Part 2: 5 Things You’ll Learn While Creating Site Architecture
This is Part 2 of a 4 part series written by the talented UX design team here at Charity Dynamics. To learn more about their awesome nonprofit focused design work, visit our portfolio!
Are you unsure what site architecture is? It’s probably easiest to think of it like a table of contents, or an outline for your website.
Any steaming heap of content should be organized clearly and intuitively if you want people to interact with it in a meaningful way. Recall the last film you saw or the last magazine you read. Chances are, a team of people spent lots of time arranging that content so it would make sense to you as you were watching or reading. Well, your organization’s website is no different. You need a thoughtful plan for how to arrange content. That plan is your site architecture.
Creating this site architecture involves a process that forces you to think critically about who uses your website and why. If done right, this process provides you with many valuable insights about your organization, your audience and how your website can best facilitate a productive relationship between the two. Here are just a few.
#1. Good people don’t necessarily make good site architecture.
Executive directors, board presidents, other leaders in your organization, maybe even you – these folks are experts who are deeply committed to the cause they work for. They know the ins and outs of their organization and often take on a lot of responsibility for less pay or recognition than they deserve. They’re awesome, but… that doesn’t mean they know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to planning your website.
Arranging a site’s content based solely on some internal criteria like organizational structure or program size is the first and surest way to screw your site up big time. Unfortunately, this is a mistake that organizational leaders are notoriously prone to make. They can’t help it. Intense internal focus is a symptom of how they have to think to do their jobs well. This is a big reason why going through the site architecture process with a creative team is valuable – it helps your organization look outside of itself and make more strategic choices about what content gets priority. The golden rule is to start thinking like a typical site user, so it’s important to note that…
#2. Your website users almost certainly don’t think like you.
You probably have a deep knowledge of your group’s mission and you likely spend all day totally immersed in the issues and vocabulary of your programs. Rest assured that your average site user does not. They are totally immersed in their own busy lives and likely have limited knowledge or interest about your group and everything it does. They came to your website looking for something specific and hoping to find it quick. Can they? If not, they’re not going to stick around.
The site architecture process evaluates your content from the point of view of someone who knows much less about it than you. You revise, rename, and rearrange everything based on what will best serve the people who came there to find it. Importantly, the process also helps simplify your site by showing you what can be streamlined, combined, or removed altogether. This last point can be a truly refreshing experience, especially since…
#3. You probably have a lot of redundant or irrelevant crap on your website.
Gone are the days when websites were treated as encyclopedic repositories that chronicled every detail of their organization’s entire history. Now it’s all about getting right to the point. A little bit of “about us” is fine and necessary of course, but you don’t really need those press articles from 1998, do you? What, you haven’t even read them yourself? You didn’t even know they were there? Great, you won’t miss them then. How about all these duplicate forms or page templates? Great, let’s scrap those too.
One of the great incidental effects of auditing your content for the site architecture process is that your redesigned site will be drastically cleaner and more efficient. Getting rid of content you don’t need also ensures that design and development time are focused on what matters rather than wasted on stuff that isn’t important. Speaking of waste…
#4. You probably have a lot of redundant or irrelevant crap on your website.
Yep, you’re right. You already read that. See what an annoying waste of space that was?
#5. You should probably get tested…
If you’re going to put the time and effort into creating a user-focused site architecture then you should probably also check to make sure you hit the mark. Do your proposed content categories and labels actually make sense to users? The best way to find out is to conduct some simple usability testing.
Get a group of recruits together and put your work in front of them. Task them with a few typical use-scenarios and see if they can find what they need in your proposed organizational scheme. If they can’t, then you know you need to revise.
#6. You’ll need to revise. (#6? You didn’t think I was going to cheat on our “5 things” list by including #3 twice, did you?)
Revisions are normal and to be expected. They represent improvement and are a necessary part of what it takes to make your site as good as possible. Embrace revisions, make revisions…and then test some more.
Be sure to look for Parts 3 & 4 coming soon! If you missed Part 1, go back and read it now!