Information Architecture, Usability & Accessibility, Web Design, Web development

On Information Architecture and user-testing – Part 1

Alexander Rehm on Information ArchitectureA friend of mine has just gotten his first freelance project: working on a website for a friend of his: the website is about guided tours around Pembrokeshire and the Carmarthen (Wales). Effectively the requirements for him were as follows:

We need to design and build as website for a small company offering guided tours for families or groups going to Wales. The idea is to sell the beauty of Wales as well as the services for either pre-set tours or tailor-made tours based on the client’s wishes.

So in effect he had a very good brief in front of him already. He is a very good designer, and he knows a lot about coding, so he was confident in producing a very good website. The first drafts he made are looking very promising, nice graphics and use of fonts. When I asked him how he was setting the site up and link products and information together he looked a bit stumped. “You know, I haven’t thought of that really, I wanted to come to that when times arises.”…So I told him a bit about Information Architecture and how I approach my client’s websites. I thought it might be handy for someone – especially considering that this is why I am writing this blog in the first place 😉

[Some of the stuffhere may sound like stuff you’d know already, but its always good to hear / read it again]

Pre-requisites:

Know the client’s customers

Very obvious, but nontheless neglected at times: who are you actually developing a website for? It is certainly no use if you work on an image and flash heavy website with quirky navigation if the target audience is “45-60 years of age, with dialup and limited internet knowledge”.
At the very beginning of the project it is always good to get some sort of design brief over to your client asking the following (marketing) questions:

  • Who is your target market?
  • Do you wish to target a certain age range or gender?
  • Do you wish to target a certain culture or area? (say for example the audience is the Far East, the colour theory tells us that different cultures / countries think differently of colours)
  • And why? (this question may be obsolete depending on the answers)

So already we have a bit of a clearer picture of what we are trying to achieve in the speccing out, designing and developing of the website.

Know the client’s competitors

The most obvious question, who are the client’s competitors? Speak to the client about it, ask him to give you a list of websites in his/her field that he/she considers to be competitors. Most of the time you will get a clearer picture of what is actually expected of you, and you can also take inspiration from these sites. That doesn’t mean copying they already have, it means adding these sites to the list of sites you should research and look into in regards to flow, navigation, look and feel and usability.

[NB: it makes sense asking this question if you are being approached for work, it weeds out the prospective clients from those who haven’t even thought about their own website / business]

Know the product – and its userbase

It really helps if you know anything about the product. Say for example the website was about a PDA. You may have one yourself, you use it for its calendar, for texting and as Sat-Nav. However that doesn’t make you part of the userbase yet. I use my PDA for its calendar, its email facilities, its extensive address-book capabilities, for jotting down notes during a call, as a dictaphone and occasionally to get me from A to B. Unless you know the capabilities and what its target userbase is planning to do with it you may well be missing the point (or at least some of them) when working on that website.

In the case of my friend’s project, we are talking about a product in form of a service for families or groups who have not been to Wales before and who are interested in learning a bit more about the country or location they are in. They would be expecting the guide to know the place, to show them around and most likely give them directions or answer questions like “where is the best place to eat” or “is there a shop for this and that somewhere”.

Know the client’s current website – and his expectations

If a client approaches you about a website redesign it is worth asking the client what he/she likes about the current website and what they feel does not work. Is it the colours? Is it the design in relation to the target market? Can users not find the information they are after? Is the way to a product too difficult or is it hidden somewhere among a lot of other content? Do pages not link properly to each other? Are there too many fields for the user to fill out to get somewhere? Or is there just not enough on the site to give the user a reason to buy your product?

Right about now you should have a good idea of what the client is expecting of you and what you need to look out for. In part 2 I will discuss information architecture and user-testing the prototype or blueprint of the site.

Update:

Part 2 and Part 3 are online 🙂

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