1. Define what Information Architecture is, and describe what role an Information Architect plays in the development of a web site. Be sure to use images if possible and provide references to the literature. (Minimum of 500 words.)
Information Architecture (IA) simply refers to the structural design of a website, annotated page layouts, site maps, metadata and labelling of a digital interface. Whether these components are visible or not, they are requisite for an information architect to consider. The purpose of IA is to organise and combine functionality and content in a way that allows users to be able to intuitively navigate through a website.
A construct known as the information ecology created by Morville & Rosenfeld represents the interrelation IA has with the user, content and context. A unified relation between these three elements assists in providing maximum information architecture. Maximum information architecture in turn ensures users are able to easily navigate through the website which grants user satisfaction. The following elements are defined as follows;
- Users – are the target demographic for the website.
- Content – reflects the information/data the website communicates
- Context – is the purpose the website exists (mission/vision statements)Figure 1 – Morville & Rosenfeld Information Ecology Construct
Role of Information Architect
An information architect must consider the structural design for a website. Capabilities fulfilled by an Information Architect include;
- Highlighting the mission and vision statements for a webpage
- Ensuring the needs of the web contents harmonise with the needs of its target audiences
- Controlling the content and functionality of the site for intuitive experience
- Striving for easy user experience (UX) designs by organising the navigational, labelling and search system
- Mapping out long term vision for how site will adapt to change and growth over time
- Instantiating organisation standards into structure
Information Architects face the inherent challenges of balancing representation and language. Naturally, many don’t appreciate the value of information architecture unless it is poor. Good information architecture goes unnoticed. Nonetheless, when a website lacks intelligent organisation of its content and functionality, users are quick to notice. An example of a poor IA is depicted in figure 2, which demonstrates some flaws. A cluttered domain with an overload of content, the navigation bar is extremely small making it difficult for those that are vision impaired. The sizes of the thumbnails that support some content seems incongruous as the images look out of place. Some images are so small that it’s difficult to identify what they are. Moreover, the only other bit of navigation that is not intuitively recognised is displayed on the top left screen as “sections.” The term “sections,” is also a very ambiguous term to regard content. These are a few examples of why this website makes for a poor IA design.
Figure 2 – Poor IA Interface
An example of a website that demonstrates features of good information architecture is the Samsung website. Samsung appropriately utilises the space with its simple yet large images. There is little content displayed on the website which makes it appealing. The navigational bar is distinguishable at the top of the page at a decent font size. Unlike the example above, when the user hovers over the nav bar a drop down menu with a greater granularity of content is displayed. The font on the website is legible which makes it user friendly. Ultimately, the simplicity of the layout of the website makes it very approachable and natural. After juxtaposing the bad and good IA’s, the importance of information architecture is evident. This further reinforces that the job of an IA is not as easy as it seems. Information architects must consider all the above aspects of website design in order to deliver a functional and purposeful website.
Figure 3 – Good IA Interface
Structuring, labelling and organising is what IA’s do. Structuring consists of defining the right levels of granularity for information. Labelling involves determining what to name headings and categories for easy navigation. Organising is about grouping content and managing it under appropriate and meaningful labels. These conditions come together to help convey meaning in an effective manner.
2. Take a screen capture of the main page of an e-commerce web site of your own choice and post it on your blog. Ensure that you capture the entire page with your screen capture, not just the top portion of it. The e-commerce site must be one that makes use of a search system.
Figure 4 – eBay – e-commerce website
a. Create a table describing ALL the navigation labels (similar to the one shown below, taken from the textbook “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, P. Morville & L. Rosenfeld, 3rd ed., page 101). The table should present the name of the label, the destination page’s heading label, and the destination page’s <TITLE> label.
b. Describe what labels you do not like and why, and suggest improvements.
Effective labels are intuitive and clearly define what the contents of a page contains. This website achieves that with very simple and uncomplicated page headings. Conversely, the biggest downfall to this e-commerce website is that the headings navigational system does not stand out from the rest of the content. The font for a header is incredibly small and should be increased. Increasing the font size will make it more legible and distinguishable from the rest of the content from the page. Furthermore, the font is ordinary and does not have a background colour that would make it distinct from the rest of the page. Apart from making the navigational header prominent, it would also be aesthetically pleasing, which would appeal to a greater demographic. Another flaw with this website is that it contains too much clutter on the home page. There is a wide range of functionalities on the home page, from banner images, to sliders, to contextual links. This is excessive functionality for a homepage and can become overwhelming for the user.
c. Describe whether there are any inconsistencies in the labelling system between the pages on the basis of style, presentation, syntax, granularity, comprehensiveness and audience.
Consistency has great weight in the delivery of a digital interface. Consistency in the page layout, font size, navigational positioning and style all combine to deliver a coherent user interface experience. Consistency between webpages increases the users experience as they are familiar with the design structure which thus makes it easier for them to navigate and search for what they desire. The user experience on eBay is slightly compromised through inconsistencies that will be highlighted below. However despite this, eBay integrates simple yet effective labels to help user navigation.
- Style – The navigational system is extremely inconsistent between the body pages and that of the home page. The home page consists of the usual horizontal navigational system. The following pages, Fashion, Home & Garden, Electronics, Sports, Liquor & Grocery, Toys & Media and Collectables page all contain a vertical nav bar on the left hand side. Although this is a minor change in the style of the pages, it does create inconsistency between the pages. Apart from this distinct style flaw, everything else remains constant.
