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Jaime L贸pez
Jaime L贸pez

Posted on • Originally published at intranetfromthetrenches.substack.com

The Benefits of Strategic Information Architecture for Your Company's Intranet

To create an intelligent and high-performing intranet, hub, or website, having a well-planned and executed information architecture is essential. The foundation of effective information architecture is based on a thorough understanding of your users and their needs. By gaining insight into the tasks they need to complete and their preferences for how to navigate and access information, you can design an architecture that aligns with their needs and expectations.

An effective information architecture not only makes it easier for users to find what they need, but it can also improve user adoption, satisfaction, and productivity. By reducing the time and effort required to locate information, users can focus on completing their tasks efficiently. This can lead to a more engaged and motivated workforce, as well as reduced IT costs, since users will require less support in accessing information.

Additionally, information architecture can help mitigate the risks associated with information overload and minimize compliance and security risks. By ensuring that information is organized and accessible in a logical and secure way, organizations can better control who has access to sensitive information and reduce the potential for data breaches or compliance violations.

Overall, a well-planned and executed information architecture is crucial for creating an effective and successful digital platform. By focusing on user needs and preferences, organizations can improve user satisfaction and productivity, while also reducing IT costs and minimizing risks.

What does Information Architecture mean?

Information architecture refers to the process of organizing and labeling content in a way that facilitates user interaction with the content to achieve their objectives. When it comes to websites, information architecture encompasses various elements:

  1. Navigation: The way users move through the website and access its various pages and sections.
  2. Site hierarchy: The way content is organized into categories and subcategories, creating a structure that helps users find what they are looking for.
  3. Taxonomy: The way content is labeled and tagged, enabling users to search for it based on keywords or topics.
  4. Security: The measures in place to protect the website from unauthorized access, data breaches, or other security threats.
  5. Search functionality: The tools and features that allow users to search for specific content on the website, based on keywords, tags, or other parameters.

Additionally, modern SharePoint information architecture includes strategies for ensuring that relevant content is available to the appropriate users while adhering to your organization's content compliance regulations.

Creating an effective structure in SharePoint involves careful planning and a deep understanding of the domain, content, and user experience. It is also essential to be aware of design approaches and best practices for SharePoint. However, designing an optimal structure is only the first step in information architecture. It is a continuous process, as organizations, people, and projects change over time. As you learn more about your users, you may need to make adjustments to ensure that content is easy to find and navigate. By staying attuned to your users and regularly reassessing your information architecture, you can create a SharePoint environment that meets the evolving needs of your organization and supports effective collaboration and productivity.

Information Architecture Goals

When designing navigation for your SharePoint site, it's crucial to put yourself in the shoes of your users. Consider what information your users want or need to consume, and plan your navigation accordingly. Effective navigation planning requires more than just presenting information - you need to think about how users will interact with the information and how they will find what they need. Organizing and labeling your navigation links is essential for enhancing usability and findability. If your navigation is poorly organized, users may struggle to find the information they need, leading to frustration and a poor user experience. Conversely, if your navigation is well-designed, users will be able to easily locate the information they need, leading to a more positive experience and increased productivity. Therefore, it's essential to invest time in planning and organizing your SharePoint navigation, ensuring that it is user-friendly, intuitive, and easy to use.

Some of the goals (benefits) to search with a successful information architecture are:

  1. Increased productivity: Users can quickly find the information they need to complete their work, leading to increased productivity.
  2. Improved collaboration: With easy access to the right information, users can collaborate more effectively, leading to better decision-making and outcomes.
  3. Enhanced user experience: A well-designed and organized intranet and site navigation system can improve the user experience and reduce frustration, making it more likely that users will engage with the content and the platform.
  4. Better compliance: Effective navigation can help ensure that users can easily find important company policies and procedures, increasing compliance and reducing risk.
  5. Improved knowledge management: With an organized and structured intranet, knowledge management becomes more manageable, allowing for better sharing and retention of institutional knowledge.
  6. Increased employee engagement: A well-designed intranet can increase employee engagement, helping to build a positive company culture and improve retention.

Strategies for organizing the I*nformation Architecture*

When it comes to organizing navigation links, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to all types of websites. The choices you make in organizing your navigation links will depend on various factors, such as the type of site you are creating and the needs and preferences of your intended audience. Your navigation structure should be designed with your viewers in mind, ensuring that the content they are seeking is easily accessible and that they can quickly find the information they need. Ultimately, the success of your navigation system hinges on its effectiveness in guiding users to the content they seek and improving their overall user experience.

