Category Archives: information architecture

>Navigating the Maze that is the Web


Even the most experienced users of the web come across difficult web sites from time to time.  Navigating the web can quite literally be a maze.  Check out this mouse maze to experience the frustration that comes from inconsistent navigation.  Navigation schemes differ from site to site, and even some times within the same site!  Why do we encounter sites such as those?  Quite simply because the people who create them probably never knew much about web usability.  Now, I’m not trying to knock anyone’s website but let’s face it, not every site on the web is usable.

Tips for increasing web usability….

The following tips come from (

  1. Motivate users – you need to draw in your users to your site
  2. Define user task flow – your site design needs to match what the users expect
  3. Architecture – it’s 80% of usability.  Navigation needs to be intuitive and obvious to the user.  Remember – if they can’t find it in 3 clicks, they’re gone.  
  4. Affordance means obvious – leave no doubt as to what you mean with everything in your design
  5. Replicate – learn from others and use the resources available to you
  6. Usability test along the way – test early and test often to avoid headaches later in the process
  7. Know the technology limitations – Identify and optimize for target browsers and user hardware.Test HTML, JavaScript, etc for compatibility.  
  8. Know user tolerances – Users are impatient. Design for a 2-10 second maximum download. Reuse header graphics so they can load from cache. Avoid excessive scrolling.  
  9. Multimedia – be discriminating – animation can be great for drawing attention but don’t overdo it
  10. Use a stats package – monitor traffic through your site. Which pages pique user interest? Which pages make users leave? Adjust your site accordingly. 

As you can see there is a lot that goes into designing a usable web site.  What may be usable to you, may not be usable to someone else.  I know from experience that what I find to be usable is many times not usable to others.  I have a tendency to look at web sites from the perspective of the developer of the site and I have to make a conscious effort to place myself in the role of a user of the site I am building.  This is not an easy task to accomplish so I rely on the opinions of others to make sure I am on the right track with a site design.  Hopefully these tips can help you create a more usable site.


    >Information Architecture

    >Information architecture can sometimes be a difficult topic to explain to other people.  According to the Information Architecture Institute it is defined as:

    • The structural design of shared information environments.
    • The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
    • An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

    So what exactly does that mean?
    Since IA can sometimes be difficult to explain, the Information Architecture Institute has a section of their website for “elevator pitches.”  These are essentially a way of defining IA in a way that more people can grasp the concept of it and are worth checking out if you are unsure of what IA really is.   

    Examples of IA

    • Content Inventory
    • User Profile
    • Use Case
    • Sitemap
    • Wireframes
    • Paper Prototype
    • Story Board
    • Style Guide

    From this list, I found the user profile (persona) to be interesting.  The user profile will help you to understand the target audience.  It will have information such as name, occupation, gender, education, computing and web experience among others.  

    So how does a user profile fit in with information architecture?
    At first it may seem like it doesn’t.  However, you have to understand your users to be able to structure the information to meet their needs.  Having user profiles created can help the information architect to stay focused on the user and their needs.  These profiles are also important for helping make other decisions related to information architecture.  For example, using the profiles the information architect could get an idea of how high a level of Internet skills that most of the users have.  If most of the uses are not very technically skilled then the information architect can design the structure for the site to be easy to use for a non-skilled user.  In this case, complex navigation would not be a best fit for users less technically inclined.