A Practical Guide to
Drawing on her many years of teaching and practicing Information Architecture, Donna Spencer walks you through some simple steps to create better information architectures. This ebook will inspire you to tackle your own IA projects, large or small.
Dozens of case studies, including public websites, intranets, and web apps.
Interviews, war stories, and advice from the best in the business.
Take a peek into how Donna's mind works, and learn from her experience.
Templates, downloadable PDF poster, video training, and more.
If you're not happy with your ebook, let us know and we'll refund you in full. Pinky promise.
DRM-free files that you can read on your computer, Kindle, iPad or any other ebook reader.
Understanding what exactly is meant by IA, who does it, and its role beyond web projects.
A primer on user behaviour: how to research your users, and analyse and communicate what you learn.
Strategies for auditing, prioritising, sourcing, and arranging content for a project.
Common patterns, techniques, and tools for creating, testing, and communicating an IA.
A gallery of navigation options; designing, testing, and communicating navigation to a client.
A collection of useful spreadsheets, documents, and visual blueprints to shortcut your next IA project.
You’re over the main hump of your IA design process. You’re happy with the IA you’ve come up with, it fits your content, and should work well for the users.
Before you continue it’s a great idea to test that assumption. Instead of just thinking and hoping it will work for the users, make sure it actually will.
This is called usability testing. It basically involves putting a draft of something in front of people, asking them to use it to do things they’d normally do, and checking it works for them. When you perform a usability test on something before you start to build it, you can find out what works, what doesn’t work, and what you need to fix. It lets you see things that aren’t going to work and make changes before it’s too late.
Of course, usability testing can be done for anything. Although it’s used a lot for software and websites, I’ve heard of retail outlets setting up test stores specifically to check changes to store layout.
For your project, you probably won’t be doing usability testing on anything quite so large. You’ll want to test your draft IA – your groupings and labelling. Eventually these will form the main way people find information or do tasks, so it’s important to get them right, and to know they’re right.
Usability testing at this point won’t check everything you need to check for your final project. You’ll want to do it again more thoroughly when you’ve designed the navigation, page layouts and content. However, the more things you try to test at once, the harder it is to figure out what aspect wasn’t working – was the label obscure, or was the page so busy that people couldn’t see the navigation bar at all? Usability testing just your IA lets you know that your groups and labels are working well. The other reason for testing your IA is that navigation and content have to work with it, so it’s best to find any mistakes before you start working on these.
Usability testing isn’t about checking whether the people can use your website. It is about checking that your website lets them do what they need to do. It’s a subtle but important difference, and one to keep in mind when you’re testing. You are testing your work, not people’s abilities.
Before you start testing your IA, think about what you want to get out of your test. This will help you decide how to run it and who to involve.
The main thing you’ll be trying to learn is that your groups are sensible and your labels are good. You may want to check that your overall approach is okay (e.g. if you’ve used an audience-based classification scheme, that people expect to see your information in that way and understand the audience groups). Or you may not want to test the IA as a whole, but instead dive deep and just check a part of the IA that was hard to design or where stakeholders couldn’t agree on the approach.
One of the biggest advantages of the approach I’m about to describe is that it’s very easy to do. It doesn’t take a lot of preparation and you get results quickly. Depending on your situation, you could set up a test one morning and have results that afternoon. It really is that easy to quickly test your IA. It’s great to test quickly, make some changes and test again. So you really can test as soon as you have a draft IA you’re happy with.
If you didn’t get a chance to do good user research earlier in your project (and I know this happens for all sorts of reasons), you could take this opportunity to test your IA and gather some extra research at the same time. Even if you undertook some research early on, chances are some things came up in between that you wish you knew more about, or assumptions that you’d like to follow up. Combine an IA test with some simple research to help you make better decisions later in the project.
You could time your test with something else. (It takes so little time that it’s easy to slot in with other activities.) If you’re going to be communicating with your audience in some other way – perhaps a stakeholder or staff meeting to gather requirements for another part of the site – you could include a simple test of the IA alongside this.
Over 300 pages of no-nonsense, practical information to help you work smarter, this book includes dozens of case studies, illustrations, and examples…
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Well done, Donna! This is a brilliant introduction to Information Architecture. Even as someone with years of experience I picked up a few tips and tricks from this book. Well worth my time, and a beautifully written and designed book.
The book assumes no previous knowledge other than knowing what a website is. It’s a very gentle introduction to a hard topic. The writing style is relaxed and definitely not heavy going... I recommend this as an excellent starting place for your IA learning or even to pick up some new tricks if your already a practitioner.
This was a great primer on the practice of information architecture... Of the 'new' stuff that I learned from this book, probably the most helpful was the detailed methodology for testing a site architecture after it was reasonably established.
This book is a great dive into the theory and vernacular of IA, and has allowed me to more accurately communicate ideas that I've been thinking for over 10 years.
Donna’s book was an engaging and educational read. It should be a staple for any UX Bookshelf, and required reading for junior information architects. It’s filled with bit of humor, and contains many real world examples to back up the lessons she is providing.
Donna is a freelance information architect, interaction designer and writer. That’s a fancy way of saying she plans how to present the things you see on your computer screen, so that they’re easy to understand, engaging and compelling. Things like the navigation, forms, categories and words on intranets, websites, web applications and business systems.
She’s been doing this professionally since 2002 and is a regular speaker at Australian and international events.
A Practical Guide to Information Architecture was originally published in 2010 by Five Simple Steps. This edition has been re-formatted with new illustrations and some minor updates and is now distributed by UX Mastery.