Information Architecture #3: Hard Choices, Simple Names

Lots of changes have occurred over the last two weeks. What you thought was going to be a simple Web site redesign has had the potential to impact your entire organization – and it should. While you were gathering your information in week one you may have noticed discrepancies that directly related to your company brand. As a result you should have scrutinized your organizational mission, values, and goals and asked some tough, penetrating questions (see the two previous Information Architecture posts).

Information Editing and LabelingNext you should have aligned your information by kind (product, services, FAQ’s, etc.) and media type (audio, video, PDF, Flash, etc.). You cataloged your information inventory and are keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the information you have.

This week we will take the next steps and discuss Information Editing and Information Labeling with relevance to your “new” or ongoing enterprise. It is often at this part of the process that many give in and give up. “This is not what we intended” you might hear, “Just get the site redesigned and launched.”

Don’t give in. Take some time to do some educating of staff and/or leadership if necessary. I realize there has been a lot of work to get to this point. Don’t give up. The long-term rewards will be well worth the short-term investments.

The Editing Triad
Let’s move on. In light of the previous work you’ve done, there are two kinds of information editing to be done and a third to consider:

1) Editing the actual documents and pages, culling out those that do not align with your organizational goals and mission.
– Information inventory shows which documents/pages align and which do not
– Information inventory shows out-dated content to be deleted
2) Actual copy-editing of material to fit refined goals and target audience.
– Keep it short and simple
– Make sure the language is appropriate for the audience
3) Editing the site functionality and designs.
– Align page layout, imagery, and color scheme with intended audience
– Refine functionality to promote goals for online users (where do you want them to go and what do you want them to do?)

I recommend finding professional writers, editors, and user-interface designers, if you do not have these positions on staff, to expedite this part of the process. The length of this Information Editing Phase will depend on the number of resources you can throw at it.

Information Labeling
Once you’ve completed the tedious task of editing it’s time to start putting labels to your chunks of information. Now is when you call upon the discoveries and structuring of the Alignment Phase and the revised goals you have for your site.

Naturally, you will have ideas of how your “labels” should read for your site’s sections. We’ve all seen them before, right? Home, About Us, Our Services, Contact Us, and others but, are these really accurate for your company. Remember to ask yourself, “What is it we want our users to do when they visit the site?” The labels need to be easily recognizable to your desired audience and should be very intuitive as to what you want them to do or see when clicking on a link or button. You can take an initial stab at the labels. Keep the names simple and run them past several friends and associates. However, I recommend the following exercise to move beyond any preconceived ideas you may have about what your intended users needs.

Labeling Exercise
Since you are so close to the information you’ve been aligning and editing, you need an unbiased opinion when it comes to labeling. Put together a focus group of about 6 people that reflect your intended audience. In preparation, get a stack of colored index cards (I like to use two colors; one color for the main sections of a Web site and one for the subsections). Next, write your main section names and subsection names on 6 sets of cards (one set for each person in your group). If you have access to a bulletin board and pins, you can have this set up on an easel for the group. If you do not have access to a bulletin board, then use a large surface, like a meeting room table. Have each person come into the room separate from the others. Let each person take a card stack and pin them up as they would see or understand the section structure and labels for your site. Feel free to allow them to take a pen and mark through the written label name and put one of their own if they feel they have a better name. When each person is done, stack the cards in order with the main section card on top of its subsections cards. If you have a digital camera, you can take a picture of their work. Clear the space and have the next person go through the same exercise.

You have just given each of your intended audience an experience of what it will be like coming to your site. They will come individually and will have their ideas about what our labels mean and where they lead. If you pick the right labels, your users will understand exactly where they need to go. If you pick the wrong labels you may drive users away in frustration. You can repeat this exercise with multiple groups. I recommend at least two separate focus groups of 6 people. This allows you to verify tweaks and changes made from the first group.

A final note before moving on: it may become necessary to get the entire group in the room after the first exercise. During the process, several people will have written different label names/ideas. Bring everyone together to discuss the differences and have them decide which ones are the best. This helps take the guessing out on your end.

It’s All Good
Believe it or not, you’re almost home. Loaded with this information you can begin designing your templates and your navigational map with ease. You know exactly where to put what information. You can create a Site Map too, that will become a visual checkpoint for your team as well as your audience. Well done.

As your new site launch nears, you may ask, “What happens as we grow? We need to add more content and over time we may add more sections or subsections. How will it fit together?” Not to worry. The mapping we have discussed here at the end, we will discuss in greater detail in the next and final post on Information Mapping.

See you next week.

One thought on “Information Architecture #3: Hard Choices, Simple Names

  1. I’ve also run a card sorting session to determine architecture for an intranet project. I had two sets of identical cards (circa 120 items) and then set each group of 6 the task of coming up with logical groupings. The teams worked individually and generated a lot of agreement in how their intranet should be layed out. Then after this session, each group grabbed a coffee and a muffin, then checked out the other group’s architecture. The raised eyebrows and the “wow, I didn’t see that connection, but now I do” really assisted in driving a common view across these key stakeholders.

    Great posting, keep it up….

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