that your site deserves. Today, we’ll be discussing the different things you need to consider about your users before developing your own ‘info arch’ strategy.
Knowing your user
Broadly speaking, there are a couple of very important things you need to know about your users before you begin to develop your site’s architecture.
Firstly, you need to know what kind of people are going to be visiting your site. Thanks to the major, almost-creepy advancements in analytics technology, this is easier than ever before. Analytics allow you to understand what kind of searches bring up your site, what kind of people are searching for it, and even their location.
However, knowledge of your potential users shouldn’t stop there. Analytics information can and should inform a wider understanding of your audience. What kind of people are most likely to be searching for your site? What role do they play within their organisations? If they are individual users, they are going to be drawn in by different things—so what motivates them? Where are they searching from?
Structure this process like any other scientific research. Make hypotheses based on your assumptions, and then find out if they’re true. This comprehensive guide to user research is extremely helpful.
This is very closely tied to user identity, but is distinct enough to warrant its own section.
It is perhaps not always necessary to research your user’s needs, but your ability to meet their demands is going to be severely hampered if you don’t have accurate feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t.
You need to have a very clear idea of what information users are going to be looking for when they visit your site—as well as how they are going to use that information. For example, if your site represents a cab company, one of the first (perhaps only) pieces of information a visitor is going to be looking for is a phone number to order a cab. A good information architecture decision would be to prominently display these contact details at the top of every page on the site, perhaps even multiple times.
Meanwhile, if you’re a designer offering a range of different services (like me!), the bulk of your traffic is most likely going to be coming from search engines. Those users are going to be looking for one of your several services, so it’s therefore important for them to be able to find that specific service as easily as everything else you have to offer.
One interesting way of putting the needs of your user first could be a “user goals-oriented” information architecture – what’s their immediate goal when they arrive on your homepage? Large ‘mega menus’ are really not going to help here. Keep it simple:
While good information architects base their work upon empathy with their users, their perspective alone is not enough. It is vital that you get to know your users in as much detail as possible. This way, you can ensure that your site is as attention-grabbing as it needs to be.
In our next post in this series, we’re going to be discussing how exactly you can go about structuring information architecture using all this user information.