The modern world throws around so much information that we need a way to organize it. This is where Information Architecture (IA) comes in. IA is mostly used in UI/UX Design and product development, but it can be applied to almost anything.
Whether you are a UI/UX Designer, Developer, Content Manager, Writer, or anyone looking to create a successful product or run a successful business, knowing the basics of Information Architecture can help you present your content in a way that users will connect with.
What is Information Architecture?
“Good design, when done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice”
- Jared Spool, UX Designer
Information Architecture is the way we organize content and information around us.
At one point or another, you’ve most likely done some form of information architecture in your life. Whether you were researching for a school paper, planning a vacation, writing an article for your company’s blog, or even organizing your kitchen cabinet – essentially, you organized information the same way an Information Architect does.
We are living in the information age and now more than ever, do we need information architects, interaction designers, UX designers, and content managers to help us organize everything around us – or else the World Wide Web will turn into chaos. So how do you begin? And what are the things you need to know?
Why Information Architecture is important
Information Architecture helps create better user experiences because it helps users find exactly what they need, where they expect it to be. Without proper Information Architecture, the content you create cannot be discovered.
Add in the fact that Facebook and Google algorithms screen pages and websites with only quality content, it’s vital that we make content that is not only valuable to users but organized in a way that they understand.
Principles of Information Architecture
These principles of Information Architecture were developed by Dan Brown (not the writer), an Information Architect, to help ensure good site structure.
But before applying these principles, the first steps are to understand the functionality of the website and to take inventory of the content. After, these principles can be applied in order to optimize the information architecture of the website.
This is the idea that content should be viewed as living things, with its own lifecycles, behaviors, and attributes. An Information Architect’s job is to define and understand the nature of these objects in order to create a structure.
There is a paradox of choices that points out that more options people have increases cognitive load, making it harder for them to make a decision. By this principle, it is important to keep choices to a minimum and focus only on a set of choices that have meaning to users.
This principle suggests that we should show previews of information to help users know what kind of content they can find if they go deeper into the site. This gives users the power to decide if they want to dig deeper.
Descriptions don’t always work well and sometimes categories are not self-explanatory. This principle suggests that the best way to explain what’s in a category is to show examples of content. Images can be useful in cases like this.
This principle is the assumption that at least 50% of users will enter your website through pages other than the home page. This means that your pages must tell people where they are and what other options they can do with your website.
People view information differently so designs should accommodate that. This principle suggests that we should offer users different classification systems to help them browse or find content.
The Focused Navigation principle indicates that navigation needs to be kept simple and without too many links as not to confuse users.
This is the assumption that content in the website will grow – what you have today is only part of what you will have tomorrow. Designers need to anticipate this and ensure that the website is scalable. Menus anticipate additional topics while pages anticipate new topics.
Knowing User Behaviors
Information Architecture provides value to users. IA of websites need to address user behavior in order to successfully deliver value. Knowing how they navigate, search, or filter will enable you to properly structure your information so users can reach their destinations quicker and without confusion.
There are 4 types user behaviors or reasons they visit websites.
KNOWN ITEM SEEKING: Users to a site to search form something known, specific, or desirable.
EXPLORATORY SEEKING: Users visit a website to look for ideas or inspiration with nothing specific in mind.
EXHAUSTIVE RESEARCH: Users may visit a site during the process of extensive research to find as much information they can.
RE-FINDING: Users look for a specific item and are trying to find it again.
Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, pioneers of the IA field enumerated four main components of IA in their book, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”.
Organization systems are the groups that information is divided. This helps users find information easily. There are three types of organizational structures: hierarchical, sequential, and matrix. Additionally, content can be grouped by organization schemes. Some popular schemes are alphabetical, chronological, audience, and topic schemes.
Labeling represents large amounts of data in just a few words so data can be united effectively. This helps reduce confusion among the users
Navigation Systems are how users move through the content on your website. It employs numerous techniques in order to create an effective navigation system. Navigations are used to help guide users around the site.
Searching Systems enable users to search for specific data or information. This is usually used by websites that contain a lot of content, such as e-commerce sites or job sites.
The Value of IA in Design
Information Architecture can be considered the foundation of efficient design since it forms the blueprint or skeleton of any design. Graphics, functions, navigations, and interactions depend on the information architecture of the project.
No matter how beautiful your designs may be or how compelling your content is, without a proper organizational structure in place, the design can still fail. No IA means users will have a difficult time navigating your site, making them feel lost and irritated. This will create a bad experience and even worse, make them leave and never return again.