The emergence of information architecture and user experience
As digital media has matured, we’ve seen a need for new experts to make it easier to consume. We now have people who concentrate on helping websites structure their content properly (information architects) and ensure that visitors can seamlessly get what they’re seeking (user experience experts).
Unfortunately, some writers and site owners are late to recognize the value that these experts bring, as we’ll see below.
The upshot: writers, marketing directors and anyone else with a stake in a website to know what options exist to make complex information easier to grasp.
Three options on content structure
Let’s take a look at how three different sites handle the same topic.
I’ve picked three healthcare providers addressing sleep apnea. The task here is to give people suffering from this condition enough information to make informed decisions without overloading them.
Two go to opposite extremes. The third gets it just right.
Option 1: The too-hot, information-overload approach
The University of Maryland Medical Center takes a one-page approach. It’s good, detailed information, but it’s also more than 7,000 words long.
Judging by the credits at the bottom of the page, it looks like those who run the Maryland website conceding control to medical experts, not communications professionals. This is a very tough page to work through. On a desktop, it’s a problem. On a smartphone, a nightmare.
Option 2: The too-cold, little more than an ad approach
The University of Michigan Health System goes to the opposite extreme.
Again, it’s one page, but only 480 words long. While there’s some useful information here, it’s of course limited. What results is a page that is not much more than an advertisement for the health center’s services.
This looks like a case in which the creators said, “Let’s just keep it short. They’ll get the details once they meet with a doctor.” That’s okay, but seems like a missed opportunity to demonstrate expertise.
Option 3: The just-right blend
In the first two cases, those who created the sites didn’t seem to understand the value of good information architecture and the resultant user experience. Compare their approach with a site that does, Mayo Clinic.
All told, Mayo provides readers more than 3,000 words of information. But they don’t put it all on a single page. They break up the topic into several subtopics:
Definition of sleep apnea – 123 words
Symptoms – 233 words
Causes – 248 words
Complications – 405 words
Preparing for an appointment – 562 words
Tests and diagnoses – 1,204 words
Lifestyles and home remedies – 238 words
Only one page – tests and diagnoses – gets fairly lengthy. Given Mayo’s reputation for thoroughness, that’s probably acceptable.
While the design isn’t dazzling, it’s quite functional – keeping the reader focused on the main content of the page rather than distracting them with too many peripheral issues.
Making like Mayo on your site
It’s worth spending some time studying Mayo’s approach. While it’s heavily structured, there’s room to expand or contract subpages based on a disease. More importantly, the structure nicely guides the writing for each section. Each contains information pertinent to the subhead without extraneous material seeping in. That makes for a more rewarding user experience.
It’s also evident that Mayo spent a ton of time figuring out how to organize its content – not just how to write about it. Without knowing the particulars of how they did it, I can surmise that it was a close collaboration between Mayo’s SMEs (physicians, nurses, technicians), marketing staff, writers, and information architects and user experience specialists.
Mayo is just one example of how to effectively structure content. How this plays out on your site will depend on the information you’re trying to convey and the audience you’re trying to reach. But the more you understand the role each function plays – and how to collaborate as a team – the better your site will be.
Need help organizing your website into manageable units? I can help. Call me at 612-419-4405 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.