Archive for the ‘information architecture’ Tag

Creating Information Hierarchies

Now that we’ve done some research, patterns of user behavior are beginning to emerge. A majority of our users prefer that information be grouped by audience (teens, law enforcement, seniors, etc) while a significant portion prefer that they be grouped by topic (gangs, fraud, drug abuse, etc).

We originally predicted that this would happen and believed that we would need to provide alternate navigation options so that people could find resources by either topic or audience.

However, in our case the more I think about it the more I think audience should be like a filter that applies to the topic based navigation scheme. For instance, teens and law enforcement personnel might both be interested in information on drug abuse, but their perspective needs to be taken into account to provide the appropriate materials for each.

It will be interesting to see how we can turn this insight into a working prototype. I’ll post it here when it’s ready!

Starting Your Research Efforts

The starting point for any web redesign effort should be finding out what your users think about your existing site, and where they want improvements. You may be thinking of adding a bunch of tools to integrate with delicious/flickr/youtube etc, and that could be great for your site, but is that what people really want?

Instead of starting with ideas for potential features, follow Jesse James Garrett‘s advice and ask yourself “What do people want to accomplish? How does this activity fit into their lives? How can I deliver on those desires?”

But if you’re here you probably know all about that. So how do you actually start finding out what your users think?

We just finished doing our first phase of research on the user base of, the flagship site of the National Crime Prevention Council, and here’s how we did it:

Fortunately for us, our Research department has a Quask server that we used to create an online survey we could link to or send out via email. If you don’t have access to such a tool, there are online substitutes like Survey Monkey.

A survey can tell us about our users’ age/gender/profession, how often they visit the site and for how long, what topics they’re interested in, and what they use the site for. What it can’t tell us is how they think our content should be organized.

To do that we need to create a card sort exercise. In a card sort, you take a list of items (in this case, pieces of content from your website) and have users put them into groups and name them. This gives us a great deal of insight into how our information hierarchy should be designed. There are a few different web-based card sorting tools, for our project we tried Optimal Sort and were pleased with the results. For more info on card sorting, see this Boxes and Arrows guide.

We linked the card sort to the end of the survey and sent it to our site’s registered users (the ones who’ve agreed to be contacted by us) and wrote a blog post on the home page soliciting participation.

Has your non-profit tried this type of research before? Have you done something completely different?