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Web Design Fundamentals is a survey of Web design and development techniques and technologies, fundamental concepts, terms, and best practices involved in professional web design. Instructor James Williamson examines popular web development tools, server-side software solutions, content management solutions, and cloud-based software, providing a high-level overview of the world of Web publishing.
Take a moment to think about some of your favorite websites. They could be your favorite online shop, a place to read news, or current events, sports or any of the hundreds of different types of websites out there. Regardless of which type of sites you were thinking about, I am guessing that they have certain things in common. Everything is probably right where you need it, the interface is probably extremely intuitive, and I am betting it's a breeze to navigate and find what you're looking for. In fact, if you had to choose one word to define successful sites, it would be effortless.
I can assure you that this ease-of-use which viewers find so compelling is no accident. information architecture is the science, or art depending upon your view, of organizing and structuring sites. It's another area of Web design that many individuals specialize in, and as the Web has evolved, has become an increasingly important part of the design process. Based on the size of your site, you could be solely responsible for the information architecture or you could work on a larger team. For small sites, you and your client will probably be the only people providing the organization and structure for the site.
For large to medium sites, you could hire an information architect or a firm that offers those services. If you're the type of person that excels at planning and organization, you could begin to specialize in it yourself as part of a larger design firm or as a freelancer. So what exactly does an information architect do? Typically, information architects are involved very early in the planning of sites. Before any visual design is started, the goals of the site need to be defined and the content then organized based on those goals. For smaller or more focused sites, this is usually a pretty quick process, but for larger multi-functional sites, this could be a much longer and more difficult process.
Let's say, for example, that you're working on a music site that's going to feature hundreds of artists. After talking with the owners of the site, you determine that they want to sell music, offer reviews and current news and try to build a community around its users. Without knowing which of those goals was the most important, designing the site would be very difficult. Organizing the homepage to display the most important information prominently and designing the navigation to move users quickly to their desired locations will be difficult without such organization. And then there's the music itself. The music will need to be categorized, tagged and labeled, so that users can find what you're looking for.
Information architects do all this and much more. Let's take a moment and look at the typical responsibilities of an information architect in greater detail. First, and most importantly, is identifying the site's goals. Knowing the goals of the site and prioritizing those goals will drive the organization of the entire site. That sounds easy, but often sites are a combination of diverse content and competing goals. So, it's important that enough time and energy be spent in defining those goals properly.
Now next, organizing site content and defining the flow of the site through the use of wireframes and site maps will help definite to scale of the site, and assist in creating navigation. Creating categories for site content will make organizing the site easier and assist with site searches. When creating categories, be sure to take future site growth in mind. Being able to anticipate site growth is another important key to keeping your site organized. Without a doubt, one of the most important facets of any site is navigation.
The navigation of your site should match and complement the direction of your site. Are you trying to move somebody quickly through a checkout process? Are you helping them find information on a complex site? Or, are you encouraging your users to browse and explore few specific areas? Hopefully, you can see how important it is to have a navigation strategy that matches your site's purpose. Information architecture doesn't usually get a lot of attention when web design is discussed. However, without it, sites would be unorganized, lack direction and be difficult for visitors to use.
When a site lacks planning, it shows. I also want to stress the information architecture isn't just something that you do during the design of the site. As site's age, content changes and often the focus or even the scope of site can change as well. Be sure to monitor the site's organization throughout its life span, so that you can adjust it as needed.
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