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Why Business Goals Are Important to Information Architecture

June 28, 2017

Why do you need to understand the business for Information Architecture for websites? The first reason is because it helps define the context of a page. Additionally, when you consider business goals, you help support the business, which is designed to support the users.

The business versus the users

The process of Information Architecture design is often left to the user interface/experience designers of the world. These people have increasingly become more concerned with how an interface affects users rather than its business goals. This mindset is useful, however, unless you’re only building for you and your friends, whatever you’re designing will need to support some sort of business; otherwise, it will cease to exist. This is true even in the non-profit sector, where profit is not the end goal.

It’s important to remember – there are business goals for every project, and money is often at its root. If you were designing for only want the user wanted and needed, there would be no need for anyone to pay for such products and services. There’d also be a lot fewer websites advertising them.

This doesn’t mean we need to be creating UX dark patterns, either. You simply need to plan while maintaining an understanding of the goals of the business. When you do this, you are helping both the business and the user.

Aligning business goals with function

This process doesn’t have to be too complicated. Here’s an example using Heinz’s vision statement:

“Our VISION, quite simply, is to be: “The World’s Premier Food Company, Offering Nutritious, Superior Tasting Foods To People Everywhere.” Being the premier food company does not mean being the biggest but it does mean being the best in terms of consumer value, customer service, employee talent, and consistent and predictable growth.”

Now, if you were designing the IA for their website, it would be nice to know that customer service is a value the business believes will set them apart from their competitors. If you didn’t know that, you might make the mistake of putting a small “contact us” link in the footer of the website rather than elevating the customer service information to the forefront.

The business goals you need to know

What does understanding business goals mean when you are talking about information architecture? A good business strategy is rarely straightforward, and the good news is that you don’t need to know all of the details to design effectively. However, the more you know, the better.

Here are some questions you should be able to answer:

What is the Growth Strategy?

Your business may not use the same term, but understanding the growth strategy makes it easier for you to design the IA so that it supports it. An example of this would be highlighting social share buttons if a viral growth strategy is desired. Knowing this answer can also help you figure out where the user is coming from.

What is the Cost Structure?

Understanding the cost structure, or whether a site will be monetized, is also an important detail to know. While it may feel dangerously close to dark patterns, you need to understand it in order to help the user make the best decision.

Here’s one example: Ryan Air and Virgin Air are on the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum of cost structure. Ryan Air is a low cost/high volume company while Virgin Air has high costs with lots of perks. If you were designing the IA for Ryan Air, you know people are looking for the lowest costs while creating Virgin Air’s might feel more like a customized conversation.

Who is the Competition?

The competition makes it easy to understand how your product is different so that you can highlight the features your users are looking for. Knowing the competition also helps designers understand the user’s expectations, especially if they’ve been exposed to similar products.

Competition can also be a useful source of inspiration, keeping you from having to reinvent the wheel. Just remember to do usability tests on your competitor’s products before you do things their way. You might be able to do it better!

Competition can also be a useful source of inspiration, keeping you from having to reinvent the wheel. Just remember to do usability tests on your competitor’s products before you do things their way. You might be able to do it better!

Locating the Business Goals

Sometimes finding a business’s goals can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. Depending on the size of the company, you may have to take a different approach. In smaller startups, you can typically find out by going right to the source. Talk to the founders and/or business strategists and seek out the answers to the previously mentioned questions. You can also prepare for the meeting by reviewing company documents.

Some useful company documents include:

  • Vision/Mission Statements
  • Business Plan
  • Annual Reports
  • Market Reports

and even more documents included in this article.

If you aren’t able to speak to someone directly, you may be able to gain all the information you need from these documents.

Don’t be afraid to do the necessary research. This little bit of work will be worth it in the end.

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