Discovery & Information Architecture: Why These Phases of Your Website Construction Are Mega Important
Too many digital agencies are missing the mark on a couple of the most important phases of the web design and development process – discovery and information architecture. Remove these steps from production and it’s like a map with no cardinal direction, a construction project with no blue print, an Ikea furniture set with no assembly instructions...the horror!
Discovery and information architecture takes time to ensure the brick and mortar supporting your online business goals is properly constructed. Lets break down these planning phases to illustrate why they are important and how they should be approached.
Your website is your organization’s greatest tool. In
order to perform as such, every detail must align with your target audience and business goals. During the discovery phase of a production lifecycle, you and your digital agency will brainstorm and compile a collection of all information that must be included in the website. During this time, your designer and developer will learn more about what your organization does and you will be pressed to critically think about who your target audience is and how your website can meet their needs. Discovery should be accompanied by a questionnaire or scheduled talk time to discuss:
Target audience persona
Specific project requirements
Necessary features and functions required of the website
End user experience
Additionally, in-depth research must be done on your industry, audience and competitors to determine:
Which keywords and phrases resonate best with the target audience
What solutions your website can provide to the target audience
Whom your closest competitors are and what their strategy is
Which websites you like/dislike and why
Once the basics are hammered out, you and your digital agency can determine what technical components and supportive services are critical to the website’s function.
At the conclusion of discovery, you and your digital agency will have compiled an enormous amount of data. Information architecture is about structuring that data in a way that appeases the visitor’s search within seconds. Information architecture should also strategically guide visitors to a next step or end deliverable.
Start by considering what questions your website visitor will ask upon arrival:
Is this the correct place?
Will I find the information I’m searching for here?
Will I find other helpful information here?
What should I do next?
Next, you and your digital agency need to compartmentalize, organize and optimize! Here are some basic steps commonly used to get this phase from information overload to soundly structured in no time:
1.) Take inventory. Get all information laid out in a way that makes it more palatable, like a spreadsheet. Create groups and connections between each piece of information to develop how content will be organized and related within the site.
2.) Decide on orientation. What will the container for all this data look like? A virtual community won’t be designed the same as an ecommerce website that showcases products or an informational website that aims to educate like a brochure.
3.) Wireframe development. At this point your designer will bring content and orientation together to form a black and white framing of your website, void of all color and design. The purpose of the wireframe is to illustrate where content will live and how the site will function without distracting images or color.
It’s important to spend quality, focused time with the wireframe before your website moves on to design and development phases. This is the skeleton, the foundation and it must be scrutinized before your digital agency progresses.
To make certain this step in the process receives the necessary TLC, ask someone who is not closely tied to your business to surf the wireframe. Monitor their interactions and note how they move from page to page. Do they find information easily? Are they lead to a next step?
The most important rule to remember about discovery and information architecture is that it should be based on fact, not opinion. Save your color palette preferences for another time, this is about finding out what your audience actually cares about and how your site can accommodate their wants to earn extra eyeball time. Choose to work with a digital agency
that puts emphasis on these first two phases of production. Their devotion to the details is your sure sign that the job will be done right!