Information architecture & navigation

The problem that information architecture solves is a big one — it helps us to get organized.

As you probably already know, organization is important if you actually want to get something done. When you organize your website content properly, it helps you to make sure you’ve included everything you need, and that each feature is appropriately weighted, so the most important topics include the most content.

More importantly, it helps your site visitors, so they can accomplish their goals before they give up trying. This is turn helps your site achieve its objectives more often. New prospects will be more likely to contact you, prospects further along in their evaluation are more likely to become customers, and current customers are more likely to stay, and tell their friends.

Information architecture concepts

Information architecture recognizes the patterns inherent in your website content, and organizes it so that visitors can easily find the information that is important to them.

A good architecture categorizes your content in a logical way, with major categories at the highest level, and appropriate subcategories below. Citations or cross references allow one branch in your category tree to reference information in another. The depth of your category tree should be dictated by the amount of content you are planning to present, but generally, a more horizontal tree with fewer levels is preferred on a website, because it allows the user to reach desired content with fewer clicks and page loads.

Translating information architecture into website menus

Depending on the nature of our client’s business, we prefer to divide their site into two to four major product/service categories, which will appear on the main navigation menu. Subcategories of these, if needed, may be accessed in a variety of ways, such as through drop-down menus or fixed lists of items under each major heading.

The Home page

The home page of a website serves two important functions. Firstly, it acts as an index to the remainder of the site, allowing visitors to quickly and easily navigate to the content that they are seeking.

In addition, it serves a purpose similar to the cover of a book, welcoming visitors and providing visual impact to set the right mood for the experience that they are about to enjoy. Typically, this is accomplished in the same way it is on the book cover — through strong visual imagery and a small number of high impact words incorporated into the design.

The Inside pages

The remaining pages of most websites use the same, consistent format, as do the pages of most books. A large area in the center of the page is generally reserved for content, while right and/or left columns may be used for navigation, ads, testimonials and other supplementary content. Generally, inside pages all have the same header, footer and menuing, although the specific content within these structures may vary from section to section. Often, a breadcrumb trail of page links is employed on larger sites, so visitors can see at a glance where they are in the navigation hierarchy.

There is an important advantage in maintaining consistency in the page format and navigation. Your visitors never feel disoriented — they always know where they are, and they know how to navigate to any other location on the site.