Websites are very similar - if the structure isn’t there and
reinforced your website will collapse. Your site’s structure should be
based on your business strategy. (See Design I: Making your site pretty can get ugly
structure, or information architecture, is how your site is organized
and following your business strategy ensures that nothing gets
The major complaint of website users is “I can’t find anything!”
Sound familiar? But the solution isn’t jumping into a redesign. The
problem could stem from lack of meta data (e.g. keywords), poor naming
conventions and taxonomy, out of date information, or poorly organized
information. (For more on search read “ Search Engines don’t Suck They’re Just
The solution involves finding out what users are looking for, what they
can’t find and what they need – as well as having a clear understanding
of the purpose of your site and what you are offering and why and how
it all relates to your business objectives. Until you have a good
understanding of the business requirements, coloring it blue just won’t
solve the problem.
Site Design Strategy
Once you have a clear understanding of your user and business
requirements, you need to develop your site design strategy. Your design
strategy should be reflective of your business and communication
- What is it that you want your website to do?
- What do you need it to achieve?
- What do you need to emphasize?
- What are your organization’s brand rules and limitations?
Once you have clearly outlined your objective you can take a
closer look at organizing your content to best meet your business
requirements by understanding user behavior.
User Behavior and Organization of Information
You need to know your users and understand their behavior before
you organize your information and design your site.
Employees tend to use intranets to get corporate information and
tools as needed. Information therefore needs to relate to tasks and
must be easily accessible. You don’t necessarily want them spending a
lot of time on the intranet but you want them to be familiar with it
and to return to it. Intranet users want useful information that is
reliable, relevant, and organized in a logical, intuitive manner. Focus
on common tasks that employees need to complete by providing a
convenient arrangement of information to accomplish the task
Internet users are either browsing, in which case you need to
catch and keep their attention, or they are looking for something very
specific and will search until they find it. If they can’t find it
quickly they will move on. The goal is to maximize contact time, draw
readers in, reward curiosity with interesting and/or entertaining
information, motivate the user to stay – purchase, and then to return
on a regular basis.
Goal for users:
So your goal for both intranet and Internet sites is to provide
information that can be found quickly and categorize it
- On the intranet, categorize by task.
- On the Internet, categorize by product or service.
Use interesting and motivating enticements (deals, contests,
polls, etc.) to get and keep your users.
Intranets are considered cost centers while websites are now
expected to be profit centers (direct or indirect). Not surprisingly,
consumer facing websites are taken more seriously and there is a
commitment to keep them current and interesting; intranets, on the other
hand, often struggle for success and resources.
Interactivity is good for both users and the host organization. On
intranets there is an opportunity to collect information on employee
satisfaction, collaboration, information sharing, training and
development. On the Internet the most important interaction is the
purchase of a product or service followed by subscriptions, and
customer inquiries. Using feedback forms and FAQs, and involving users
with contests, polls and surveys creates a positive experience that
will keep users returning to the site.
Organization of information
“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized,
processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision
making, it is a burden, not a benefit.” - William Pollard
Information can be organized in hierarchical or linear formats. It
can be based on departments (product or service lines) or tasks.
Hierarchical means that there is a parent
page with multiple child pages which offers the user choice.
Linear or sequential allows the user to
go forward and back. This is typical of slide shows and videos and, to
some degree, games where a given path is preset.
Navigation can be ambiguous (topical, task oriented) or it can be
exact (alphabetical, chronological, geographical). The best option is
to use both ambiguous and exact types so that all your users will be
able to find information in the way that they are most comfortable
Walk before you run
Before starting your site design, you need to formulate the
website a structure— the information architecture details the
information categories and relationships, and the navigation
An intranet example of a high level
A wireframe, or site schematic, can be drawn to show the basic
skeleton of how information with be positioned.
Often when looking at the combined information architecture and
wireframe, you can clearly see what you need to emphasize. Users scan
websites. In the west we scan from left to right, top to bottom in a Z
pattern. Our eye is attracted to design elements – color, photos,
white space etc. We’re also reluctant to scroll, so the more you can
entice users with content and design “above the fold” or within screen
view, the better off your site.
Design isn’t simple. In order for it to be effective it needs to
be based on a good foundation which takes into account user behavior
and information organization. There are important differences between
intranets and Internets but both ultimately need to deliver good
content quickly — you can only do that if you’ve planned your
information architecture to meet your business requirements. It’s not
just enough to have a site, you need a site that users can find what
they want on – and to do that, you need an information architecture
based on strategy.
Prescient Digital Media is a
veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10 years of rich history.
We provide strategic Internet and intranet
consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and
big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.