- Furthermore, after completing the navigational system labels matrix above, it became clear that some inconsistencies existed in the sites navigation style. An example of this is, most the pages/body headings had “| eBay” at the end of their title headings. “Motors” did not include the addition of “| eBay.” Furthermore, the “Home & Gardens” page had the inclusion of “AU” in their title heading whilst the other pages didn’t. Moreover, none of the other pages had this addition. This is a very inconspicuous and trivial flaw, however it became prominent when creating this table. As made clear in the Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by P. Morville & L. Rosenfeld, it was highlighted that arranging labels in a table provided a more complete and accurate view of a sites navigation system (102).
- Presentation – the layout of the navigational system remained inconsistent with the aforementioned flaws. However in terms of colour and the layout of content, it remained constant.
- Syntax – eBay uses very basic noun based labels for its heading. By using simple one/two word nouns, it is able to collectively group its contents. By employing this simple syntactical approach, it makes the website remain coherent and eases user functionality.
- Granularity – in regards to the granularity of the website, it remains consistent across the webpages with users provided the option to search items or shop by category. The level of granularity becomes greater the deeper a use delves into the categories. Categories are more detailed such as going from fashion to, shopping through different departments or stores to fashionable inspirations. Granularity increases and adds another depth to the user search experience. It enables them to make the searches they want and more.
- Comprehensiveness – eBay was very simple yet comprehensive in its labelling. No ambiguity exists when making searches as the titles are very clear and comprehensive.
- Audience – eBay was able to appropriately cater to the different audiences in in its different webpages. An example of such is when they target young boys and girls clothing under the fashion heading.
d. Describe what types of navigation are used.
EBay employs a diverse range of navigation systems from global, local and contextual systems. The global navigation is located at the top of the homepage in a static format. This global nav bar however disappears when the user lands on a page that is not the home. The global bar is then replaced by a local navigation bar on the left hand side. The local bar provides additional information to refine searches. As far as contextual navigation is concerned, it is existent throughout the website as products with links. The contextual navigation is apparent on the homepage. This enhances the user’s exploration within the website by providing a new direction of search.
Drop down headers are also featured in the website. The combination of these drop downs and navigation systems come together to create a very functional and intuitive user interface.
e. Describe what type of search system is used and the strategies for facilitating search.
The following search systems are utilised by eBay, Scoping search and Word wheel search.
Scoping search – allows the user to refine their searches.
Word wheel search – when a user enters a search term, the search bar drops down and presents a list of results pertaining to the searched characters. This achieves user functionality as it enables the user to quickly get search items through scrolling through this list.
Scoping Searches | Research Design Service Yorkshire and the Humber. (2017). Rds-yh.nihr.ac.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2017, from https://www.rds-yh.nihr.ac.uk/how-can-we-help/scoping-searchesfunding-update/
Word wheel Definition from PC Magazine Encyclopedia. (2017). Pcmag.com. Retrieved 11 August 2017, from https://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/54840/word-wheel
3. Examine at least one other similar or competing web site (similar to the web site that you chose in Question 2 above) and undertake the following tasks:
a. Provide a screen shot of the competing web site.
Figure 5 – Amazon – competing e-commerce website
b. Describe how similar the labelling systems are.
In accordance to the labelling system parameters above, both eBay and Amazon share comparable labelling layout features. The style between both webpages is similar, a global navigation bar is clearly visible on the top of both websites. A search bar is common in both websites. On both websites, when the user hovers over the headings or “Departments,” tab in Amazons case, a drop down menu of not only the categories, but the sub categories are displayed. Both have the exact similar page layout. Both websites also have the same functionalities such as the payment method option. The payment methods are user friendly on both these sites.
c. State whether you think any particular site is clearly the winner (and if so, why?).
There is no distinct winner between eBay and Amazon. This is because I feel that both deliver exceptional services in their own esteems. EBay provides a vast marketplace for users to buy and sell items whilst Amazon focuses on the shopper’s experience. Too simply put it, Amazon feels like it provides a freer and less restrained UX, whilst eBay comes across a little more demanding for those who are undecided and need direction.
As highlighted above, both websites are extremely similar in their labelling systems, content and contexts, however both deliver a different user experience. Both websites maintain integrity of their navigation and usability throughout the webpages. The presentation and style of navigation systems are comparable with the navigation bar being located at top of the home page along with drop downs. A noun based syntax system is apparent in both the e-commerce websites. The aesthetics of Amazon is a little more presentable and neater as it has a distinct partition that separates the left hand navigation to the content on the right hand side.
EBay provides a greater deal of contextual links on the homepage with the amount of advertisements displayed. Contextual links are apparent in Amazon, however eBay employs it to a greater degree. These contextual links are exceptionally beneficial as it helps a user understand what the product is. Furthermore, if users have poor English, the contextual links of the images are very supportive.
I praise the information architecture on both websites. These two e-commerce websites are very similar in the IA design, yet still convey and provide dissimilar user experiences. Both the websites maintain integrity, functionality and purpose and therefore a clear winner could not be determined.