We design information architecture for e-commerce. Part 1


    The time has come to think about the role of information in the design of interaction and its architecture, features and how to work on it.
    Most of the time we design interfaces and examine their perception by users. But it must be borne in mind that most interfaces are not an end in themselves, but just intermediaries in the interaction between a person and information. Therefore, the information itself, its architecture, and human perception of information rightly pay substantial attention. Today we will talk about information architecture (hereinafter - IA ).

    For impatient or those who have little time: a brief summary and interesting links at the end of the text.

    Let's start with the evidence.
    Evidence # 1: People need information to make decisions.
    Evidence # 2: Information may be:
    • Incomplete - it is not enough to satisfy user information requests;
    • Incorrect - it does not correspond to reality;
    • Redundant - it is too much and / or too complicated for the user to perceive;
    • Irrelevant - it is enough, it is correct, simple enough to perceive, but ... useless. For many reasons.

    Evidence # 3: In any of the above cases, all work on the beauty, elegance and functionality of information presentation interfaces lose their meaning. For example, with false information, an ideal interface will allow the user to quickly make a false decision.
    Evidence # 4: Information is organized into a structure that has an architecture.
    Evidence # 5, final: If the user does not find the necessary information or does not perceive it, the customer or company loses profit.
    While working as a UX designer in the field of ecommerce, I came across a variety of ideas about information architecture. For the most part, it is perceived as one of the non-essential aspects of interaction design. As a result, neither resources nor time are allocated to work on information architecture. Ultimately, users suffer, and companies lose a significant share of revenue.

    Perhaps this is the main reason that prompted me to write the article that I bring to your attention. It is divided into several chapters, in which I propose to consider the following issues:
    • What is information architecture as a phenomenon, its place in the overall process of interaction design;
    • What is the specifics of working on information architecture for ecommerce;
    • How we make decisions. A bit of psychology;
    • How to design an information architecture in practice.

    To tell in detail about everything within the framework of one article - the goal is impossible, so I ask you to leave your wishes and questions in the comments, and I will try to answer everything in the following parts.

    Well, let's get started.

    Why work on information architecture?

    All matches with real characters, services
    and products are random.

    What happened to Ivan Vladimirovich

    Ivan Vladimirovich returned home at midnight due to the fact that he was very late at work. In principle, he lingered quite often. This would not have bothered him so much, if not for one circumstance: he was informed in the evening that their new boss would have his birthday tomorrow.

    Ivan decided on the gift rather quickly: it was known that the chief of alcohol prefers a good rum. But the situation as a whole was hopeless. Numerous shops of elite alcohol known to him were closed, and the celebration will begin in the morning. Apparently, you have to use the online store. Ivan Vladimirovich did not like the Internet and used it mainly for reading news. Reluctantly, he sat down at his laptop and proceeded to search.

    His choice was at the Eliteboose.com store, which he had heard about as the best choice for liquor. At first glance, Ivan Vladimirovich was impressed by the stylish and neat design of the site.


    Glancing over the menu, he thought. Rum was not one of his favorite drinks, and he understood it, frankly, no matter. If you think about it, rum falls into any of these categories, with the exception of the aperitif. After some deliberation, Ivan Vladimirovich decided to go to “Gifts” as the menu item most suitable for his needs.

    He looked through the offered products for about 15 minutes. To his disappointment, there was no rum in the list of goods. And the gifts offered were far from his needs and from financial opportunities.

    I already felt very sleepy, but Ivan Vladimirovich made another attempt by going to another menu item - “For Friends”. Among the numerous beers, vodka and liquors, he finally noticed a lone rum hiding at the end of the list. The bottle of Demo Anejo was probably a good choice, but he was confused by the lack of choice. And whether the chief, the head of the department of one of the leading banks in the country, has lied to him, he will appreciate the gift at a price of only $ 13.

    Ivan Vladimirovich went out on a balcony to smoke. Then he returned, sat down at the laptop and made the third and final attempt: he chose the menu item “For a feast”. And then a long-awaited miracle happened: he saw an impressive list of diverse rums of any price category. After thinking about the list for a couple of minutes, he added the fifteen-year-old Gran Demo Blender rum to the basket and easily went through the ordering process. Ivan Vladimirovich was pleased with himself, but a premonition of a colossal lack of sleep significantly poisoned his mood.

    In the morning, Ivan Vladimirovich finally became convinced of the justification of his dislike for online shopping. After drinking a couple of cups of coffee, he vowed to himself to find out about upcoming events only in advance, so that he could get gifts in ordinary stores calmly and without stress.

