We are constantly being told that the most important factor in gaining traffic and engaging visitors to your site is regular, quality content—and lots of it.
Indeed, a clear and well thought-out content strategy is vital for reaching new audiences and clients. However, if faced with an information overload, people are quickly going to turn away. Your site is no longer just competing for Google traffic. You are also competing for their attention in an increasingly scarce attention span economy.
There are a number of ways of structuring your content in order to maximise your attention-grabbing ability. Without going into too much detail, these include optimising page load-time, minimising page size, and designing your site for mobile first. These very functional and instrumental techniques form a strong—but very basic—foundation for ensuring accessibility and avoiding user alienation (such as the 32% of users who abandon slow sites within one to five seconds of page load).
However, this isn’t the full story when it comes to engaging users. Not only does your site have to be technically optimised and your content well-structured and regularly published—information also needs to be easily accessible and quickly digestible. More specifically, your site navigation system needs to be intuitive. This can only really be achieved with the help of information architecture.
What is information architecture?
Put simply, information architecture describes the way in which information is organised and structured.
Although here we are discussing it in relation to digital information, good information architecture actually takes many cues from library and information science—namely, the principles of classification, organisation, and taxonomy which make large amounts of information easily navigable and accessible.
A good real-world example of information architecture, then, would be a library utilising the Dewey decimal system. The very nature of public and reference libraries means that they demand uniform, universal consistency across facilities—so reference systems such as Dewey represent an effective response to the particular issue of structuring information in a large, public, physical facility.
This illustrates the principle underlying all information architecture: designing solutions. While there are many common and recurring information architectures, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can solve every issue. Instead, there are always options. Users should not have to really think about how they’re going to access information. Rather, sites must be structured and designed in an intuitive way to enable users to seamlessly access information.
Working out which option is the most appropriate solution to a particular situation—to your particular users, to the information in question, and to your organisation—is the most important process for developing information architecture. It’s also, unfortunately, the most individual – and therein lies the challenge.
Thinking user; developing information.
Obviously, we’re interested in making a site functional. More than that, we’re interested in securing the precious, scarce attention span users have. While the web and websites have become infinitely larger and more complex than any public library, the basic principles of information architecture remain.
By returning to these very basic—but very important—ideas, we are able to push past the complex issues of user engagement that arise from this info-saturated nexus. Really, the question that needs asking is, “how is a user going to approach this information”? Information architecture therefore relies heavily on your empathy, as a designer, with your user.
In our next post in this series, we look at how you can approach the issue of knowing your users.