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Design Your Navigation From The Outside In

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when designing a website is labeling and organizing the information with the terms the internal company uses. It is very important when organizing your content to look at it from the user's perspective, not the company's.

How Do I Organize From the User's Perspective?

1) Who are your visitors?
The first thing you do when creating your website is ask yourself who is coming to this site and why are they coming. What are their ages, computer experience, knowledge? What need do they have that you are going to fulfill? This gives you a picture of the user-types who will be accessing the information. Any time during the following process if you are unsure of how to organize your information, go back to this first question to get the answer.

2) How do we currently interact with these users?
What questions do they ask us to elicit information, and what information do we give in response? This is the beginning of understanding the labels your customers use in relation to your business. The receptionist in a company is often the best person to answer this question.

3) How do our users see our organization?
Now looking at the information that your users are seeking, consider how this information would be logically organized. Consciously put aside the method your company uses to organize this information. This is generally the most challenging part of the process since you are used to looking at your information in a particular way, and you must move back and take another perspective.

For example, if you were a physical therapist, you might not organize your information with the therapies you provide. Instead you may organize it by the physical challenges the users face, and within those pages talk about the therapies that apply to those challenges. In this way you've related the information to your users rather than how you related to the types of therapies.

4) Create an outline of how users would see the information organized.
Consider the categories and subcategories of information. Do not forget to include site basics such as how to contact your organization and brief description of your company's purpose (even if you feel your clients know this already).

5) Label your categories.
This part is often tricky as different people within the company will have different opinions about which labels to use. Cutesy labels are definitely poor usability and should be avoided. Labels should describe the information that page contains, or at the very least be a branded term that your clients know the meaning of. Labels should always be the same part of a sentence (noun, adjective, verb) or similar phrase structures. Consistency in labeling makes your site predictable.

6) Ask some users for feedback.
Share what you have organized with typical users from your client base. Ask them for feedback. Be open to their responses, and allow them to assist you in creating a logical and easy-to-use organization of your information.


Marc - Strategic Consulting said...

This is very true. Too many web sites are designed for the designers instead of for the visitors. But remember that today, a web site is only the beginning of an internet presence management program. Getting involved in blogs, social media, specialty forums, etc., can be critically important. More at Internet Presence Management and Social Media.