    And now in numbers

    In the above story, there is a problem with IA, albeit exaggerated. At Eliteboose.com we see vaguely defined and named categories, an unobvious classification of goods into categories.

    We can state the fact that Eliteboose.com was very lucky with Ivan Vladimirovich. Our hero was a) stubborn enough not to forget the idea of ​​buying rum in an online store, b) principled enough not to refuse to buy a gift as a whole, and c) inert enough to go to a competing online store.

    But, I believe, the assumption that most potential buyers would give up trying to find the right alcohol in Eliteboose.com after the first, or certainly after the second attempt, would not be very far from reality. Thus, we can calculate the lost revenue of the store.

    We adapt the approach of Jared Spool , which he used to calculate the cost of frustration for passengers from usability problems for the Amtrak transport company:
    1. We calculate the ideal potential income - Iideal = a * b , where a and b are the average check and the number of potential buyers (leads) per day
    2. We get the total lost income - Iforgone = Iideal - (Iideal * x / 100) , where x is the percentage of rejections from the purchase as a whole
    3. We find out the cost of the error in the IA - IAcost = Iforgone * y / 100, $ 3500 * 20/100 , where y is the failure rate due to the IA’s fault.

    1. The average check order is $ 100 ;
    2. the number of potential buyers (leads) per day - 50 ;
    3. the proportion of refusals from the purchase - 70% ;
    4. of them, due to the fault of IA - 20% .

    We consider:
    • Ideal income - $ 100 * 50 = $ 5000 per day
    • Total lost income - $ 5000 - ($ 5000 * 70/100) = $ 3500 per day
    • The cost of an error in IA is $ 3500 * 20/100 = $ 700 per day

    We conclude:
    The cost of errors in IA is $ 700 per day, $ 21,000 per month or $ 252,000 income per year.

    In the case of enterprise software, the loss in the time spent by employees will be no less significant.

    But before moving on to solving the problem, the following question reasonably arises:
    “What do we mean by information architecture?”

    What is information architecture?

    Take the average employee of an IT enterprise and ask a question: what is an information architecture, and why is it needed? Among the answers we get with variations may include the following:
    • “Is this how the information is organized? Where and what is located? ”;
    • “Something from usability, for the convenience of using the site?”;
    • “Exactly, a sitemap!” Yes, of course it’s useful ... I really don’t use it ”;
    • “Navigation, like ... Well, how to navigate the site”;

    All answers are relevant to reality, but different in terms of understanding the phenomena of IA. But most likely, all respondents will agree that a good IA is useful, and a bad one is harmful. If you ask your customers about this, the variability of opinions will increase significantly. And after studying the fundamental works on IA, the truth will become apparent that there are several understandings of IA, even among the information architects themselves.

    Richard Saul Wurman The

    father of information architecture, Richard Saul Wurman , gives the following definitions of information architecture:
    • “Finding and organizing patterns inherent in data. In order to do difficult - simple ”;
    • “Creating a structure or map of information to allow users to find their personal path to knowledge”;
    • "A profession emerging in the 21st century, focusing on clarity, understanding of man and the science of organizing information."

    Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld in the classic work on the IA "Information Architecture on the Internet" give as many as four definitions:
    • A combination of organization, subjectization and navigation schemes implemented in the information system.
    • Structural design of the information space, contributing to the implementation of tasks and intuitive access to content.
    • The art and science of structuring and classifying websites and intranets to make it easier for users to find and manage information.
    • A developing discipline and a community of practitioners, which aims to disseminate the principles of design and architecture in digital spaces.

    Donville Spencer joins Morville and Rosenfeld , who draws on their definitions in her Practical Guide to Information Architecture.

    Despite a very broad understanding of the term, it would be nice to formulate a definition and understanding of IA from the point of view of practice in the design of interaction.

    I propose the following (which would not contradict the above approaches to understanding IA):
    “IA is a scheme for organizing site information” It is

    concise and very abstract. Measured indicators of the quality of IA should be quite specific:
    1. Speed ​​of finding information (KPI: number of steps to find information or time spent);
    2. Quality of information found (KPI: a qualitative indicator of the correspondence of information to user expectations, from 1 to 10).

    It should be noted that the IA is always present in any application. The question is only in its compliance with the understanding and needs of the user.

    Hence the question number two:
    If it is so important, how to integrate the work on IA into the overall process of interaction design?

    How to work on information architecture?

