The Role Of IA In A Web Design Project

Many people start web projects by talking to web developers (the HTML coders), and put them in charge of leading the project. For small projects, this can work. But for larger projects, that’s a risky approach.

Imagine building an office building by selecting the kind of steel for the girders, then talking to the interior designer about the colors for the walls and the style of furniture, and only then working with an architect to lay out the floor plan. Of course...that’s backwards!

Architects lead physical building projects. They clarify the different purposes and uses of the building, and then translate that into a set of plans and blueprints that tells the builders what to build. They do this by understanding how people perceive physical spaces, and how to form building materials into places where people will have the kind of experience intended, be it an office building or a church.

Websites are places made of information. Walls and doors and windows, all the things you use to orient yourself in the physical world, are replaced by words. Menus and lists and headlines and copy—they all work together to let you know what kind of place you’re visiting and guiding you where to go.

Architecting information is harder to do than it seems on the surface. Language is tricky. People use the same word to mean different things, and different words to mean the same thing.

When talking to people, we can use the context of the discussion and dialog to get a clear sense of what is meant. On a website, that’s harder to do, and it’s the role of the information architect to build a sensible, coherent system of language that will ensure your visitors always know where they are and where they need to go.

Before you hand your website project to a development team, make sure you architect the site’s information.

Architect Your Websites

Over the years, TUG has developed a proven process for translating your digital strategy and objectives into architectural plans for a digital place that will delight your visitors. We'd love to hear about your project and share how we can help - schedule a call with us today.

How Do You Balance Conflicting Demands On Your Website?

You probably have a range of people creating content for your website, and their goals probably conflict with each other regularly. That’s a pretty common situation, given all the jobs that a website has to do. The problem is, if a site tries to meet everyone’s goals equally, it will be mediocre and confusing. If you want a good site that holds together over time, you need to address these tensions and agree on how to balance the conflicting demands.

For example, an online news site may have one group that wants to emphasize local news that people can’t get anywhere else, and another group that wants to emphasize national news that people are interested in. One of the key functions of information architecture is to address competing interest. To do that, we use an intention model, which acts a continuum. An intention model provides a nuanced way of talking about what good means. It is an excellent tool for modeling the goals of big, mixed groups of stakeholders.

intention model

intention model

In this example, we'd make one side of the continuum is local news and the other side national news. Both are important, but having a clear, agreed upon sense of where to strike the balance between them will enable the team to make better, more consistent, and more successful decisions, right away and into the future.

On the continuum, stakeholders indicate where they think the website strikes the balance between the two ends today, by marking an X somewhere along the line. People do this for the current state, and for the desired future state. The results and discussion are powerful in aligning goals.

For any website, there are many sources of tension that need to be balanced—we typically identify 10–20 continuums.

To sum up:

1. Discover your continuum questions.(e.g., local v national news)

2. Survey your stakeholders to see where they land on the continuums

3. Discuss the results with all the stakeholders and develop a consensus for the future state

Need an alignment job?

Over the years, TUG has developed a proven process for translating competing goals into a plan that aligns your vision. The result is a digital place that will delight your visitors. We’d love to hear about your project and how we might help

the most concise definition of organization is simply agreement
— Dee Hock