Information Architecture is not always easy to explain. It helps if you can talk about it with your team, and think about it easily in your own head. So today we are going to learn about:
User Stories & Types of Information Architecture.
(If you’re just starting the UX Crash Course, Start Here.)
A User Story describes one possible path a user can take on your site or app. It should be short, but complete. You will need many user stories to describe your whole design.
A basic user story for Google.com might look like this:
The user arrives on the main search page.
The user can enter any search query and submit with the mouse or keyboard.
The next page displays a list of search results with the most relevant results on top.
The user can click the link to go to the appropriate site, or they can navigate through more pages of results until they find something useful.
Note: This is a little too simple, but you get the idea.
Notice that nothing in the story tells me specifically how to solve or design those actions; just that they are possible. The purpose of these stories is to describe flows. Sequences of user choices. Not the final UI.
If the flows are simple and effective, you are doing a good job (so far).
Managers often think User Stories are a way to order UX from the designer, but that is absolutely wrong. Why? Because a user story is basically a list of features or functions, and that has a major effect on the final solution. The UX Designer writes user stories to communicate to the team.
Not the other way around. That would be like telling Bob Ross what colours to use!
(I was gonna say Michelangelo there, but come on...)
Ok, so now that you can write user stories, we need to bring your Information Architecture (IA) back into this. The structure of your pages determines the steps in your user stories. And to structure your pages you have to pick a type of Information Architecture to work with (or a couple types, but let’s keep it simple for now).
Types of IA include:
Let me break it down for you (cue the DJ):
When you think of a retail store like H&M, you probably imagine their menu as a set of categories: “Men, Women, Kids, Sale” and so on. Types of content. When you click those categories you expect to see content that fits in that category.
This is the most common type of Information Architecture. However, if the categories are complex, like banking products, or industrial chemicals, or sex toys (a friend told me), then you and your users might not have the same expectations about what is in those categories, and that can get confusing. If I want to buy a butt plug, is that under “Battery-Operated” or “Glow-in-the-Dark”? Life is full of hard questions.
Another way to organize your site or app is by the goals the users need to achieve. If you are a bank, perhaps something like “Save, Loan, Invest, Get Help, Open an Account” would make a simpler menu. If the user knows what they want, this is a great way to structure your design. But be careful… users don’t always know enough to choose their own adventure.
If you think about it, you will realize that a Task-based site and a Category-based site for the same company could look very different. It’s an important choice.
If your site is very complex, or if it is mostly full of user-generated content, a search-based Architecture might make more sense, like YouTube. If YouTube only had categories (Funny, Sad, Ads, Movies, etc.) it would actually be hard to use, and a lot of work to keep the categories correct!
If you’re just starting in UX this might blow your mind a little: you can also design Information Architecture that changes with time. The simplest version would be your inbox, where messages are displayed in the order they arrived. That is “Time-Based” IA design. On a site you would have pages for things like “hot right now, archived, later, new” etc. Reddit or the Facebook News Feed are also an examples of time-based design.
Facebook — or any social network — is Information Architecture based on people. All the pages are designed around who the information is about, and the relationships between them. Once you are on someone’s profile, Facebok uses categories (Photos, Friends, Places) to organize different types of content.
And there are probably many other types! But this article is already getting long.
Tomorrow we’re gonna get into the most holy of all UX responsibilities: Wireframes!