In her last post, Realtors.org content strategist Sara Zailskas explained why it takes more than intuition or seriousness of purpose to consistently deliver engaging content. In this post she says why working with an information architect is an important ingredient in achieving this.
Most recently in my job as a web content strategist I’ve been working with our information architect. I love working with him because it means I’m in a meaty project — in this case a website redesign.
Suddenly, we’re not just talking about the editorial content we’re putting on our web pages in the moment – alternative story forms! multimedia! — but diving into how we organize and present that information on our website permanently.
You can read a ton on information architecture, but I summarize it this way: organizing and labeling information so it’s easy to find.
The IA Challenge
Do a quick scan of your publication’s table of contents or the navigation at the top of your website; you should be able to tell what type of information is in each section – each “bin,” if you will — by the label you’ve given it.
For example, if your audience most often searches for products, do you have a products tab in the main navigation or another front-and-center spot? If so, you’ve accomplished one of the many goals of good information architecture.
IA (as it’s often referred to) goes hand in hand with content strategy, as one blog follower rightfully noted last time I wrote. In the project we’re working on now, my colleague and I examined what our users click on the most according to statistics – not our gut or our impression — to give us an idea of how to prioritize information.
Later, he presents recommendations on navigation and design via a diagram of boxes – a wireframe — representing content, so we can visually see what content options our users will see and where they should be placed.
To get to that point though, we didn’t just examine statistics. We also went through every category of information the group publishes and considered where they’ve been putting it.
We then created a content map based on the guiding question of all things user experience — what makes sense? – and proposed a plan for site navigation. What should we include and not include in those nav bars? We analyzed everything.
Going through this process, I wordsmith on the language we use to describe each section. You know how editors want writers to write a headline or a one-sentence summary of the point of their story? This is what we’re doing: making sure the two or three words we’re using to label a content bin actually represent what we’re putting in it.
Application to the Business Publication World
The process continues, and we’re not done yet. Personally, this is the first more formalized application of information architecture I’ve gone through because I’m new here; my past job as a magazine editor didn’t include access to an information architect.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t talk about it though – we just used different language. In fact, our editorial had our staff do an information taxonomy during one magazine’s redesign because he knew we have to revisit each department and what we were calling it, as well as make it easy to understand for our readers.
I think we began the discussion by asking where we put information on green building (With products? News? Design?) and if anyone could define what the heck “Business Solutions” – one magazine department’s name – were (isn’t everything we present a business solution?). We had headaches after a lot of debate but ended up improving it in the end (“Green is everywhere!” “Business solutions mean nothing”).
In my every day job tasks, I can consult on the best way to present whatever information topic you want: the best format for the right audiences in the right place, where on the website it should go, etc. But no matter how hard I try to best promote information, if my site’s information architecture isn’t set up well, no one’s going to be able to find it.
Do yourself and your audiences a favor by at least thinking about the bins of information within your publication or websites and informally mapping it out. I promise you’ll begin to post or assign content more accurately and will be better prepared the next time you’re lucky enough to dive into a redesign.