Information architecture (IA) is the core of the user experience (UX). It refers to how we design and build our websites. IA is crucial to the success of your online presence and is often overlooked – or perhaps not well understood – by school marketing teams.
As far back as human history, there has been a need to organize and categorize words, information, data, and things. The Dewey Decimal System is a well-known example of a practical library classification system that utilizes relative index (subject) and relative location, and now includes WebDewey for online access.
What Is Information Architecture?
Information architecture (IA) focuses on how information is structured on your website and mobile apps. IA helps people navigate your website, allowing them to easily and quickly understand what makes your school unique, special and differentiates your school from your competitors.
IA encompasses an emerging set of best practices used to organize and label websites, social networks, forums, and other online communities to make it easier for users to access and navigate. Interestingly, there is an emerging community focused on applying design principles and architecture to the online landscape.
A well-designed, user-friendly website or other online property will help people understand your school better and make it easier for them to find what they need. The basic idea of IA is to find commonalities in content, create categories of related topics, and link webpages to other webpages based on the same topic. Optimizing for search engines (SEO) is a part of information architecture because it helps people find information easier.
The Principles of Information Architecture
There are principles of IA that guide the work of web developers or should, sometimes without them even realizing it. Once a web developer understands and applies these principles, it becomes easy to solve most IA problems, even if they are quite complex.
Here are the main principles of information architecture.
The Principle of Objects
The initial stage of developing a website strategy is analyzing all content “objects” and deciding how users will interact with each one. The Principle of Objects expects web developers to view content as an organic whole. At this stage, a central image that represents your school should be chosen, and the developer team should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the content that will be presented.
The Principle of Selection
This principle recognizes that too much information, and too many choices, make it difficult for people to decide what to do next. The Principle of Selection requires web developers to create pages that are relevant and valuable to users while limiting their number to make it easier for people to process the information presented to them.
The Principle of Disclosure
The Principle of Disclosure recognizes that humans are limited in terms of the amount of information they can take in at one time. For them to be able to comprehend the information on a page, the best practice is to display on a page only as much information as is needed for them to know what to expect next.
The Principle of the Main Entrance
The Principle of the Main Entrance calls for developers to consider that, while the homepage is usually the main entrance to a website, users may enter the website from other pages so the architecture of the site needs to make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for, no matter which page they land on.
The Principle of Growth
The Principle of Growth asks developers to take into account new and updated information. Most sites expand over time with new content being added and updated continually. The entire website and search tools should be scalable so the site can grow, regardless of what types of content are added in the future.
The Principle of Multiple Classification
The Principle of Multiple Classification asks developers to take into account that different users will access information on the site differently based on their individual needs, behaviors, tasks and scenarios. For example, one user may want to search information using a search bar while someone else may prefer to browse the site to find what they’re looking for.
The Principle of Focused Navigation
The Principle of Focused Navigation requires developers to keep information within a single navigation silo. It is the developer’s task to ensure users are able to effectively navigate the site without confusion or frustration. If categories are not established and maintained, people will become confused and will likely leave the site without finding the information they need.
The Principle of Examples
Visual clues, or examples, greatly improve the user experience. This helps users navigate the site easier and understand better what the label for a category means. For example, if you have categories on your site like early childhood, lower school, middle school, and senior school, use images with kids in each age group to give people a visual clue of each category.
Keep in mind it may be necessary to conduct user research to gain a better understanding of what people need and want from your website. Research methods such as card sorting (participants group topics into categories based on what feels natural to them) can unlock new insights into how information should be organized on your site.
Good IA is important because it will give your school a competitive advantage. Users want to access your website with the least amount of effort possible and will choose to use the website that creates the most effortless, pleasant experience for them.