“On the Web, if a site is difficult to use, most people will leave. On an intranet, if employees perform their tasks more slowly due to difficult design, the company bears the cost of the reduced productivity. In fact, I estimate that low intranet usability costs the world economy $100 billion per year in lost employee productivity. This may not be the most important problem facing the planet, but it’s not a trifling issue either.
Usability is an important, though not the only, determinant for the success of a web site or an intranet. Information architecture is an important, though not the only, determinant for the usability of a design. There are other issues, but you ignore information architecture at your peril.
Critics may say that users don’t care about information architecture. They don’t want to learn how a web site is structured; they just want to get in, get their task done, and get out. Users focus on tasks, not on structure. But it’s because users don’t care about the structure of a web site that it is so important to get the information architecture right in the design. If users did bother to study our web sites, they could surely learn how an obscure or illogical structure works and utilize that knowledge to improve their task performance. Humans are flexible creatures and can adapt to hostile environments if they choose to do so.
But since we know that users won’t spend time learning our information architecture, we have to spend resources to design the best information architecture we can. Allow users to focus on their tasks, and let information architects be the ones to spend time worrying about the structure of the web site or intranet. This is a good division of labor, and the pay-off from good information architecture is immense. The more that answers are located in the places you look for them, the easier the design will feel to users, and the more successful the project. There will be more sales (for e-commerce sites), better reputation for good service (for marketing sites), and less loss of productivity (for intranets).
I am a great believer in having professional information architects design the structure of professional information projects such as corporate web sites and intranets. But I also think there will be an increasing role for personal information architecture in the future. It will soon be time to teach a simplified version of the discipline to high school students, and possibly even to bring it into elementary schools as well.
The modern world is one of information overload; we are constantly bombarded by an inflow of messages, and we ought to read much more information than we have time for. Keeping yourself from drowning in this morass of information will require personal information architecture skills for problems like structuring email folders and computer files as well as the ability to manage advanced search features.
In the long run, personal information architecture may turn out to be even more important than corporate information architecture. For now, though, read this second edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and get your web site and intranet in shape to support your customers and employees. Good information architecture makes users less alienated and suppressed by technology. It simultaneously increases human satisfaction and your company’s profits. Very few jobs allow you to do both at the same time, so enjoy.”
Spoken by Jakob Nielsen
Quoted in “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd Edition”