On content management and information architecture

One of the interesting dimensions in content management is how information architecture (IA) affects reader use. The way a web site is structured is integral to the success of that web site, so long as the content meets the needs of the target audience.

Imagine the way a car is produced. Does the design team for a mass production model design a visually appealing vehicle without regard to the functional needs of the people who will purchase the car? The design team works with an understanding of the main consumer needs of the appropriate target market and the production team assembles the functional and design elements together into the final product. [An aside here, perhaps an example where design and function fail to integrate is in women’s shoes, but let’s leave that discussion for another time!]

If we were to design a great IA for a web site – what would it look like?

Well, it would need to meet the needs of the readers that form the majority of the target audience.  The web site should be task focused (in most cases) since people come to a web site to do something. They may want to buy a car, or see what’s on at the movies, or find out about a business for an upcoming job interview. Essentially, what is the purpose of the site? And who is the target audience – is it really just about providing information for prospective employees?

The IA should then make it as easy as possible for the target audience to get the information they need to fulfil the task – to fulfil the purpose. There may be several task components of relevance to the target market and these need to be factored into the overall design and content. Someone may want to buy a used car instead of a new car, for example. They may want to select from a range of models or price points. And they may want to look for cars by geographic location. The target market is the person looking to buy a car but the task components may be different (old/new car, vehicle range, price, location, etc.).

The IA may also look nice but the primary feature should be to enable readers to find and use what is most important to them. Just think about nice looking web sites you’ve come across that have failed to meet your needs and/or failed to meet them easily and quickly. Function will always be the key – look at Google.

There are many books and web posts that provide advice about web content management and content management systems. Gerry McGovern is another favourite of mine. My small contribution is that content management must meet the needs of the target audience, and that the IA must support that purpose. To that end, the information architect and content manager have a genuine need to work together to make the web site as relevant to the needs of the target audience as possible. And just as importantly, to enable those needs to be serviced as easily and as quickly as possible!

Is that what content management means to you?

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