SpoolCast: Information Architecture Essentials

Jared Spool

October 6th, 2009

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Duration: 33m | 17MB
Recorded: August, 2009
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
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Donna Spencer is our long-time, go-to expert on the topic of Information Architecture. We’re happy to bring her stateside again for the upcoming User Interface 14 conference. Recently, I spoke with her, all the way from Australia, in advance of her trip to Boston.

I asked Donna, what happens when, one day, you’re asked into the boss’s office and they drop “the web site” and “information architecture” into your lap? Regardless of your experience, where do you begin? Donna says your first question should be, “Why do we bother to have a web site in the first place?” “What’s its purpose?” She says if you don’t get this out of the way first, you’ll run up against it when you’re further along the trail and it won’t be easy to deal with.

One strategy Donna likes is to work backwards. Start with what should not be on the site. Sometimes pruning your unnecessary or no longer timely content is an effective way of honing the site. You should ask, “What’s the value of this content? Is this still relevant?” Before you can answer this for certain, you need to research your users’ needs thoroughly. Along with establishing the site’s purpose, knowing your users is the most important step to begin with. These two items will work hand in hand.

I asked Donna, once you have these established, should we just dive right into the homepage and start making changes? Generally, the answer is no. A few initial homepage tweaks aren’t always bad, especially if you can get some quick wins there. Hopefully your research has revealed the site sections in most need of assistance. Starting there will often be productive. You should most likely start with the content pages, where more people enter your site and where they spend most of their time. Be sure that your content pages work for their specific content, as all your content will not likely be all cookie-cutter. Generally, Donna shies away from using Lorem Ipsum text for content page designs. Also, if you know your customers don’t generally begin on the homepage, don’t create your navigation by starting with the homepage.

Your goal should be to get something informed in front of people quickly. At some point you’ll need to take what you know and create a first draft. You’ll have to make some of it up. Don’t expect it to be 100% right. Check it against your research, show it to people within the organization, and tweak. Show it to users and see if it functions well. The good and bad should become apparent once you put it through these paces.

These points are of course just a few of the highlights from our conversation. Please join us for the complete discussion in the podcast. If you found this useful, you’ll likely also be interested in Donna’s full-day workshop at UI14, Information Architecture Essentials, Best Practices for Organizing Your Site’s Content, which was UI13′s highest-rated workshop, newly revised and updated. You won’t want to miss it.

Have you had the task of redesigning your site’s IA just dropped in your lap out of the blue? Where would or did you start? Let us know in the comments!

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