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Information Architecture Strategies

The following are the principles we apply in developing information architectures (also referred to as navigations) for our clients.  They're meant to both let you know where we are coming from when recommendations are made and for you to take and apply as you continue to revamp the site.

General principles

  • Top-level links should be organized into intuitive groupings; sub-links should be presented in order of agreed-upon importance.
  • Top-level links should present the basics up front but should also help drive the visitor into and around the site.
  • Top-level navigation should be accessible from every page of the site, as should all links within a page’s own section.
  • Navigation links should link to internal pages only. Links that are part of the primary navigation should not take the user to another site (with the possible exception of Athletics).
  • If possible, top-level navigation ought to be a cohesive unit of its own that reads well; it ought to give a sense, however abbreviated, of the overall content to be found throughout the site.
  • Although all a Web site’s audiences are important, the primary audience for these top-level navigation links is the external audience (prospective students, parents, alumni, scholars and faculty from other institutions, potential job applicants, and the public at large).
  • The pages linked from a top-level navigation should work together to tell a story about the institution (or section); users will frequently click through all top-level links one after the other, so they ought to work together
  • Ideally there are no more than 8-10 sub-pages in a navigation.

Key Challenges for USF
We see two key navigational challenges on the current USF site:  1) the intermingling of a section’s (or page’s) navigational links (ie those pages that fall directly beneath it in the site map) with links that lead elsewhere in the site and 2) the inconsistency of listing the site navigation on each page. 

Navigation v. Links
For the most part the information associated with the “elsewhere” links is important to the subject of that page, but for navigational purposes, intermingling the two can lead to confusion and very long sub-navigation lists.  We often suggest taking a relatively rigid approach to the navigation – only listing pages that fall under the header page in the site map – while making sure to incorporate the other links in the text and/or adding them to a “Related Links” area of the page. 

Exceptions can certainly be made: It’s fine to deliberately cross-list pages in two places in the navigation when it intuitively makes sense.  You’ll see areas where we suggested cross-listing pages – pages that will essentially live in two places in the site map.  There are also instances where we recommend moving an “elsewhere” page to that section of the site map.  But those exceptions should be limited and thoughtful. 

A thorough review of all areas deep in the site is necessary to fix this issue site-wide—we are suggesting fixes for the areas of the site we’ve been contracted to review, but USF staff will need to carry this through to completion.  In particular, we’ve found many administrative and academic departments and programs have navigations that include links to pages that ‘live’ elsewhere.  Removing these pages from the navigation (and adding links to them within the page’s text) should immediately help in cutting down the long lists of links that plague much of the site’s interior navigation.

EXAMPLE
The Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies homepage navigation looks like this:

CURRENT NAVIGATION
            The Program
            Curriculum
            Request Information
            FAQs
            Admission / How to Apply
            Information Meetings
            Faculty & Staff
            News & Events
            Student Perspectives & Achievements
            Career Paths
            International Students
            Financial Aid / Tuition
            Housing
            Contact Us
            Other Graduate Programs
            USF Center for the Pacific Rim
_____________________________________

EDITED MAIN NAVIGATION
            The Program
            Curriculum
            FAQs
            Admission / How to Apply
            Information Meetings
            Faculty & Staff
            News & Events
            Student Perspectives & Achievements
            Career Paths
            Contact Us

OTHER LINKS ON THE PAGE
            Request Information
            International Students
            Financial Aid / Tuition
            Housing
            Other Graduate Programs
            USF Center for the Pacific Rim

The Ever-Present Navigation
When moving through a site, the easiest and clearest way to know where you are, where you were, and what’s beyond is to fully list out the navigation, as it expands, on every page of the site.  This means, for example, in addition to making sure the top-level navigation appears on every page of the site, three clicks in, you would see three tiers of navigation.  We want to make it easy to get into and out of an area of the site as well as let people know where they are if they find a page via search.

 

 

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