It's important to consider various concepts to ensure that the resulting structure is efficient and user-friendly. Some of the key concepts to keep in mind include:

  • Services: This refers to the various services provided by an organization, and they should be prominently featured in the information architecture to ensure that users can quickly and easily find what they need.
  • Products: If the organization sells products, they should also be included in the information architecture. Similar to services, product information should be well-organized and easy to find.
  • Activities: When designing an information architecture, it's essential to consider the various activities that users will be engaging in on the website.
  • Audiences: It's important to consider the different types of users who will be visiting the website and ensure that the information architecture is designed to meet their needs. For example, if the site is designed for both students and teachers, there should be clear paths for each audience to find the information they need.
  • Expertise areas or functions: For organizations with many departments or areas of expertise, it can be helpful to organize the information architecture based on these different functions. This allows users to easily find the information they need based on the area of the organization they are interested in.
  • Locations: Depending on the organization, it may be necessary to organize the information architecture based on physical locations. For example, a retail store might organize the site based on the different store locations, with information about each location easily accessible to users.

Some examples

Based on Services

Let's say you are designing an intranet for a consulting company. The company provides a range of services to clients, including marketing, finance, human resources, and IT consulting. Based on this, you can structure your information architecture model around the company's services:

  1. Home page: The home page should provide an overview of the company's services and a clear path for users to find what they need.
  2. Services: The Services section should provide an overview of the different consulting services offered by the company. This section can be further broken down into sub-sections for each service.
  3. Case Studies: Under each service, the case studies section should provide examples of past projects and their outcomes.
  4. Experts: The Experts section can provide biographical information about the consultants and their areas of expertise.
  5. Resources: The Resources section can provide additional information and resources related to each service, including whitepapers, eBooks, webinars, and blog posts.

Benefits of this approach could include:

  • A services-based information architecture model helps users quickly find the information they need based on the services offered by the company.
  • The model encourages users to explore the range of services offered by the company.
  • The model provides a clear and consistent way of organizing information throughout the site.

Drawbacks of this approach could include:

  • The model may not work well for companies that provide a limited range of services.
  • The model may not work well for companies that frequently change their services or add new ones.

Based on Products

Let's say you work for an e-commerce company that sells a variety of products, such as clothing, electronics, and home goods. You could organize your information architecture based on these product categories.

At the highest level, you could have a homepage with links to each category (e.g. Clothing, Electronics, Home Goods). Clicking on one of these links would take the user to a landing page for that category, where they could browse all the products in that category.

Within each category landing page, you could have additional subcategories to further narrow down the products. For example, within the Clothing category, you could have subcategories for Men's Clothing, Women's Clothing, and Children's Clothing.

Alternatively, you could organize your information architecture based on specific products rather than categories. In this case, the homepage could feature links to popular products or promotions, and users could search for specific products or browse by product type (e.g. shirts, shoes, pants).

Benefits of this approach could include:

  • Clear organization: Users can easily find products they're interested in by browsing categories that make sense to them.
  • Consistency: This model can be used consistently across the entire site, making it easier to maintain.
  • Marketing: By organizing products into categories, you can more easily target marketing efforts to specific groups of users.

Drawbacks of this approach could include:

  • Limited flexibility: This model may not be as flexible as others, as it is based on predetermined categories or products.
  • Navigation complexity: Depending on the number of categories or products, the navigation structure could become complex and difficult to navigate.
  • Limited scalability: If your company starts offering new products that don't fit neatly into existing categories, the information architecture may need to be restructured.

Based on Locations

An information architecture model based on locations could be used for a company that has multiple offices or stores in different cities or countries. The navigation structure would be organized based on the physical location of each office or store, with each location having its own sub-navigation structure for specific information related to that location, such as contact information, hours of operation, and services offered.

For example, a company with offices in New York, London, and Tokyo could have a global navigation structure with links to each location, and each location could have its own sub-navigation structure for information related to that office. So, a user who clicks on the New York link would see a page with sub-navigation links for things like office hours, contact information, local events, and available services at the New York location.

Benefits of this model include clear organization based on physical locations, which can be useful for companies with a large physical footprint. This model can also make it easy for users to find the information they need for a specific location quickly.

However, a potential drawback of this model is that it may not be as relevant for companies that do not have a strong physical presence or for users who are not looking for location-specific information. In those cases, the navigation structure may not be as intuitive or useful.

Conclusion

In this article, I discuss information architecture, which refers to the organization and labeling of content on websites, including navigation, site hierarchy, taxonomy, security, and search functionality. When designing a SharePoint site, it is essential to plan carefully and understand the domain, content, and user experience. Effective information architecture increases productivity, collaboration, compliance, knowledge management, and employee engagement. Strategies for organizing information architecture include considering services, products, activities, audiences, and designing with viewers in mind. The success of the navigation system hinges on its effectiveness in guiding users to the content they seek and improving their overall user experience.

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