What is Information Architecture? The Un-Flashy Key to Nonprofit Website Success
Website design has changed a lot over the last decade, largely due to the vast availability of low-cost, templated designs that look quite stunning. While I applaud the designers of these templates for the beauty and even the adaptability of the templates to fit a variety of website types, I want to make a case for the value of a good Information Architecture.
Information Architecture (IA) is the structural design of a website. It’s the skeleton, or bones of the site that really holds it all together. IA defines the navigation of the site and the layout of all the key design elements. Maybe it’s not as flashy as a gorgeous visual design. Maybe it’s not the first thing your board members ask you about. But it’s the key to what makes a good website, well, good! Sitemaps and wireframes are the tools we use to design IA.
So what makes for GOOD IA? I have a two-part answer:
- For your constituents, it’s findability – being able to quickly and easily find the content they seek.
- For your administrators/content creators, it’s scalability – when you have new content to share, being able to quickly and easily know where it belongs.
The best way to cultivate and assess findability is through user research. My team and I like to conduct card sort tests to help define the navigation for a website. Understanding how constituents would organize your content gives clear insights into the best structure.
Once you have your site in place, you can assess how well the structure is working by conducting usability tests and analyzing Google Analytics data. Identify the content that’s most important for your organization to share and make sure that your constituents are visiting and engaging with those pages.
Your website content should change constantly to showcase the breadth and depth of work you do to impact social good. When you have something new to share, a good IA means that there’s already a logical place for that item to live. No need to create a new navigation item or an oddly placed feature at the top of your homepage. Some examples:
- Your organization works globally and thanks to a recent grant, you’re able to offer services in a new country. Your IA should include a place to feature this news for a short time as something new (perhaps in a “What’s New” section on the homepage), but also a place for this information to live moving forward (maybe in a “Where We Work” section on your site).
- You have a new scholarship you’re able to offer and applications are open for 1 month. Your IA should include a place to encourage visitors to apply for the scholarship (maybe just below the hero area on the homepage or in a modal window) while applications are open and also a place to read about the scholarship and past recipients while applications are in review (maybe in an “Our Impact” section of your site).
It’s worth noting that you don’t need to completely redesign your website to improve your Information Architecture. It may be as simple as moving a few pages around in your navigation and/or changing the structure of your homepage or another landing page. I encourage you to continually analyze success and make iterative changes to your IA to keep your online experience fresh and delightful. Keep in mind the principles of findability (for your constituents) and scalability (for your internal team) as you iterate.