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Lesson 3 Determining needs
Objective Describe how user needs determine information architecture choices.

Website Information Architecture

As an information architect, you play a crucial role in shaping the structure of information on a website based on user needs. The process involves organizing content in a way that users can understand and navigate easily, facilitating a smooth and intuitive user experience. Here’s how user needs can influence various information architecture (IA) choices in web design:
  1. User Research**: The foundation of any IA work is understanding who the users are and what they need. Conducting user research through interviews, surveys, and analytics helps identify user goals, behaviors, and pain points. This data is used to inform the structure and prioritization of information.
  2. Content Inventory and Audit**: Knowing what content exists and how it serves user needs is essential. An inventory and audit assess the quality and relevance of content. User needs help in deciding what content is necessary, what can be removed, and what should be highlighted.
3. **Categorization and Taxonomy**: Based on user language and understanding, a taxonomy for classifying and organizing content should be developed. User-centric categories help users find information quickly rather than navigating through company-centric jargon. 4. **Navigation Design**: User needs determine navigation design. If users need quick access to specific types of content or functions, those elements should be prominent and accessible in the site’s navigation. Simplified navigation structures that resonate with the user’s mental model reduce the learning curve and enhance findability. 5. **Search Systems**: If users need to search often, a robust search system with filters, facets, and suggestions is vital. The system should reflect the users’ vocabulary and offer alternatives and corrections for misspellings or related queries. 6. **Labeling Systems**: The terminology used on the site must be intuitive and recognizable to the users. User needs can dictate whether labels are more formal or conversational, technical or layman-friendly, based on their familiarity and comfort with the subject matter. 7. **Information Hierarchy**: Users’ primary needs should dictate the hierarchy of information. High-priority user tasks should be front and center, with secondary information accessible but not in the way. This hierarchy guides the visual design, helping users to navigate the site naturally. 8. **Page Layouts**: Different user tasks may require different page layouts. For instance, a complex task might need a more detailed page with various sections and instructions, while a simple task might be best served by a clean, minimalistic page. 9. **Accessibility**: Understanding the range of user abilities, including those with disabilities, is critical in creating a web design that is accessible to all. This means considering text sizes, color contrasts, keyboard navigability, alternative text for images, and more. 10. **Responsive Design**: Knowing how users access the site—whether on mobile devices, desktops, or tablets—informs how information should be structured across different platforms for consistency and usability. 11. **User Testing**: Iterative testing with real users can reveal whether the IA meets their needs. Observing how users interact with the site allows for continuous improvement of the IA. By centering the information architecture around user needs, the website becomes a tool that empowers users to complete their tasks efficiently, enhances user satisfaction, and ultimately serves the strategic objectives of the organization.
As you learned from the design process for signs and metaphors, you must never lose sight of the needs of your end users. There is no one correct methodology or approach for implementing information architecture, but there is one primary goal:
develop site navigation and architecture that users can interpret intuitively so they can use the site effectively.
To evaluate the information architecture needs of a site and to build an effective site, your team will need to do the following:
  1. Understand the users' needs and what influences their interpretation and use of the site.
  2. Organize the information into a clear, workable structure before designing and developing other components of the site.
  3. Design navigation systems that support the content and the needs of users.
  4. Supplement the navigation with alternative navigational features such as search, site maps, and indexes.
  5. Ensure good communication of ideas between team members, the client, and end users.
  6. Test, retest, and update aspects of the site as the understanding of the user's environment increases.

Know your Users

As with designing signs and metaphors, understanding the users' needs is critical. The best way for you to understand that perspective is to have users tell you and show you what they need to interpret and navigate through a site comfortably and effectively. When you ask users to try using an alpha or beta version of the site, certain patterns of use typically surface. For example, if nine out of ten users do not click on a logo that you've placed in the upper left-hand corner of every page on the site, chances are that visual element needs to be redesigned to better communicate its purpose.
There are a number of approaches your Web site development team can take to evaluate your users' needs. They include the following:
  1. Conduct an audience analysis and study it with the goal of gaining as much relevant information as possible about the audience.
  2. Speak with those who know the audience well (for example, marketing).
  3. Have users participate in discussions about the design and architecture of the site.
  4. Create several usage scenarios for the site. Make a list of the kinds of users and imagine the kinds of things that they would be interested in. Validate the usage scenarios with users.

A key tool for helping evaluate the information architecture needs of the site is the Site Planner.
Question: If your primary navigation feature is a nav bar and hyperlinks, what are alternate navigational features you can build into your site to help your users?
Answer: Search engine, site maps, indexes, text only version of site .
In the next lesson, you will see how the Site Planner is useful in designing information architecture.

SEMrush Software