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Information architecture strategies for school websites

Information architecture (IA) strategies for creating simple, familiar, and inclusive user experiences for school websites.

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The Rivet design system will document information architecture (IA) strategies for creating simple, familiar, and inclusive user experiences for Indiana University school websites. These take the form of 1) a foundation of best practices for creating school websites in the larger context of the higher ed. webspace, 2) specific IA strategies for IU school sites university-wide, and 3) general and school-specific recommendations for content development.

Foundation

Websites, regardless of the topic, should follow user experience principles—with an emphasis on accessibility, usefulness, and findability—and focus on audiences goals.

School websites aid recruitment and retention, establish the school’s identity, tell the school’s stories, communicate the school’s unique value proposition, and connect with the school’s audiences.

These strategies are written with a student audience in mind:

  • All prospective undergraduate and graduate students (including transfer, adult, veteran)
  • Exploratory IU students
  • Current IU students (our focus was limited for this group)

Prospective students seek confirmation that an IU education will improve their quality of life and will be worth the investment of time and money.

Increased skepticism about higher education means universities can no longer assume students see the value in higher education. Universities can convince students that a college degree is worth their time, effort, and money by addressing the broad questions students are asking:

  • Do I need to go to college?
  • How will studying here improve my quality of life?
  • Is getting a degree from this school worth the time, effort, and money?
  • What does this organization say they value and why should I believe it?
Feedback prompts
  • Are these the appropriate broad questions to include? Are there others to consider?
  • What else is foundational to the purpose of the school websites?
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Architecture strategies

All school websites need to address these questions to be useful to prospective students:

  • What can I study?
  • How can I study it?
  • How will I benefit from this major, degree, certificate, program, or school?
  • How do I apply?
  • What will it cost and how can I afford it?
  • Who will I study with?
  • What is it like to be a student here?
  • Who can answer my questions?

If another website is better suited to answer a question, link to that content instead of recreating it on your website.

Primary questions can be grouped into four topic areas, which we recommend including in your primary navigation:

  • Academics
  • Admissions
  • Student experience
  • About

Optional questions can be included to tell the larger story of a school. We have grouped them by topic area:

  • Research
  • Community Engagement
  • Alumni
  • Giving
  • News & Events
  • Continuing Education
  • Career Preparation
  • Student Portal
  • Contact

This is not an exhaustive list of topics. Your school may need to address topics not covered. Please read the full document for an in-depth explanation of these architecture strategies.

Feedback prompts
  • Are there other questions that are critical for school websites to address?
  • Are there optional topics that are not addressed in this document?
  • How understandable is this content?
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Navigation examples

Include all primary topics and no more than four optional topics in your primary navigation. Limit secondary navigation to two optional topics.

Distribution of primary and optional topic areas (example)

A diagram showing primary and optional topic navigation examples

Primary navigation (example)

A diagram showing an example use of the header primary navigation

Please read the full document for an in-depth explanation of these architecture strategies.

Feedback prompts
  • Do these visuals help clarify the concepts outlined in this document?
  • Are there more effective ways of communicating these concepts visually?
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