On joining American Express, I was responsible for assessing the structure, design, and production of their public websites. During this process, my team assessed the business itself as well as its customers, in order to understand their respective needs. We also carried out research, mapping activities, and a critical analysis of content and structure in order to economise, reduce surplus items, and refine the information architecture. The result was improved findability, increased volume and quality of website traffic, improved success, conversion and retention rates, and optimised operational processes.
“Bryn brings a broad skillset to the table and is able to contribute meaningfully to conversation on everything from SEO and PPC to CMS choice and operational processes. He is a seasoned expert in user centred information architecture but always considers the business implications. Doing so means we’ve gain a lot of utility out of the work he’s done.”
Websites often reflect the organisational structure of a company. The result is silos within silos, potential misuse of prime space, and worse, a terrible user experience. When you add complexities such as being a global presence and/or rapid growth – these issues are often compounded further.
This project posed three distinct problems. First, determining what our customers and stakeholders want from the website. Second, given those needs, what should the information architecture and design look like? And third, how to achieve an optimum solution that meets potentially conflicting needs?
We compiled theory, patterns and documentation into working prototypes that would act as directional aids. We used this to demonstrate effectiveness in a single, low-priority, high-potential market before codifying for global use.
Global & Supplemental Navigation
We developed a suite of site-level navigational tools to allow seamless movement between content and provide continuity, while being intuitive to use and easy to adopt.
Local & Contextual Navigation
We also developed page-level navigational tools that can be built into templates or optionally adopted to enable faster finding and broader discovery.
Information Architecture Model
We designed a formalised structure with the necessary tools to facilitate an implementation that directly addresses the spread of content sources and producers.
We produced clear documentation explaining how to utilise components most effectively based on our collective knowledge captured across all markets, including what decision models and validation to complete.
We categorised component and template areas based on how they were intended to move traffic, while taking customer ‘journeys’, expressed needs, and latent needs into consideration.
We utilised knowledge of theoretical and operational practices to suggest alterations and make recommendations for change. Essential to this was the separation of ownership and responsibilities: allowing experts to be experts.
All major page types were templated both on the CMS and in third-party guidance. The templates gave needs, goals, testing evidence, as well as guidance on how to contribute improvements.
To give utility to the page templates, we also developed a suite of components based on the centralised design system. Doing so enhanced quality, efficiency and accessibility.
- Initially, we focused on investigating and understanding the business. It was important that we identified business expectations and creating an understanding of the goals of this project, in order to create an alignment between business and the team objectives.
- We then set about mapping the current state. This involved looking at existing webpages, identifying those that were discoverable, and understanding usage.
- As it became clear that there was a need to economise and restructure existing content, we took the opportunity to analyse users and gain useful insights into their transactions and needs. This enabled us to make informed decisions that would ultimately improve processes and operations.
The first step was to understand how the business makes decisions and gets work done. We mapped the players, structures, decision paths and operational processes.
We found that the use of precise language and defined terms was important both within the project team and to the wider business, especially when it came to understanding deliverables and managing expectations. To address this, we developed and published a document that outlined the accepted definitions for this project to provide much needed clarity.
We worked closely with local web and content teams to educate them around user-centred design practices, but also used the opportunity to listen and share information. Because of this, we were then able to produce educational materials for all content partners, both internal and external.
Beyond the business we needed to understand what was there in terms of content, artefacts, templates, and tools. We conducted a comprehensive mapping exercise with a particular focus on webpages that were discoverable by users on site. This included attaching analytics to each of them to get a sense of current usage.
Once we understood the context and business goals, we turned our attention to the customer in order to understand their needs, journeys and frustrations. We were able to leverage a lot of existing research, but also conducted a large number of card-sorting and tree testing activities. We did this for multiple layers of content in multiple markets to make sure that we established a model that was globally consistent but locally relevant.
A comparison of our mapped data and our customer research revealed a significant surplus that needed trimming back. We introduced a “Needs & Goals Canvas” so that content owners could assess their assets, align them to user needs, and economise. After an initial period of rapid reduction, we then included this as part of the standard production process for new page requests and changes.
We created a generalised site blueprint for a small group of centralised experts in order to help translate information needs into products and artefacts.
Beyond the structure, we explored the idea of content fragmentation and how a single database would be able to power everything from emails to webpages. We ultimately converged around a single content repository which went on to serve modular content. This also better enabled us to economise editing and archiving processes.
Building on what we’d established about the business, the published as educational materials and the proposed structure we assigned clear roles and areas of ownership.
At the content level we also worked with local markets to build structured content strategies aligned to user need with clear outcomes and areas of ownership.
We had to modify a number of operational processes to align with the new areas of ownership. We also had to introduce a new request process to enable people to ask for them in other areas. As part of this process we also built in feedback loops to keep shared artefacts (such as a cross-platform sitemap) relevant.
Once we’d outlined structures and practices, we worked through them on a live site to test and refine them before rolling out to the wider business.
Things will continue to change.
A well defined information architecture strategy gives longevity to effort invested.
- Things will continue to change.
- A well-defined information architecture strategy gives longevity to effort invested.
- Information needs both organisation and specific grouping.
- Separate out information from assets and products.
- Areas of content should be treated like products.
- Clear and substantiated pattern rules reduce disputes.
- Over twenty other themes which formed the foundation of our research, product and information architecture strategies (example below).
Improvements across all core information points with no degradation on unsupported iteration.
- Finding accuracy and efficiency improvements.
- Contact significantly reduced across all channels.
- Increased volume and improved quality traffic.
- Optimised operational processes.
- Significant bottom-line improvements.
- Improved success, conversion and retention rates.