To Dot Or Not
(Web design for the rest of us!)
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Information Architecture: The Place to Start
Information architecture (IA) is the foundation and structural skeleton for your site design. It's a blueprint from which a cohesive, intuitive, user-friendly and organized presentation of your Web site will be built. Building a Web site without IA would be like a library without a card catalog... a city without street signs... like building house from a wood pile while having no blueprint. The better the plan, the better the building. Likewise your Web site.
Once you start on your new Web site project, expect to sit down with your designer and/or developer and lay out the business model of your organization. They can and should be able to help, but you can't expect them to walk in the door knowing all about your mission, core values, product or service area, executive team, Board of Directors, etc. You will have to communicate that to them and work with them to make sure that the "architecture" or outline of all that infromation is true to your plan.
Well, we kinda do some o' this 'n some o' that...
It's not uncommon for an organization to have a less than a clear understanding of their own processes. Many organizations find that as they grow, different departments or groups become less sure about what others are up to. In even larger organizations with a management structure, we have found this to be the case more often than not.
The excercise of developing an information architecture for the organization's Web site is inevitably beneficial in clarifying their goals, mission, values and assets.
Can it really be so difficult?
Contrary to what you might believe after a visit to your local technical book store, sifting through massive volumes on Web site planning, design and architecture, it doesn't require a "rocket surgeon" to figure out your IA. Precious dollars have been spent on large consulting firms to go into corporations and do just that. And, when all is said and done, the resulting Web site makes no sense, is difficult to navigate or find the information you're looking for, and in general leaves visitors with a negative sense of the company's capabilities.
On the contrary, there are examples of lower budget sites that are brilliant in terms of serving up easy to navigate and understand information. So, beware of the mystique and smoke screen pulled over information architecture and don't be shy of participating in the porcess of putting your architecture together.
For more information on IA and a brief outline of a process you can use to develop yours, read Information Architecture (for the rest of us!), in our S&A Library Articles of Interest.