Information architecture, or IA, is the science of organizing and structuring content in a logical and user-friendly way. If you’re designing a website or app, the information architecture has a huge on how easy it is to navigate. So, if you want to create a great user experience, you need to understand the principles of information architecture.
What is Information Architecture?
Information architecture has roots in both library science and cognitive psychology. When designing the information architecture of an ecommerce website or application, you can think of yourself as a digital librarian. Just as a real librarian organizes books, you organize content across a digital product. Essentially, you’re asking, ‘What information should go where?’ and ‘Which elements are most important and should be given priority?’
Good IA should contribute to your positive UX in the first place. As consumers, we’re accustomed to finding exactly what we need quickly and easily. If your ecommerce site is tricky to navigate, the odds are high that your customers will leave very soon and go on searching for required products or services elsewhere. So, it’s absolutely crucial that your IA be logical and user-friendly. This includes making sure that each page or screen is structured in a way that makes it easier for the user to achieve that goal.
A great example of a website that has mastered the art of organizing and labeling content and thus boosted its usability and findability is Tavola online store. It’s evident that developers invested a great deal of time and brain power in defining their IA. The website in question has been designed with end users in mind and how well they can navigate, search, and use filters when searching for required items.
You should also try and focus on the same aspects when designing an ecommerce website. Some of your users might have a specific item in their mind. Say, a pair of new shoes for a job interview. To find relevant items as quickly as possible, they want to filter by style, color, or shoe size. Others might be looking for inspiration, in which case they’ll want to browse and check out some curated styles on your website. So, the IA should accommodate different user needs, helping a customer reach the desired destination as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The IA also considers the overall navigation of your website, making sure that the user’s journey from one page to another is logical.
In a nutshell, information architecture ensures that things are where they should be, creating a pleasant UX that doesn’t require the user to think too hard. So, logical IA equals good UX, which should be your top priority as an ecommerce website owner.
How to Design Your IA of Your Website
Now you’re going to learn how to design the information architecture of your website step by step. Throughout the process, be sure to involve the people who actually create the content. With their help you’ll create a high-level overview of the content before adding in finer details.
Group your content
The goal here is to group similar content together in order to come up with logical menus. This is a great time to conduct some card sorting sessions. Card sorting is an excellent participatory design technique which shows us how users group different items. First, you need to select a set of topics based on the content you’re planning to include on your website. You’ll write a different topic on a separate card, shuffle them into a random order, and then ask users to sort them into piles. The aim of this technique is to get users to group information in a way that makes sense to them. This can go a long way in helping you understand your users’ mental models. After a few such sessions, you’ll get an idea of how your content should be grouped.
Create a site map
Based on the content groups you’ve come up with, you’re all set to craft a sitemap, which serves as a visual representation of content on your website. It looks like a family tree and establishes a content hierarchy. For example, at the top level you might have a Home page. A child page of this parent page could be the About Us page. Then, you might have another child page stemming from the About Us page, such as Company Mission or Meet the Team.
Outline the navigational structure
With your sitemap in place, it’s time to think about how your customers will get from A to B. Strong website navigation comprises a collection of UI elements connected in a meaningful way. They can be menus, bread crumbs, and filters.
The navigational structure sets out all the possible pathways the user might take to get to each page, for example, via the main navigation or the footer.
Label your content
By now, you know where your content will live and how your users will find it. The next step involves refining and labeling your content. Labels tell your users what they can expect to see when they click. So, make sure they are accurate, meaningful, and concise. It’s also important to keep the overall tone of your brand in mind. To that end, you want to collaborate closely with your content team.
Create wireframes and conduct user testing
You’ve established what sort of content needs to be included on your ecommerce website design, how it should be grouped and interlinked, and what each content group should be called. To round off the process, you’ll create wireframes and conduct user testing.
There are several methods you can avail yourself of to test your IA. Among the most popular and effective ones are card sorting, tree testing, and click testing. By testing early and often, you will ensure that the final design is user-friendly, logical, and easy to navigate. All crucial components of good UX!