As with more and more popular concepts such as user experience, user research, usability testing, there are also other less familiar ones:
Information Architecture (IA).
What is the difference between them?
Information architecture is the art of organization of information on a website, mobile or web application, so using it the web site will be simple and intuitive.
This term is closely tied to the concept of user experience (UX), which is a collection of impressions while using a digital product. Experience does not end only at the time of interaction, but also after its occurrence.
IA in a nutshell
The Information Architecture is more about the structure of the entire website or application, while the UX relates to the user impressions and experiences.
In practice IA is reduced to organizing information, that is: categorizing content, creating a consistent navigation, site map, and naming individual content groups. It is also the skeleton of the whole project, on the basis of which you create further views, visual elements, interactions or functionality.
IA allows the user to reach the content easily, without much effort. The inadequate structure of the app will discourage him and frustrate.
The organization of information in an online product itself depends on the users’ needs, but also on business priorities. For example, the structure of the information in the case of a blog or a landing page will look very different.
The role of Information Architect
The IA designer is a complement to the design team. His main tasks are research, navigation, data modeling and labeling. He often uses tools such as card sorting, usability tests, stakeholders and user interviews.
The IA architect is responsible for how a user will navigate through the web product and reach the relevant information. The way in which users will use an application or website depends largely on how information is presented and organised.
Why is Information Architecture important for business?
In order to take care of a well-designed information architecture, you should answer to questions:
- How do you organize and divide information?
- How do you present information?
- How do you communicate the way you navigate through the app?
- How will the user navigate in the application?
- How will the user look for information?
The components that make up a good IA are:
- Organization system
- Labeling system
- Navigation system
- Searching system
In summary, a well-designed information architecture is an intuitive and efficient user experience. For this reason, not only UX skills are necessary to create a good web product, IA skills are equally important. Only then can it be possible to create a project meeting the users’ needs.
Tools and templates to help you create an IA
On the market, we find a lot of tools for creating an information architecture. The simplest views can be created using tools such as Microsoft Visio.
Also useful are applications for creating diagrams or mind mappings, such as:
The way we present information architecture itself depends on our preferences. We can do this by using the mind mapping tools. This way we can effectively visualize the information architecture along with its flows.
We can also present information architecture as a simple diagram. This version will work well even with very large pages or applications.
Diagrams are often used for site maps that are based on a previously created information architecture.
How to create an information architecture for a website?
If you want to design an effective information architecture that will make your site more useful and legible, then you need to go through the stages of the design process.
Work on information architecture should begin with user research and analysis. An important part of this process is to understand the needs and problems of product users and to reconcile them with the business goals. We can use a number of tools for that purpose: card sorting, user interviews, focus groups or surveys.
The next step is to define the navigation, the hierarchy of the individual pages, and to design how and when to display them. At this stage, we can use programs for mind mapping or diagrams for that.
Once we’ve developed the information structure, it’s time to name the sections and pages so that they are understandable to the user. They also make it easier to navigate the page.
The next step is to make wireframes that will be based on IA. By using them, we define a visual hierarchy of information on the page as well as connections between subsequent views of the application.
Why and when to create an IA for your digital product?
Creating an information architecture is not always needed. Of course, in any case, we can do it and it will be helpful, but it isn’t required eg when we create a simple page with a few subpages or a landing page.
The importance and value of information architecture will be recognized by designing an extensive website or application. In that case, it is worthwhile to work on Information Architecture at the beginning of the design process – after recognizing the users of the product, but before creating wireframes and mockups.
The first work should include structuring the information on the page, developing navigation and naming the labels. The next step should be to test the IA on the users, eg using card sorting.
Books and resources about Information Architecture
If I woke up your interest in the topic of Information Architecture you can dig deeper with the following books and resource I recommend:
- Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond [book]
- Chris How – Digital Experiences and Information Architecture [youtube video]
- Information Architecture. Important Part of Design You’re Probably Overlooking [article]
- How to Assess the Maturity of Your Information Architecture [article]