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Information Architecture is something that both designers and developers deal with. Regardless of who is responsible with Information Architecture, the tools and resources related to it are separate instances that require enough knowledge to operate them correctly.

Our team at Amelia put together this article to find out more about what Information Architecture means, what relationship it has with web designers and how it can improve the user experience process in the long run.

Table of Contents

Information Architecture – definition and facts

Information Architecture, sometimes referred to as IA, is the process that involves creating a structure for a website, an app or other project that requires one. Without a well-built Information Architecture, users would be lost when visiting a website or using an app.

IA helps users understand where they are, based on how the website/app is built. Defining Information Architecture is not easy, as it is a wide concept that contains intricate details that need to be separately discussed.

The result of Information Architecture is represented by site maps, categorizations, metadata and so on. Basically, information is placed in hierarchies to make using the website more effective. Content strategists deal with separating content on a regular basis.

By separating content, they create categories that need to be considered when structuring a website. On the other hand, when web designers create website menus, they also practice Information Architecture to help users select the categories that are relevant for what they search. An information architect places everything in order so that users don’t get lost in content.

IA/UX Design

Many people mistake UX design for IA design. There are some substantial differences between the two, but they are part of the same field. To put it shortly, IA design can be compared to a blueprint of the whole structure of a project.

UX designers use the architecture basis to plan the navigation system. Basically, UX designers rely on Information Infrastructure to improve the user experience. Thus, IA is the foundation of UX and one of the many requirements that designers must respect.

The importance of Information Architecture

The website Information Architecture takes quite a lot to create. This is the reason why people tend to avoid working with IA. This is a mistake because efficient navigation is not possible without a good Information Architecture foundation.

Efficient IA design is a condition of obtaining usable websites and applications. Without IA, a website would have many navigation problems that will simply make users leave it as soon as they access it. Investing time in Information Architecture could save developers a lot of resources in the future, as they will no longer need to improve the structure of a website.

Paramount questions to ask regarding Information Architecture

There are four big questions you should keep in mind when talking about IA design:

  • What flow of user goes through the site?
  • How does IA help users search though information?
  • How is the information presented to the user?
  • Is the information helping users to find what they are looking for faster?

The information architect is the one who needs to handle these questions and decide what the next move is in terms of IA design. These questions mostly refer to the audience, because the IA design is directly influenced by it. Information Architecture influences everything, so it’s best to have a big picture in mind before getting to work.

What is the relationship between Information Architecture and Website Navigation?

The website navigation refers to all the components of a user interface. These components make up the navigation experience on a website.

Users can find information much more rapidly if the website navigation is well-built from the start. Because it makes information easy to access, the users are more likely to make decisions that are beneficial for the website users.

How are they related?

There is a clear relationship between IA design and website navigation, relationship that was also mentioned before. To design a project beautifully from the very beginning, information architects must invest their resources in the IA design process.

Without setting a clear scope for the entire project, Information Architecture cannot be properly defined. The relationship between website navigation and IA becomes clearer when designing a website from scratch and comparing this site with one that has no Information Architecture. Such websites are ineffective and very difficult to browse on.

Making an IA design for a website that has already been developed is costly and time consuming.

Define IA before navigation

When designing (or redesigning) a website, one condition must be followed. The Information Architecture must be defined first, while the navigation system can be set up afterward.

Yet there is a convenient feature about IA design: you can begin the wireframe process and prototyping before finishing the Information Architecture. One thing is sure – developing the navigation system only by following design principles won’t lead to an ideal outcome. It is best to balance the two elements out.

IA in design

If the role of IA design is still not clear, you should learn more about the user-centered approach that designers choose when they work on a project. A website is not focused on design only because there are a multitude of other details that ultimately affect the user experience. Information Architecture is one of these elements.

It represents the entire skeleton of a design process. Without it, everything would be reckless and chaotic. Powerful UI design and quality content are completely irrelevant if the IA design is ignored.

No user would enjoy content that is disorganized and difficult to navigate through. Because finding the information they need is very time-consuming, people prefer leaving the website immediately rather than searching for what they want, even though the content might have been resourceful and the user interface pretty.

Information Architecture – principles

Information Architecture cannot be designed without following a certain number of rules and principles. Because IA design is all about structuring information, it simply cannot be done without following a specific development line. To organize the information logically, you should follow the principles listed below:

  • Objects – Content is treated just as a human being. It involves different lifecycles, it shows various behaviors, it has attributes and characteristics.
  • Choices – As the saying goes, less is more. The principles of choices refers to the fact that less elements is the key to good project design. Overcrowding a website with elements is the opposite of this principle.
  • Disclosure – Information previews are the ones which instills curiosity. Users will only dig deeper to find more content if they are interested in what they assimilate from the preview.
  • Exemplars – Showing examples of the published content for each category will help the user decide whether the content included in that category is relevant for him or not.
  • Front doors – Around 50% of users find another way to access the website other than through the main page. This is the reason why all the content needs to be organized properly.
  • Multiple classifications – Users need to separate the information using relevant criteria. The classifications included on the website will influence how effective browsing the website is.
  • Focused navigation – Navigation should be simple to avoid confusing the users instead of helping them find the information they need.
  • Growth – it is important to make the website expandable. Making the website scalable is a condition of good design.

