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Building a case for information architecture

Information Architecture | Edgar Allan | Blog

Yes — Edgar Allan is a Webflow agency, and yes — building great websites is a huge part of what we do. But we also build brands, design digital experiences, and have some of the best project managers in the business to keep everything on track.

In fact, you could pretty much say that we’re all-around digital experience architects.

To that end, perhaps the most significant practice in our “building” toolkit is called information architecture (or simply IA).

What is information architecture?

Information architecture is pretty much a fancy way of saying “content organization,” but the “architecture” part definitely holds true throughout any web project.

Building a website is much like building a house. Before you can start painting walls, you need a blueprint. In our process, we “position walls” and “choose colors” somewhat simultaneously to ensure a cohesive final output (with the final output being the final website deliverable).

IA is a subtle but foundational part of a website, and certainly not the only important facet. Throughout a project, collaboration across our entire Edgar Allan team — from user experience (or UX, as we say in the industry) to content to design and development — can (and more often should) happen with a lot of overlap.

The overall benefit of IA is that giving specific thought to a site’s blueprint allows us to structure the entire experience from start to finish in such a way that makes it easy for users to be able to instinctively find the information they need and navigate from one page to another.

Why is information architecture important to the user experience?

Information architecture acts as the first building block for your site, helping to guide the rest of the project at every stage and keeping the user’s needs at the center of the work each step of the way. In this way, IA is central to UX.

If we continue with our house metaphor, though, IA also gives us the plans with which a digital experience is built, telling us which “rooms” (pages) we need in our house and where those rooms are located. Knowing what the rooms are AND where they go is what creates the structure.

IA also informs the site navigation — the “doors” and “windows” — that help users get from one place to another, guiding them through to the next “room” of content that lies ahead on subsequent ages of your site.

Without solid IA, some rooms might be blocked, or users might need to take roundabout paths to arrive at what should be a relatively intuitive destination. You might not even be able to easily find the “bathroom,” or get anywhere else that’s essential on the site that you need to find. (You might even forget to add the bathroom altogether!)

What is Edgar Allan’s approach to information architecture?

Just as blueprints are important to building a sturdy house, after a decade of experience as an agency we’ve found that having decent information architecture in place before a build even begins always leads to a more successful end product with a solid overall direction. In short, the ingredients for a promising, successful site.

When you choose to partner with us, we begin our IA process at the start of a client web project by looking at the current or existing web pages, and considering the most basic structure of those pages and how they relate to one another. Alongside this we incorporate one of our favorite content design tools to more closely examine every last bit of content on your site. This is called a site audit: What’s missing from your site? What needs to be deleted? Do we have all of the key information covered? (But that’s a whole other riveting adventure filled with twists, turns, and pitfalls that you can read about here.)

The resulting flow chart that communicates IA is called a site map, which shows what all of the pages are, and where all of the content will be designed within each individual page from a hierarchical standpoint. A site outline is formatted as a narrative partner to the site map and tells a very high-level story of the site map.

The process of creating these resources might take more time, thought, and preparation up front, but we make sure to get the basics right the first time. In this way, we have guiding documents to reference throughout the project, so that by the time your site is ready to launch, you’ll be thrilled (and relieved!) that we took the time to plan ahead right from the beginning.

Long story short, IA is just one piece of the very interwoven, interconnected puzzle that is (or will become) your website.

Why do we need information architecture?

While information architecture perhaps isn’t as flashy as getting to see your logo as part of a stunning new design, or reviewing actual copy on a page (and trust us, we’ll get there), the care taken to create IA is just as important as every step that follows.

So why, exactly, do we need IA? In a phrase: “To reduce friction.”

We strive to reduce friction on each project by setting concrete expectations for the direction of the site structure. We also try to reduce the friction for the end user (who in this case is a site visitor).

At the end of the day, our efforts as content designers, experience designers, and developers should reinforce underlying user needs to create an engaging site that’s easy to use — and ultimately supports the goals that you hope to achieve through your online presence.

If you’re ready to get started on a project with the Edgar Allan team, make sure to say hello! Check us out on YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter, or catch us on EA Live for hot tips, industry insights, and the next big thing we’re working on.

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