Why IA unfolds all the time

For past projects I worked on the Information Architecture (IA) as an earlier design phase and it wouldn’t change much by the time we built. This was different and allowed for flexibility. We never stopped working on the IA (this became a project theme for all phases). We did everything all the time.

User journey template flow Seattle Central College

What we did

We committed to a prospective student focused front page. Previously it was a front page for all audiences (prospective students, current students, employees and community visitors). The decision to focus the front page for one audience informed the unfolding structure. We gave other groups (current students, employees and community visitors) their own focused section in the global navigation.

We never stopped iterating on the IA (this article by Abby Covert hit home with me).

Warn your coworkers and clients that IA is not a phase or process that can be set once and forgotten. It’s an ongoing discussion that can be impacted during any stage of the work.

The legacy site had siloed sections on various platforms. Each site had their own architecture and visual design. Then there were applications such as the class schedule and funding tools to integrate. This is how we approached the IA:

  • Gathered a list of everything
  • Consolidated duplicate or similar sections and pages
  • Mapped out a new general first and second level IA
  • Met with content owners to refine their section

Each one of the bullets above have been repeated numerous times through the process.

Menu structure levels Seattle Central College

When we implemented the menu structure in Drupal we quickly realized the IA needed to be fleshed out more levels deep. The team member with the most institutional knowledge created a companion table to show the levels so that we could make the sub navigation three levels deep.

Names that mean something Seattle Central College

We also realized some of the legacy naming conventions didn’t mean enough to the user journey. So for navigation items we created new labels that meant something more to a human that is not an institutional lifer. We kept reference to the legacy verbiage in the copy so that it would still be searchable and increase the ease of use for multiple audience types.

We also wanted to have pointed calls to action and deliberate choices for users. We made a basic user journey flow of template choices. Higher level pages acted as forks in the road for prospective students. Middle level narrowed to a few. The lowest level were meant for current students who need resources for their program.

What I learned

The IA will never be done. Knowing that is a good thing. As the site should be flexible enough to accommodate ongoing refinement. For us changing the names of items from institutional to meaningful (in a prospective student sense) turned out to be a nice piece to pair with the IA. Also the tables hashing out the sub-nav was key. It helped interpret the navigation and template structure for the content design and Drupal twig templates.

It is important to have a voice for the Information Architecture and a voice for the institutional knowledge on the team. I suppose it could be the same person. But on our team it was two different people. This way terms can be decision points for what an item will be named. For instance we scrapped “curriculum” for “course planning” and “learning outcomes” for “what you’ll learn.”