There is an enormous amount of information on the internet. Every page you load is stuffed full of it. With so much raw data floating around the internet it’s vital to remember that in order for human minds to be able to actually process all the data, strategic visual architecture is required. Pages that have masses of information and cues all jammed together will elicit no response from a visitor since the effort required will likely be too great and the end result will usually be a click away.
The very best optimized sites, however, can contain a massive amount of information that visitors will happily and easily process in a matter of seconds. This is entirely down to information architecture, which is one of a suite of facets that make up User Experience (UX) design. Some of the frontrunners in information architecture (IA) include social media sites.
Social media sites require effective IA because the information that an average social media page contains is deeply diverse and, as such, can be extremely confusing to navigate if it isn’t designed well. So, let’s take a look at what is going on that dictates whether IA for social media is a success or a failure.
No social media looks the way it does now without having looked very different in the past. “You may notice, particularly if you are using social media apps such as Facebook or Twitter, the occasional need for your app to be updated. Aside from bug fixing, mostly these will be small, or significant tweaks to the aesthetics of the app. Social media websites in their earliest form look completely different and evolve over time, in part due to the changes in content in part due to market research on the way people use the site”, says William Scott. That evolution phenomenon is most interesting because it implies a sense in which social media websites ‘evolve’ as humans evolve. As humans have adjusted to navigating sites in a way that isn’t as dependent on text, for example, and more on intuition, it has been important for a company like Facebook to adapt their IA to account for how we as people have changed in our digital interactions. Flexibility, the ability to evolve, is vital for proper social media IA, I A of any time. If you ever think you’ve cracked the code with site design, think again.
UX design can sometimes lose sight of its origins. When you obsess over a cool feature of a social media site, like for example Instagram’s update to allow multiple photos in one posting, then you can forget about the broader user experience. Understanding how people who are using the app will be affected by the multiple photo design requires stepping back and thinking about how an average user uses the app as a whole. Before that update is able to be enacted, there has to be a guarantee that the overall UX won’t be badly affected. Some of ensuring your IA is in order involves user testing.
But there are other solutions too. For example, Sitemap Tool from FlowMapp, which turns the possible user experience into a digital map so that the ‘flow’ of your site can be assessed in advance of making a big change.
One of the biggest challenges for any digital IA is that, as a field, it is highly interdisciplinary. “Knowing how to work effectively in IA is not something one person can really do. Understanding the technical specifications, for example how to code for the actual page design, is great and will be a valuable asset. But just as important is dealing with a constantly fluctuating set of variables relating to human psychology, classification, logical navigation, data management, testing methodology, and a whole host of other complex fields”, warns Samuel Herzel, data manager.
People take web design in general for granted. The thinking is that, since we are now well into the internet age, that ought to make things simpler, when in truth, at a high level, it makes it much more complex. Bring that into the social media arena and it becomes even more difficult since social media has its own set of rules and behaviors associated with it. That’s before mentioning the vast human element to social media which adds a further layer of unpredictability.
Doing proper information architecture for a social media site is a real skill, one that takes years to learn and usually will still require the input of others with their own specialties. But, as you can see, it’s a vital part of social media design and it is changing every minute of every day.