Most likely, you want to create or improve an existing navigation system. Either for a website or an application. You might want to redo the whole site. Or you might be focused on just one area of the application. Like the ordering process, for instance. All of these situations are perfect for information architecture research. Now, you could just sit in a room with some other team members and brainstorm the new structure. But there's a big problem with that approach. It boils down to one sentence. You are not your users.
You probably have a lot more insight into the problem space, and you approach problems differently than your customers do. You use industry jargon. You probably know things like how your database is structured and you have many years of experience with the topic. Or, conversely, maybe you're part of an agency or IT group building a product with terminology and concepts you really don't understand. Because you haven't been deeply involved in the user specific industries like they have.
All of this makes you blind to the issues that real customers and users face when they visit your site or use your application. Rather than playing let's pretend, it's best to get feedback from real users. The great thing about information architecture research is that it's typically fun to do. Both for you and for your participants, and the result you get still need enough interpretation that you have an interesting challenge to work on, and the beauty of doing this research is that you can reuse it for many other purposes in the future.
Like I already mentioned, the term information architecture is broad even just the navigation menus on the side. Done properly, information architecture research describes how your users think about the information space that your product inhabits. That is, how they categorize all the activities, items, and individuals that are part of your problem space. These categories can be used for menus, but also for secondary navigation such as your site map. For content differentiation such as different types of news topics to help you format your search results and also as the starting point for the data drill down in a filtering tool.
So with just a little bit of preparation you can run some fast, cheap user research that gives you wonderful insight into how your users view the content or activities in your product.
- What is information architecture?
- Why do research?
- Creating and running a paper card sort
- Recruiting test participants
- Analyzing paper card sort results
- Running a computer-based card sort
- Creating abstract information architecture
- Validating your plan with a reverse card sort
- Translating information architecture to navigation and layout
- Watching the server after you go live