Good Navigation? Who ya gonna call?

Girl looking for directionsNavigation is one of the most important aspects of web design. There’s an art to effectively guiding your visitors around your site so that they learn how much content is available and where to find it.

How can you be sure your site is easy to navigate? By calling upon the services of an information architect!

According to the Information Architecture Institute, an international organization committed to advancing and promoting the practice of information architecture (IA), information architecture is:

  • The structural design of shared information environments.
  • The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
  • An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

In general, IA is the work involved to analyze, organize and label information on a website or web application so that users of the software can actually find what they are looking for – the desired information or functionality. In a nutshell, the information architect creates the website or application’s navigation scheme.

Information architects work behind the scenes understanding the purpose and goals of the website and then determine how to best present that information to the target audience.  Working with the clients, using content inventories, competitive analysis and persona(s), the information architect helps define the strategy, content and features for the website.  This definition is then used as the foundation for the development of site maps, wireframes and screen designs – all tools used to define and document the IA goal – an intuitive website design.information architect

How do you know if the information architect has done a good job?  Check your website’s navigation against the following guidelines provided by usabilityfirst.com.

The navigation should:

  • Be easy to learn.
  • Be consistent throughout the website.
  • Provide feedback, such as the use of breadcrumbs to indicate how to navigate back to where the user started.
  • Use the minimum number of clicks to arrive at the next destination.
  • Use clear and intuitive labels, based on the user’s perspective and terminology.
  • Support user tasks.
  • Have each link be distinct from other links.
  • Group navigation into logical units.
  • Avoid making the user scroll to get to important navigation or submit buttons.
  • Not disable the browser’s back button.