What is Information Architecture (IA) and how does it work?
Information as we know it makes the world go round and the internet takes information sharing to an exponential power. With millions of websites and apps craving for our attention to their immensely diverse content/ information, the average website has to be optimally structured to get a second glance. It is no wonder that websites are constantly being updated and restructured. Thus creating the need for Information Architecture.
As the name implies, information architecture is the strategic organization of information, environments, and labels throughout an internet-based platform such as websites, intranets, software, web apps or mobile apps. This involves the introduction of the systems design and information system management principle into the digital scene to improve ease-of-use and labeling.
About information architecture (to detail what it is, where it came from, etc. ... use sources)
Information Architecture is the practice of structuring information environments to incorporate easy navigation, querying(search) and navigation. The goal of which is to offer users a delightful user experience as it gives more substantial context and logic to the contents they are interested in.
It is no wonder that websites are constantly being updated and restructured. Thus creating the need for Information Architecture
The origin of the name stems from its early deployment in systems design, although this sometimes obscures its use in information systems. This is highlighted by Andrew Dillon’s expression that we have a “big IA” and a “small IA”. Moreover, one of the founding fathers of the IA, Richard Saul Wurman said that the use of architecture in this name is similar to the architect in the name “architect of foreign policy”.
Guiding principles of IA
The IA designer vs. the IA Architect: The IA designer deploys tools such as usability tests, user interviews, etc. to execute research on UX improvements. In contrast, the information architect designs the necessary pathway via which users would get to their desired contents. His work is governed by these guiding principles:
To successfully execute the information architecture phase of a project for the UX, it becomes imperative to go through these processes in one variation or the other.
- Organization: This refers to analyzing and dividing the content on the website into buckets based on different criteria. The information could be divided based on various criteria. It could be hierarchical (parent-offspring organization), sequential (predecessor-successor organization) or Matrix (where users are given the option to choose how to view the information), chronological, alphabetical, etc.
- User research: A research-based orientation should always be pursued. No structure should be built off guess-work or assumptions. Instead, various forms of research can be carried out to identify the customer’s needs and align them with the firm’s vision. As with UX, this can include surveys, individual user interviews, focus groups, etc.
- Navigating: This involves the description of which pages are supersets and subsets of what pages. This refers to a hierarchical structure of the pages to estimate the relationships between them. Various tools can be used to execute this such as diagrams or even dedicated software.
- Labeling: This activity refers to putting an appropriate tag or label to each of the identified sections of the project environment. Whether it is a web page, mobile app, etc. labeling helps validate the logic behind the navigation pattern chosen.
- Wire-framing: Wire-framing helps in the establishment of an information hierarchy within the environment. It helps as a visual representation of the actual data flow, across sections and pages.
- Searching: This is a feature that enables users to scour through the entire website for information. This enables them speedily get the information they require without wasting much time searching. Designers use tools such as search engine, filters or other specialized tools.
UX design and information architecture
To most people, UX and IA might appear to be similar or even synonyms. However, the opposite is true. They each represent a different and somewhat polarized end of the development process. IA represents the outlay or the blurred print of how the product should be structured with its outputs as wire-frames or sitemaps.
On the other hand, UX is the collection of processes involved in making users time on the product worth-while and hassle-free. UX is more psychology and design based and seems to somewhat be a super-set (an encompassing entity) of IA. one of UX’s objective is psychological intuitiveness and emotional appeal with the product. While IA is concerned with helping users achieve their goal on the product in the most logical manner.
Thus, it becomes obvious that efficient information architecture is the bedrock for good UX.
Impact of the IA on the use of websites and applications
Like most things, information architecture only makes logical sense when used within the right context. For example, it is less efficient to execute an information architecture phase for a project involving only a few pages and sub-sections than it would for a complex website or app.
The intuitive nature required to execute an efficient information architecture system within any project often helps designers and users achieve the following benefits:
- Enjoy Logical flow: Product users experience amply logical flow of thought and reasoning when using the product, thus leading to greater satisfaction and retention.
- Preventing rework (if included at inception): As logic supports, incorporating IA into your project from the beginning ensures that the project's blueprint is critically analyzed at inception. This evaluation done before any expensive step such as mock-up creation or wireframes is executed saves time and money.
- Allows for introspection: If done correctly, IA offers designers the opportunity to critically evaluate their design decisions and thereby leading to improved overall product and UX. This is the introspective power of IA.
Use information architecture a complex website or app
Tips for implementing the information architecture with UX
Over the years, diverse tools have been released into the market to help with drafting and executing a successful information architecture. The best tools for creating this map or blueprint views are listed below:
- Microsoft Visio
Considering IA's subjective nature (its dependence on the architect’s design paradigm and mindset), using standardized tools in representing ideas is important.
We have presented the overview and value Information Architecture brings to the product development scene. Moreover, we discussed the guiding principles it encompasses and its relationship with the more-popular UX phase, as it offers value to the digital product.