Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why start with Information Architecture

Designers majorly face this problem or commit mistake of starting on web design based on some rough feedback on board or paper on even on skype given to them by their clients or managers.
Usually these are requirements which are in a designer's lap, for e.g. a small e-commerce portal for a clothing line with some products to show online for both men and women where users can browse, search and finally buy some product online. So next the client says we need a jazzy home page and one category page template and a template for about us and contact us and here we are done. E-commerce website design in 4 templates! Great the design gets ready in 2 weeks time after some minor iterations and the site goes live in the 3rd week.

After 6 months or an year, the same customer might even come back for a redesign saying things didn't work out. May be the design is not catchy enough to hold on to their customers. But actually there is no one to tell the client that it is the "GOALS" which their customers never achieved which they would have wanted to. Goals which could have only come out in foray if there was enough consideration on the "Information Architecture" of the entire website to enable users to reach to specific pages to achieve their GOAL on this clothing website i.e. buy same clothes online for which they had to travel 4 blocks.

The first step to fix this kind of situation would be to:

Educate your client
Explain it to your clients why it is so important to have an IA before you proceed towards the design itself. I try to convince people whom I work with by telling them how IA is the foundation of any website or an application. How it not only helps to create a solid site structure but also brings out user goals in highlight and also what navigational patterns should we try and use for these goals.

IA helps in keeping track of the project
IA usually starts along with requirement gathering so it keeps getting updated if the scope of the project gets updated and helps to keep a track of deadlines too. Great, it's a tracking tool too!

Meaningful use cases and site's goal
Once we have a IA in place various use cases based on the personas can be build around it. Definite navigation patterns can be identified thereby helping to bring out the actual purpose of the website. A sitemap can be prepared hereon and actual time/cost estimations can be derived which would be transparent to our clients and they know what they are paying for!

Effective use cases lead to accurate wireframes
Use cases based on a good IA helps in quick and error free wireframes and finally helps to jump in to the design more confidently and with meaningful information.

In the end clients are more positive since the cost and time efforts come out on a more transparent way to them and they too feel part of what s being created in a more convincing manner.

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