What is Information Architecture (IA)? In short, it's how information is organized. But what does that mean? Well, say you got the opportunity to visit the Louvre. How would you find your way around? Would you wander the whole museum aimlessly from piece to piece? Would you follow signs for various sections you know contain what you want to see? Would you pull out the trusty guidebook and mark a specific path to the exact works that interest you?
How the museum is organized such that you can find your way around is it's information architecture. Just like how the museum's IA is vital to its functionality, your intranet's IA is vital to its functionality.
Why is Information Architecture Important for Your Intranet's Success?
The Information Architecture Institute defines IA as "the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable." This broad take brings up one of the most important points of information architecture. Your intranet won't make sense without it. When users can't find things where they expect to, they end up confused and frustrated.
Make sure information on your site is well organized. Structuring content in such a way that the user will understand creates a beneficial User Experience (UX). UX encompasses the overall experience of a person with a product, service, or system (in this case, your intranet). Information Architecture is the backbone of User Experience. Good UX design engages users, drawing them in and encouraging repeated use. Intranets with good UX have small learning curves, apparent information, and visual appeal. It's important for your intranet to have a good user experience.
The quality of an intranet's user experience often indicates how successful the site will be. In the end, all that matters is whether or not users can find what they are looking for.
How Does Information Architecture Help Users Find Information?
Think of SharePoint in terms of encyclopedias. Encyclopedias have full sets, individual books, book topics, and finally subtopics. SharePoint sites are nested in a similar way. The whole SharePoint site makes up the top level. This top level consists of several related subsites. When you break those apart, you find individual pages with related content.
Continuing this extended metaphor, there are two equal parts that work in concert to find information. First, you flip (click) through the books (subsites), looking for the section an item is located. Second, you use naming conventions (taxonomy) to determine an item's exact location.
The Structure of Information Architecture
Users click through pages to find what they are looking for. Where things are located depends on site structure and is planned using site maps. Site maps are graphical displays of websites. They are a table of contents that show you where everything is on a high level. They allow designers to create and implement a logical site organization.
The Language of Information Architecture
The first IA decision to make is how to structure the content on your site, the second is what to call it. These names should be repetitive, but not redundant. Similar names across different sections should be similar. This way, the user knows what will be discussed. Going back to our encyclopedia example, imagine an entry on Sudan. Readers know that a section named "Culture" within the entry discusses Sudanese culture. Intranets operate in the same way. This reuse of taxonomy can help with search and clarity. If we decide to make an entry for Scotland, admins can copy Sudan's taxonomy, and users will know what to expect in the entry.
In the end, everything comes back to the same questions:
Can users understand what they are looking at? Can they find the information they need?
If not, then your intranet's information architecture may be holding them back.
Check back for more tips on how to improve your SharePoint intranet.