Have you ever sat around a large table with a group of people working on a giant jig saw puzzle? Some people are really good at it. They understand the puzzle. Others are content to find border pieces. It takes patience. It brings the group together while they put it all together.
What if you have the chance to build your own house? You’ll hire an architect who listens to your goals, likes, dislikes and dreams. From that a plan is established. From the first shovel of dirt to the last drop of paint, it’s built with you in mind. You’re the mental model. You’re the person or family who will be using the final product.
Pretend, for a moment, that you are The Creator. You want a tree. Where do you put it? What kind should it be? Who is it for? What does it do? If you want birds to use it, what might they need from the tree?
Underneath a tree is its information architecture. We don’t see it working in the background, but it’s there. It controls how the tree grows. It relies on input from above ground for its sustenance, such as water or interference from a close neighbor tree that makes it harder to find. This is “findability”. Our tree wants to be found by its “users” such as the birds who need it for their nests or a hot and thirsty human who needs its shade. The Creator knew in advance that this tree would be popular. It was designed to be talked about. With some pruning of branches, good soil or perhaps a tire swing for a visiting grandchild, it could certainly be talked about and referred to by others who found and love the tree. With enough social networking and marketing, the entire planet could be populated with trees.
Information Architecture is Your Canvas
My favorite artist likes to work on blank white 8 x 6 feet canvas and larger. When he performs live art with music for an audience, he enters a zone where he is the creator. From the outside, the paint splashes and brush strokes look chaotic. It’s only when you stand a few feet away when its finished that you see he’s painted a street in New York’s Times Square, by memory. People feel drawn inside the canvas. They often feel emotional. Sometimes the details he has added, that weren’t obvious at first, trigger a memory or a moment, similar to how we might feel when a certain song comes on the radio.
Can you imagine building an online store where visitors arrive and are emotionally moved to make a purchase? We’re not there yet. Sometimes in the effort to provoke feelings, a site will rely on videos, rotating images and artistic Flash presentations designed to lure you into the web site. Despite how fun this is to build and watch, the distraction, download time, and typically strange navigation make completing a task frustrating. Information architecture covers many areas.
For persons looking for how it used for search engine optimization or user experience design, the emphasis is on organizing information so that tasks can be performed, pages are easy to find and index and will appear at the top of search results.
This is a tall order and absolutely not easy. I have notepads on my desk of sketches where I try and work out the entire foundation of a web site and organize it for navigation, searchability and easy task completion. Every element I put on the page, from a link label, to an image, to where a navigation link makes the most sense is attached to a round of questions in my head. Who is the site for? What are the products and what is the best way to organize and present them for people and search engines? Do I need hubs or groups and if so, how do I connect them to other levels? Where do I put the lead task, once I understand what that is. It’s goes on and on…
You can spot a web site that has not had a proper information architecture prepared for it. The homepage shows everything at once. It’s crammed with products, ads, redundant navigation (based on the fear principle that says, “If they didn’t find this earlier on the page, here it is again and again.”), no breadcrumbs on inside pages and overall feeling you get while looking at it is sheer exhaustion.
This may be a factor in the increase of persons seeking expert help with blog setup and design. Much of the foundation is already finished.
Fear Not – IA Help Is Here
There has been a spike in interest, so the following are our recent writings for you to choose from:
When Good SEO Becomes Bad Information Architecture by Shari Thurow
Site Navigation & Information Architecture Fundamentals For SEOs by Kim Krause Berg
Key Information Concepts Every SEO Should Know by Shari Thurow