When we reconfigured the Information Architecture (IA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association website (UUA.org) in 2011, we relied heavily on user input (from surveys, constituent feedback, and data from Google Analytics) and testing (surveys, card sorting, and tree testing) to maximize our chance of success. Here are some of the resources we used and the lessons we learned.
We had a few goals when we started the project:
When egos or ideas conflict during the process, put it to the users. Everyone has the tendency to believe that their way of thinking is somewhat universal, but letting a whole bunch of people show you how they think about your content will clarify where the best home is for each of your resources.
In most cases, a topic-based or a task-based organization will serve people best.
Why audience navigation usually doesn’t work gives some fantastic examples illustrating why people find audience-based navigation confusing. An audience-based organization can work if the groups in question are totally distinct and separate from one another, and if the tasks related to each group are totally different. The UUA Health Plan page is a pretty good example of an audience-based organization (the headers) with a subsequent task-based organization (the bullet points). Most of the time, our audiences aren't so distinct, so a task- or topic-based structure will probably work better.
Communications and Social Media for UU Congregations is a good example of a topic-based structure. How to Run the Welcoming Congregation Program is a good task-based list.
You can have more than one kind of organization—you might use your sidebar to organize things topically, and your landing page to organize by task (or vice versa). (Either way, good usability and search engine optimization dictate that everything in the sidebar ought to also be linked in the page body, and everything in a section ought to be included in the sidebar.)
Sometimes an alphabetical organization might work, if the items you're listing have universally agreed-upon names and spellings (like U.S. states).
Listing by importance can also be handy: people will pay more attention to the top of your text area than anyplace else on the page, so putting your most popular or most important resources there is rarely a losing proposition.
Often data from your site's analytics can offer support to one approach or another, and content experiements (A/B tests) can help you determine what works and what doesn't for the people trying to use your site.
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Last updated on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.
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Treejack, from Optimal Workshop, is one of the tools we used to make sure people could find things where we put them.
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