Information architecture is the key-stone of great website design.
Defining the Information Architecture helps to create a blueprint for your site upon which all other aspects will be built; form and function, structure and navigation, interface and visual design.
IA design is primarily a consultation exercise. Over the years, I've created a 6 stage process that helps to ensure that all of the relevant information required for the successful creation and delivery of your project is captured.
Stage 1 : Define the Site's Goals and Scope
The single most important question that needs to be answered - as failure to clearly define the purpose of the project is often a major cause of mission-creep that causes a project's costs to spiral, be it in unplanned development costs or delay to launch.
Stage 2 : Identify the Site’s Audience
Understanding your users is a key step towards building a user-friendly site. By clearly identifying and supporting your users' goals, your site can deliver the level of service your visitors expect and deserve, and project the professional image you desire.
Stage 3 : Identify Content Requirements
Another big question: what specific pieces and type of content does the site need? Gathering content is regularly a bottleneck to delivery, so this stage can be used to get this critical element of the deployment process under way early in the build cycle.
Stage 4 : Identify Functionality Requirements
What functionality is required that's not already built into, or available for the CMS? Clever functionality is great, but you'll need to rank the importance of each requirement. Depending on your deadlines and budget, some functionality might drop off your list.
Stage 5 : Define the Site's Structure
Your website's structure is central to its success. Users must be able to find the information they need quickly and easily - if your site has a lot of content, getting people to their target page can present considerable challenges.
Stage 6 : Define the Site's Navigation
In usability testing, logical and intuitive navigation is one of the most regularly cited desired attributes of a website. The good news is that once stage five of the IA Design Process is complete, this final stage generally slips effortlessly into place.