    I am close to the point of view of Dan Saffer , who, in his Designing for Interaction, considers four practical approaches to designing interactions, which I give below. How appropriate is it to work on IA within each of the approaches?

    A. User-centered


    Idea: The user knows better

    Focus: The goals and needs of the user

    The essence of the approach: The designer involves users in the workflow, from the very beginning and throughout the project. Constant consultation with users, testing after each stage of design. In the event of a conflict of opinion between the designer and the user regarding any interface element, the user’s opinion has absolute priority.

    Where used: large grocery companies, startups and digital agencies.

    Features: The approach may not be suitable for sites designed for a large number of users and with wide positioning (because during the study, the designer will rely on the opinion of only a narrow circle of users).

    Place of IA: Due to the specifics of the approach — the main emphasis on research — you can safely use the lion's share of IA tools (I’ll write more about the tools separately) without losing time and budget. The most expensive part - the set of studied users - is paid in any case, because they are already taking part in UX research and testing. The design of the IA will follow the classic pattern from top to bottom.

    The subprocess of creating IA
    Note: the research method “Card Sort” is far from the only one. An excellent comparative review of IA research methods is described here by Jim Ross .

    B. Activity-centered


    Idea: Starting from the tasks of the user.

    Focus: User activity.

    The essence of the approach: Activities consist of actions and decisions. The designer explores the actions that the user makes and the decisions that he needs to make. Based on research, but to a lesser extent than the previous approach. After that forms a list of tasks facing the user, and, based on them, offers a solution.

    Where it is used: Both start-ups and outsourcing companies.

    Features: Due to the focus on the tactical tasks of the user (Register, enter a password, specify the search parameters) there is a risk that the designer will not see the forest behind the trees (buy a product).

    IA location:You can also develop IA in collaboration with users without much loss of time and budget. But you need to build on the user's tasks, and what information should help the user to solve each specific problem in the course of his activities. Only after that will it make sense to move to a higher level. Thus, the design of the IA will go from bottom to top.

    IA subprocess

    C. Systems design


    Idea: The user is part of the surrounding system.

    Focus: The user's environment.

    The essence of the approach: mainly an analytical approach. The designer should focus on the context of the use of the site. The states of the system, the environment, the goals of the system's activity with respect to the environment, and the responses of the system to external disturbances are determined and modified.

    Where used: Digital-agencies, large food companies.

    Features: It is advisable to use only in cases where a complex product or product system is created. As a rule, the approach requires the work of a whole group of designers and designers.

    IA location: direct research and design of IA is replaced by work on the architecture of the system, with different tools and approaches.

    D. Genius Design


    Idea: Designer - the head of everything.

    Focus: Own understanding of design, design heuristics (examples can be found in the Nielsen Norman Group ).

    The essence of the approach: The designer independently designs the interaction, based on his experience and understanding of the issue and checking against the given heuristics.

    Where used: outsourcing companies and startups.

    Features: The entire design process and its results depend on the designer 100%.

    Place of IA: Due to time and resource constraints, full-fledged research on IA is difficult. Therefore, designers periodically independently create information architecture schemes in an arbitrary form, based on their understanding and project needs.

    Subprocess of creating IA

    In the case of designing an information architecture for ecommerce projects, there are several specific points that we will discuss in detail in the next chapter.

    To summarize the interim results.

    Results or briefly for those who are too lazy

    What is
    Information Architecture (IA) - a scheme for organizing information.

    How to measure
    1. The speed of finding information;
    2. The quality of the information found.

    Who invented
    Richard Saul Wurman.

    What is the problem
    ? Losses from a “poor-quality” IA are not very obvious, hidden in the form of lost revenue, but quite significant (they can reach half of the lost income or more).
    As a consequence of their non-obviousness:
    IAs are often sacrificed during the process of designing interaction.

    What Next
    In the next chapter, we will look at building information architecture for e-commerce, and the pitfalls of this process.

    What to read
    If a topic interests you, I recommend reading the following articles:

    Or, if you are very interested, I offer you the following books:
    1. Information architecture on the Internet (P. Morville and L. Rosenfeld, Russian) is one of the basic books on IA, moreover, of the few that have been translated into Russian;
    2. A Practical Guide to Information Architecture (D. Spencer, Eng.) - also basic, but I found only in the English version;
    3. Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences (A.Resmini, L. Rosati, Eng.) - in my opinion, a great book for "advanced" study of IA.

    We design information architecture for e-commerce. Part 2

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