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A guide to Information Architecture (IA) and User Experience (UX)
Information Architecture (IA) and User Experience (UX) are two important website concepts that are often confused due to their interconnected nature. In this blog, with a little help from our in-house expert and Head of Client Services Salvo Profita, ClerksWell aims to help you see the difference – and - the importance of – both IA and UX when planning and designing a new website.
What is Information Architecture (IA)?
All great websites begin with information architecture; understanding the content and ensuring it meets user’s needs are key to a website’s success. Information Architecture involves organising, structuring and labelling the content of a website to allow users to find the information they need with insignificant effort. At a minimum, it determines the navigational approach and structure.
What Salvo had to say:
“Apart from the content itself, the IA of a website is possibly the most important thing to get right. Any website can exist for any number of reasons, but the majority of web sites are there to provide the visitor with the information they seek. This is exactly what Information Architecture facilitates.”
What is User Experience (UX)?
IA is the foundation of good UX as Salvo says:
“UX should not be considered separate to IA, really the IA is just one (very important) aspect of UX”
So, what actually is UX? Well, it’s all in the name, as UX is about the overall user experience of a website and how it makes the user feel about the broader interaction with the organisation. So it involves much more than the structuring of the site, it also means looking at the usability, simplicity, design, interactions, device compatibility, accessibility and enjoyability of the site.
Why is this important?
“The UX (combined with the creative design) is the only way to ensure that the visitors’ user journeys can be completed easily, quickly and with a minimum amount of frustration. They leave the visitor feeling positive about the website and by extension, the organisation, greatly increasing the likelihood that they will return.”
Thus, it is important that a company’s website offers an excellent experience in order to attract and retain customers and avoid the frustration that might drive them to other (and better) websites.
So what are the key things UX designers do then?
1) Conduct research into audiences, competitors, content and feature requirements, analytics and business objectives (or at least understand and digest what research exists)
2) Design the website layout, IA, features and interactions
3) Facilitate user testing (based on paper designs, prototypes or early working iterations)
4) Facilitate A/B testing after the product has gone live in order to see what works best
The core UX deliverable is a set of wireframes (skeletal drawings of key pages and what will be on them) that clearly articulate the website experience. Best practice would be to present these as online interactive wireframes with key interactions modelled, using a professional tool such as Axure. Every detail on them should be easily understandable by all stakeholders as well as the developers.
An example of an interactive wireframe for a landing page can be viewed here:
A final example from Salvo
“Here’s a simple metaphor from the non-digital world to illustrate the differences between IA and UX and how they work together. Imagine a supermarket...
If it has a good IA then:
· similar items will be grouped together logically
· the most frequently purchased goods will be near the entrance (or checkouts)
· there will be signs pointing to the different product groupings
· special offers will be clearly highlighted
If it has a good UX then:
· a customer will be able to easily reach and examine the products
· trolleys will not run out and will not need a special token
· a store assistant will be to hand when needed
· the checkout process will support ‘self-checkout’ and queues will be short
· the car park will be near the entrance / exit
· there will be a ramp for wheelchair access” and so on.
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