I’ve been lucky enough to work on several websites lately. But…I’m not a designer. I’m also not a programmer.
So what, you ask, could I possibly be doing for a website project if it’s not one of those two things? Information Architecture.
Not to overstate the importance of information architecture for websites (as a whole and in the A/E industry), but if you jumped right into the design without carefully focusing on your content first, you very likely did not get the most out of your redesign budget.
Here are three reasons why focusing on your IA first is a must:
1. Gets Buy-In from the Team Earlier
If you’re like…well, pretty much any firm, everybody in the office will have something to say about your redesigned website. That will never change. Hopefully though, you’ve assembled a small team in charge of the actual approvals and design process and those folks are your real stakeholders. Even when you assemble a great team, the design process can languish on with “I don’t like that”, “Oh, I thought we were going to include a movie like this site has” and “Where’s our Twitter feed?”
Bringing this team to the table to talk about functionality, content, hierarchy and organization before the first project photo is placed in a design file will help prevent those comments. It’s easy for people, especially creative-types to get swept up in looking at nice designs and not realize that some important functional elements were left out.
2. Saves Time and Money During Design
Having your IA completed before beginning the creative process gives your designer a clear map of what they must include on the site, how important it is and how it should work. This usually prevents at least one, if not multiple rounds of revision during the design process due to items that fell off the radar. Fewer revisions means less money, especially if you’re working with a high-dollar agency for your new site or you’re having a site built with a Content Management System (CMS) back-end.
3. Optimized and Timely Content
Focusing on your sitemap and finalizing it before the design begins is key. Yes, it does save time and money to not have to revise design files numerous times – but, the big benefit is that when done properly you have a powerful checklist to manage your content. If you have to rely on project descriptions from your engineers or architects prior to launching the site, it’s easy to track that missing content with a well defined sitemap and provide milestones and due dates before the design team is ready to program the site.
Being able to look at your entire sitemap on one screen also helps you optimize content from the usability and search engine perspectives. Page titles, keywords, and headers can all be defined in a robust content inventory file and you can even visualize how users may or may not be able to find certain pieces of content easily from other related portions of the site. How nice would it be to work all of that out BEFORE the site is ready to launch?
And Many More…
These are just three of the many reasons to take a strategic marketing approach to your new website before focusing on the aesthetics. Think how many firms a few years ago might have chosen not to use Flash if they would have realized they wouldn’t be able to send a link directly to a project description on their website?
The bottom line – the better the IA, the more effective the website is as a marketing tool for your entire team.