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Information Architecture and User Interface (UI) Design

Structuring the user experience through effective organization.

Have you ever been on a website and gotten "lost?" User frustration is still the #1 reason people abandon a website. Optimizing the presentation of your website through effective organization means the difference between people finding what they want or becoming frustrated and clicking away from your site (and maybe on to a competitor's)!

Information architecture is the discipline of defining the structure, organization, navigation, labeling, and indexing of a website. Classification decisions will not only be based upon current best practices, but also on specific case variables such as business goals and strategy, current size of the website and future expansion plans, your audience(s), etc.

With the increased migration of business applications and operations to delivery via web services, there has been a need to view data as a re-usable fluid resource. Data models that may have worked fine for web browsing in isolation may no longer serve the needs of the enterprise.

NetReach Information Architecture (IA) addresses the following components:

Hierarchy/Taxonomies

This refers to the overall site structure (think about is as a sitemap with interactions) as well as the naming conventions and how to group and categorize elements and functions.

Requirements gathering and business strategy will inform the priorities and weighting of the website's presentation layers. In some cases, a phased approach may be mapped out as well. These exercises and documents are similar to a building architect's blueprints.

Navigation

The world around us presents spatial information to orient us to where we are. The web has no such spatial clues, at least none in the sense of actual depth. So how do users find their way around?

Global and local navigation both help.

Even though the web is a new medium, compared, for example, to a book with its established conventions (table of contents, index, etc.), certain website elements have now been established that are also useful as they have become familiar, lessening a visitor's need to "think about it." Adopting familiar elements, for example, locating a site search somewhere in the upper right of the screen would be a good idea for most sites.

Appropriate navigation schemes. Different types of content may require a different approach. For example, a school's webpage directed at "Prospective Students" may benefit from a "mini-sitemap" type presentation. Whereas a "Faculty and Staff" listing might benefit from a filtered search device (if it's a large list).

Wireframes/Use Case Scenarios/Personas

NetReach has worked with both public facing customer-centric web properties as well as enterprise class business applications. The former is usually more "browsing-" based, while the latter is task-oriented. Each system needs to be "user-friendly," but each has unique needs that need to be understood. Wireframes, Use Case Scenarios, and Personas are different tools used in helping to understand users and their requirements to better architect the system.