Like “location, location, location” in real estate, “audience, audience, audience” is the most important consideration in web design. Who is the audience? How will they interact with the site?
When I was hired as the Creative Director in Penn State’s Outreach and Online Education Marketing Department, I found attractive websites, informative websites, and interesting websites. But what I found missing was a clear understanding of the “user”—the audience—and what his or her experience would be when visiting the website. 
I changed our web development paradigm by introducing two important concepts: user-centered design and usability testing. Once we really looked at WHOM WE WERE TRYING TO REACH and WHETHER WE WERE ACTUALLY REACHING THEM, our websites were transformed. Using sophisticated software to create a usability test lab, we found that user-centric websites generated much higher traffic and yielded better results.
But we were just getting started. We needed something—someone—more.
I convinced my superiors to allow me to hire an information architect.
An information architect has an exceptional ability to understand how an individual interacts with information and then organize the flow of website information based on the user’s needs.
Before writing, design, or coding begins on a website, the information architect applies what she knows about the user to plan a meaningful user experience. Labels. Navigation. Information. Is it simple? Intuitive? Inclusive?
We hired a talented professional whose biggest challenge was helping people understand her role and the value she brought to the position, the department, and even the university.
After just a few months, everyone wanted her services. In an unprecedented move, the University’s marketing department asked Outreach’s information architect to be involved in redesigning Penn State’s website.
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