I was eager to explore building sitemaps after being introduced to their benefits while learning about the web design process. However, I had an unconventional first experience: I was asked to create a sitemap after the content and navigation were decided. While after-the-fact planning is bad practice (particularly for a UX consultancy website), it was a learning experience in my skills development as a Junior UX Researcher. Most challenging was the structuring of each page within the sitemap in a way that would be understandable to the user. Because the sitemap was based on an active website, I had to do some UX reverse engineering.
On my first attempt, I made the mistake of including all headings and subsections in the pages of the website. In retrospect, its smart to include only the headings that user interacts with. This resulted in an unclear and fairly cluttered sitemap that did not wholly represent the navigational complexity of the website.
It was after this initial setback that I made a mental breakthrough. In order for the sitemap to accurately portray the website, each page link needed to be displayed in a way that was understandable and intuitive for the user.
At first, this task seemed simple as the website did not have a lot of content. Nevertheless, creating an accurate pattern for the sitemap that precisely mapped each website page proved an obstacle. After some experimentation, I discovered that the website pages were all linked in a way that formed a circular navigation pattern.
After this discovery, I displayed the pattern in an easy to use map. As seen in Figure 2, all of the pages in the navigation bar are linked both to the ‘Homepage’ and the international team pages. (The team pages are listed in a drop-down menu in the navigation bar). The ‘Teams’ page links to ‘Services’, which links back to ‘Contact Us. Finally, the ‘Insights’ page stands on its own with links to the various social media accounts below.
This task has shown me the utility of sitemaps for both designers and users. Sitemaps can be used to help a user navigate, or allow a designer to structure a meaningful navigation process. In essence, sitemaps are hierarchical models that break down content into specific areas as well as show the relationship between internet and external pages. I now understand how the process of building a sitemap is a fundamental skill for UX practitioners.