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What Role Does Information Architecture Play In A Successful Intranet?

 

When you’re building an information management solution, such as a corporate intranet, it’s easy to equivocate user experience with visual design.

Visual design is certainly important in creating user-friendly, functional design. But no matter how appealing your intranet looks, or how many web parts you use on the home page, people are coming to your intranet to find content.

Their ability to find what they need depends on good information architecture, from the navigation to taxonomy and search functions, not to mention how well the content is written, presented and structured.

When you test an intranet you’re always going to run into some findability issues. And intranets naturally grow over time, no matter how well-designed and well-governed they are. Eventually, you’re going to need to address these problems. Migrating to a new intranet provides a great opportunity to assess these problems and improve your information architecture.

Information architecture activities start in the user research phase. Let’s say you conduct an open card sorting exercise to uncover findability issues in the user experience, for example. The results of that research then inform the foundations of the information architecture, suggesting structures and navigation hierarchies.

The rapidly changing technology landscape is presenting new opportunities for creative solutions in information architecture. Instead of just assuming that what worked in the past is going to work in the future, consider applying the latest thinking from outside the SharePoint community to your SharePoint information architecture.

In the past, content strategy and content direction have been somewhat of an afterthought in information architecture. More forward-looking organizations are now taking a hands-on approach to how the content is directed. Since people are primarily using a corporate intranet to find and use content, it makes sense to take a content-first strategy to information architecture, setting up guidelines and designing the technology to support great, findable content.

Content inventories are the foundation of all content design, helping to understand what’s available today and what will be on the intranet in the future. Mind-mapping, meanwhile, offers a visual way for people to understand the relationships that exist in taxonomies, and sitemaps show how the navigation is structured.

Similarly, the prevalence of mobile technology is also shaping the information architecture process. Adopting a mobile-first strategy acknowledges that the digital workplace now includes a variety of devices that are limited in bandwidth, interaction and size, requiring a new approach to content strategy and interaction decisions. These devices also have new advantages, such as mobility and portability, as well as intuitive touch screens.

For corporate intranets, responsive design is often seen as a way to solve the “mobile problem,” in that this approach automatically adjusts the intranet display to fit the restraints of any mobile device used to access it. But responsive design isn’t just a feature of a well-designed intranet. Instead, it’s a technical application of a new, adaptive reframing of how we do design in a world of ubiquitous devices.

In design, introducing constraints tends to spark creativity. If you have limitless options, you’re not going to produce a very interesting solution. But when you apply constraints to your intranet design, such as requiring that it function well when accessed from a variety of different devices, you’re forced to make decisions about what’s important and find creative ways to present information.

And when your design strategy emphasizes a content-first and mobile-first approach, your intranet is going to naturally work well across all of the various devices and contexts that people use to access this information. When these come together in one package, you get the maximum benefit from your information architecture.

Learn more about the importance of information architecture in your intranet by downloading our free e-book, “Designing A User-Centered Intranet For SharePoint Online”.

 

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