Information Architecture 101

Can you imagine building a house with no blueprint? It would be difficult to tell how the pieces fit together. You need a plan for building a website, too. The web team creates and updates templates for NIU websites. By guiding the placement of different kinds of content, they act as our blueprints.

Even with a blueprint, though, there are lots of decisions to make. For example, which rooms should be grouped together? How can we organize their contents to make them easy to use?

Designing a Plan

Web designers refer to this process as developing a site’s information architecture. It’s about how the content and structure work together to achieve a desired outcome, whether that’s informing campus about a new policy or encouraging students to apply to NIU.

In addition to current best practices in web design, there are conventions we follow on NIU websites that determine some of a site’s information architecture. For example, department websites generally have a Contact Us block on each page and an About menu in the top navigation. By standardizing these conventions across our website, we provide a consistent, comfortable experience for our users.

Content Categories

We must consider audience expectations and needs when organizing the rest of a site’s content, as well. Users rely on a site’s navigation for guidance. It’s important to organize content into logical categories and effectively label them in the top navigation.

On most NIU websites, this means approaching the information from a student’s perspective. For example, we can describe how they can benefit from our services, instead of listing the functions of an office.

It can be tempting to use a catchy phrase or buzzword in the top navigation. However, according to the user experts at the Nielsen Norman group, “Descriptive category names that people understand have a better chance of being discovered and clicked than do clever made-up words or internal jargon.”

By prioritizing users’ needs and expectations as you create and name information categories, you can:

  • Help them quickly find desired information.
  • Encourage them to stay on your site longer.
  • Build trust with your department and the university.

Build with Us

The web team continually revises and updates our templates as well as individual NIU websites. This involves optimizing structure and navigation based on the principles mentioned here. If you have any questions about your site’s information architecture or would like to explore possible changes, please contact us at webcommunications@niu.edu.

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