As you may notice, there are plenty of principles to respect when building a website. Without following these principles, the website might not turn out efficient and it won’t be appreciated by the users. If the website does not generate the results that were initially predicted, it can lead to profit loss, which is the worse thing that can happen.

Activities as part of the team

Information architects are the ones who normally cover a wide range of tasks. They are part of the UX team in a project. The most common tasks involved in their activity are researching, creating the navigation system, wireframing, labeling and modeling data. Each of these tasks is described below.

Research and analysis

In Information Architecture, researching plays a great role. Information architects are the ones who handle this task by handling interviews. Their job is to notice how prospective users behave while using a website and – based on their research – they decide how to categorize information.

By studying people’s behavior while they use an app or a website, information architects gather very important information that can be used to transform an existent project in a better one or to avoid making similar mistakes when building one from scratch. Moreover, they analyze how users use the information they gather from websites and apps.

After conducting an in-depth research and gathering all the data they need, information architects start analyzing the data. This is where the analysis process begins, as part of IA design.

Most information architects present their data in the form of spreadsheet reports, from which they formulate various recommendations and potential methods of approaching a project.

Navigation and hierarchy

After going through the research and analysis processes, the information architect can begin to create a hierarchy. Based on the data analysis performed earlier, the information architect can start organizing the content. Here, the information architect must also take into account the preferences of the client/organization that he works with.

For instance, if the client specified that he would like the FAQ section under the Product category, the information architect must respect this requirement, even though it might not be the exact way he would do it. Information Architecture principles must still be followed.

However, the information architect has to inform the client about the best practices in term of hierarchy. The final result should be a combination of the client’s preferences and the architect’s experience and knowledge.

Wireframing

Wireframes are a way to express the connections established between the technical point of view of Information Architecture and the practical perspective.

In order to begin the wireframing process, an information architect must use the information he gathered during the research phase, as well as the decisions he made during the hierarchy creation phase to create a main image of the content, which is supposed to show how users will interact with the information.

Labeling

Adding labels is the process that creates pages on a website. By creating a good hierarchy and navigation system, as well as labeling each page appropriately, a user can find the information he is looking for much easier.

Taxonomies

The same goes for taxonomies and metadata. In Information Architecture, a taxonomy is a group of elements and also a record of how different content is placed together based on a selected criterion.

Information architects are responsible for choosing the most appropriate taxonomies for the content they manage. This content can then be tagged using metadata, which makes the taxonomies searchable.

Data modeling

Data modeling is known as content modeling in Information Architecture and it is usually performed by a content strategist and an information architect. The collaboration between the two is done in order to combine both business logic, the requirement of the users, good editorial practices and structured content principles.

Redesigning a data model is not effective and this is why new data models are always mapped in the case of content migration. During this process, templates might be created and offered to copywriters or content strategists that work with that website.

Organizational systems

These systems represent a way of divided information. Organizational systems are used in Information Architecture to help users predict where to find information. There are three basic types of organizational systems:

Hierarchic

Hierarchic systems are inspired from Gestalt psychological theory. Content should be organized in a manner that makes people understand how important each element on the page is. Depending on the element’s position, it is more or less important for the people who read it.

Sequential

Sequential systems refer to creating a focus path for the user to follow. The users are guided through the content step by step, so that they go through each sequence and assimilate the information properly. Retail websites are the ones who use the sequential system for their Information Architecture.

Matrix

Matrix is the most complex organizational system, where users are given choices regarding how they would like to read the content. Content is grouped based on different schemes. The most popular content schemes in Information Architecture are:

  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topic
  • Audience

Business value

How productive employees are?

A bad Information Infrastructure will result in reduced productivity because of the time waste that occurs, as well as the frustration that employees encounter in searching for the needed information. The research conducted by the IDC in 1999 proved the financial implication of low productivity caused by bad IA design.

Good sales and reputation

Sales can go down if the users of a website are not pleased with how the information is structured on it. The reputation of the brand will also go down because of this.

Not investing in Information Architecture will lead to issues that can have serious implications in website abandonment rates. A good IA design can have a knock-on effect on a business and can open doors for new customers.

New users or customers

Obtaining new users or customers is probably among the goals of all businesses. Making sure that users can easily find sing-up pages and contact details through good Information Architecture is a must. If users can’t find such information quickly, they are very likely to leave the website in minutes.

Ending thoughts on information architecture

Information Architecture can be more complicated than people think, and its effects are clearly visible in the long run. When approaching a design project, you simply can’t skip coming up with an efficient IA.  

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