Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Information Architecture, part 2

Perspectives
The consumer perspective.

There is a consumer or site visitor perspective. It has two aspects, reflecting who comes to the site.
  • Targeted searchers. These people know exactly what they want. They know that what they want exists and they know what it's called. They want to find it, take care of business, and then leave. As painlessly as possible.
  • Casual browsers. These are people who don't know exactly what they're after. They come by with a vague idea, or maybe by accident. They explore. They bump into things, and learn about products or services that maybe they'd never even heard of before. Do your site right and they'll come back again.
Many users switch between targeted searching and casual browsing. A good architecture supports both.

Great graphics and reliable technology contribute to making happy visitors, but they aren't enough by themselves. Any site must actually deliver value.

The producer perspective.

This is the business view. And as you would expect it is a little different from the consumer perspective.

A well-designed architecture, one that scales, can prevent an expensive and early do-over. It does this because it keeps the big picture front and center. This is important for a business.

Too many site builders dive in head first without planning. You can get a site that is a confusing jumble of options, a site that tries to serve several different audiences while failing at everything. These things happen when you lose perspective, or never have it to start with.

Committees in large organizations with conflicted goals and messy politics can design sites that look the part. Competing visions and uncertain deadlines prevent issues from getting resolved. Sites built this way can't work well, even after huge amounts of time and money. Adding more people to a project only makes it slower and more likely to fail.

Problems in information architecture don't go away. No problem does. Resolve problems before a site goes live or those problems will get dumped onto the internet. Onto your site's visitors.

A frustrated customer will leave after a bad experience. A potential customer will never become a real one.

And another thing.

Without a clear information architecture as a guide the site's maintainers won't know which end should be up. They won't know where to put new features or how to update the existing ones.

Instead they will try their best but can end up adding to the mess. No matter how good they are and how hard they try there is no substitute for getting it right the first time.

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