IA is hard

You may not have noticed it, but there’s a great piece making the rounds on the interwebs this week.  Here it is:  http://deep.design/the-hamburger-menu/

TL: DR Stop using the ubiquitous but harmful “hamburger menu”.

What’s great about this piece is that it actually makes the really salient point – bad navigation interfaces are the result of bad information architecture (IA) choices.   And IA is hard.  In fact, it may be the most difficult thing we do.  We’re making up nimbus structures of words and abstract objects to fit together coherently and clearly for people we’ll never meet.

And clients what they want.

Why Information Architecture is Hard

It’s hard enough (especially without proper research budgets) to convince clients that the information they think is important and the information you’ve discovered to be important are not the same things; try getting them to accept that they only need the information that’s actually important.

What results are really bloated menus,  and of course,  because all of that information has “priority”, they all end up in the same place in the requirements document (what we end up building off of).  Hamburgers are a logical result of a broken client process.   They elegantly cram lots of information in a neutral enough icon.  Given that they are simple to construct and come pre-packaged in many front-end frameworks, it’s very easy to implement, which helps to sweep the IA mess under the rug.  When you can hide everything in a closet or a drawer, why would you ever actually clean it up?

But we know that approach is a band aid.  Take the time before you get to the interface to:

  1. Know what it is your users are supposed to do at your site
  2. Label them clearly in an organized document
  3. Ruthlessly remove other information

Clarity in information architecture results in sites that people like to use.  It helps designers avoid cliches in their work, which helps your site stand out.  It gives copy writers a better chance to write copy that works, and it makes it easier to track progress.