Successful projects start on solid foundations

Successful projects start on solid foundations

Jennylee Bellatrix
Blueprints Photo by Will Scullen, CC BY 2.0

Photo by Will Scullen, CC BY 2.0

At Affinity Bridge we start new projects with a Discovery phase. We can’t possibly know enough about you or your project based on the request for proposal or project brief you sent us, but we want to help you succeed at your goals. The first step to that is defining what those goals are, and how we can build something to help you reach them.

But what does the Discovery phase entail? For us, it means working closely with you to refine your goals, site users, a design direction, administration workflows, content strategy, and an information architecture. Design is how you want things to look and feel. Site Users are the various people you want to connect with. Administration workflows are important to the staff you’ll have working to create content and engage with your audiences. Content Strategy planning can help you work out the best content paths for those people. But how about Information Architecture?

What is Information Architecture?

Information Architecture (IA) is the foundation for your website. Without putting effort into designing the foundation and user experience for the site, your visitors will not have the solid and well considered structure. They will get lost looking for doors to take them to the content they want to see… and only the most dedicated visitors will persevere through the frustration of dead end hallways. Your site’s IA organizes the presentation of all of the information you hope to share with your visitors, from the vitally important (both to them and to you) down to the most miniscule of details.

Putting upfront effort into a good IA means you can start building your project knowing these things:

  1. How to support both immediate and long-term communication and engagement goals

  2. The structure for your site’s menus and navigation

  3. What content types your site needs

  4. How everything will tie into your site design

Supporting your Immediate and Long-term goals

Whether or not you’ve already worked them out, during our Discovery process we help refine the goals—both short- and long-term—you hope to achieve with your new site. When your site exists to help people find documents and resources, the structure you build based on your IA will show them the way. If you’re looking for email newsletter signups, or donations, or campaign signatures, a good Information Architecture builds the platform that will bring you the support you need from visitors.

Menus and Navigation

It’s rarely possible to put all of your content on the front page; IA will help you prioritize and categorize everything you hope to offer on your site in the places that people are most likely to look for it. Too many options in your main navigation, and your visitors are overwhelmed by choice. And knowing the navigation sections as you start to build your content helps writers and content developers focus their work—because when you know where a piece of content fits in the site means you have a fair idea which audiences you’re creating it for.

Content Types

Maybe your site is simple; just static pages and blog or news posts. More and more, though, websites exist to provide specific content and resources for the people who visit it. Maybe you have more complex content that needs a different approach—awards, quizzes, teams, and personal profiles, for example, or events, recipes, instructions, and games. Not all content can—or should be—built exactly the same way. The Information Architecture will show developers the shape content types need to take, and content creators the information they need to produce for the new site, while giving site visitors easy access to the content they’re looking for.

Tools for creating a great Information Architecture

Once we’ve established the content types, menu structure, audiences and goals, we’ll often piece it all together with a wireframe. A wireframe is a rough sketch of your site, the menus, and places that different content types may be displayed—like a pen drawing on a napkin, but heavily informed by everything we’ve learned working with you on the Information Architecture and the work that we’ve begun on the site design, look, and feel. While a wireframe is not representative of your final site design, it helps us (and you) visualize the way visitors will interact your site content.

We may also build an entity relationship diagram on more complex projects—figuring out and visualizing how different content pieces will be connected to each other, like teams to individuals to awards.

To determine your audiences more specifically, we may work with you on user personas, to learn why Jane the philanthropist CEO might visit and donate to your organization and not someone else’s.

When working on a redesign for a site with many years of content, a card sort can be helpful to learn how your legacy content will fit into the objectives of the new site—or if there is some content that you can let go of during migration.

Depending on your circumstances, we’ll employ a combination of these tools (among others) to create a strong Information Architecture for your site development. We focus on your IA as a major piece of our Discovery process—because we know how important it is to have a solid foundation in place before starting to build a tower.