Information architecture(IA) is an excellent way of organizing content in digital products.
Whether you are building a website, mobile application, or eCommerce shop, IA is an important consideration while arranging and representing content.
The reason is if a user can easily find the thing they are looking for without difficulty, you have a higher chance of winning them and converting them into customers.
But if you don’t organize and display your content correctly, it might lead users to confusion and eventually leave your site for another. Therefore, IA is crucial for your site.
In this article, I’ll discuss IA, how to do it, and some of the best IA tools.
What is Information Architecture?
Information architecture is the practice of organizing, structuring, labeling, and presenting content or information sustainably and effectively.
Here, the content could be anything, such as a website, parts of a website, blog post, software, mobile application, online community, book, online store, and so on. It enhances the findability and usability for users when they visit the site and make sense of the available content.
In this information age, IA is used by UX designers, information architects, content managers, and interaction designers to represent their content in a meaningful manner. Information architecture is done based on the following:
- The user and what they seek and how they will use the content
- Content or information that the user will engage with
- Context or the environment where the user will interact with the content
Information Architecture vs. UX
User Experience (UX) design is how a user feels about using a service, product, or system. It’s concerned with the user’s perception of the product’s efficiency, ease of use, and utility. UX takes information architecture IA as the foundation to a higher level.
On the other hand, IA is about organizing and presenting a site’s content to help users quickly find the content they are looking for.
While IA concerns structure, UX concerns emotion.
Why Do Designers Use IA?
Information architecture is crucial to the online user experience. And user experience is one of the significant factors that decide the success of your website, app, or blog.
If your users are happy, they will love to come back and shop from you or read your blog more. But if they don’t find the information quickly or face too many distractions, they won’t be happy with your site.
Thus, designers spend time arranging and representing information well on the site to make it easy for users to find the information they want. And this is what information architecture is in its true self.
Information architects try simplifying complex content by adding navigation systems and proper structure to the content available on the site. This way, users can easily engage with the information and reach their destination quickly without hassle.
Major Design Principles of IA
Developing the information architecture for a site needs time and patience, not to mention a good strategy. You will need to consider several things, such as user behavior, future-proofing, etc., apart from organizing the data logically.
For this, they must also understand site functionality and content inventory. Once you are ready, you must consider these principles as laid by Dan Brown, an information architect:
- The principle of choices: Here, this strategy is followed – less is more. You must keep a minimum number of options to avoid confusion and enhance precision.
- The principle of objects: Treat your information like a live object with defined attributes, behaviors, and life cycles.
- The principle of disclosure: Keep a preview for your content so that users can look at it and understand the type of information contained diving deeper into the content.
- The principle of front doors: suppose at least half the users use an entry point different from your site’s home page.
- The principle of exemplars: Include examples when you describe the content in different categories.
- The principle of growth: suppose the site content will grow and make it scalable to accommodate the growth.
- The principle of navigation: keep your site’s navigation straightforward and avoid mixing different things not to increase the complexity.
- The principle of multiple classifications: provide your users with multiple classification schemes while browsing your content.
So, information architecture involves a lot of things. Based on the site’s size and type, you must do it well and manage it properly to grab more eyeballs and increase your business’ success.
Common Methodologies Around IA
Information architects perform many activities including navigation creation, data modeling, research, labeling, wireframing, and so on. Here are some of the methodologies involved in information architecture:
To come up with a good design, information architects are needed to conduct thorough user research and analysis. It helps them understand a project’s targeted audience. It’s done with the help of user interview surveys, stakeholder interviews, card sorting exercises, usability tests, and so on.
Techniques like card sorts help information architects learn how a user will categorize different things and their interaction with the application. It also makes them learn how users will use the data displayed in the app and what they do with it.
After performing the research, IAs will carefully analyze the data presented in the form of spreadsheets, recommendations, user personas, etc. it will display who the user is, their goals, and their way of using your app.
Hierarchy and navigation are one of the most important aspects of information architecture, so, doing it correctly and with strategy is crucial.
To create a good hierarchy, an IA is required to consider user expectations as to what content they want to see in your app and how so that they can interact with it easily and fulfill their purpose of coming to your site.
For example, an organization selling products on its website needs to place product descriptions carefully along with some FAQs to help users answer some of the common questions they would like to see answers to. So, the IA must ensure to put both under each product page.
The IAs are responsible for deciding where to put the information and how in the application. Once this is done, they must name each section. This process might involve both IAs and content strategists.
Labeling involves arranging all the links and content properly on the site while ensuring the hierarchy and navigation are titled well. This is a significant step that helps users find information in the application faster and easier.
Wireframes are a good way to represent all the connections between various screens and identify how a website will work practically. It requires IAs to use the data gathered in the research phase and use wireframes to show data hierarchy.
Wireframes are also key information that is shared with clients. In addition, designers and developers use wireframes as a reference while building prototypes, mockups, and final products as web or mobile applications.
Content modeling can be shared with an organization’s content strategists. This process brings together developers and IAs to determine content types with their structure representing user needs, editorial practices, and business requirements and logic.
For redesigning a website, you might want to map new data models to ensure seamless content migration. You can do it using spreadsheets to map out relationship requirements and file types. Alternatively, it can be implemented into a content management system (CMS) directly.
Metadata and Taxonomies
A taxonomy means a set of different things that you can group. In the world of information architecture, taxonomies are records showing how similar data types are grouped.
So, an IA will choose a suitable taxonomy for a site or application based on their target audience’s mental model. Also, they may tag their piece of content with metadata and help users find the content they are looking for based on the considered taxonomy.
For instance, an eCommerce business may consider one or more taxonomies, each for their product category such as clothing, home décor, etc.
If you own a website offering a large number of products to customers, having a search option is a highly useful way to help customers find the right products.
Information architects are needed to add a powerful search engine to the website with useful filters and sorting options. They also decide how the content on the site will look after each search.
How to Start with IA in Any Design?
IA is an important step while creating any digital product such as a mobile application or a website since it requires a logical structure. If you have prior exposure in this field, you can create information architecture by yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.
Information architecture requires collaboration from different departments, including design, engineering, development, and content creators. Although the steps could vary for a different organization performing IA, the basics are more or less the same.
Here are some of the steps to take while creating IA for your site.
Maintain a Content Inventory
Get started with content inventory by collecting all the content or information at a place. It will help you create a catalog for all your digital content, including your in-progress content and ideas.
This way, you will get a sense of how your existing site works and its important pages and sections, main subtopics and topics, content quality, and how the data is organized currently.
Maintaining a content inventory will also help you determine things to discard, keep, and add other things you may need. You can put all the data into spreadsheets to make it easier to manage.
This data will be based on the project you are working on. For example, if you are working on a site, including current URLs, page title, last update date, media, author, page type, keywords, etc.
Moreover, update your outdated content while removing irrelevant pieces that aren’t adding value to your visitors or customers. Doing this will help you understand the missing data, manage broken links, and take care of other nitty-gritty things. This way of performing a site audit will provide you with a clear understanding of how to organize your website.
Perform User Research
After you have performed a site audit and understood what needs to be done for its design, next comes user research. It involves creating the buyer persona and user interviews. With these techniques, you will be able to map your user’s needs whether they are your older customers or newcomers.
To do this, you can perform these activities:
- Tree testing: It will help you view your user’s response to labels and navigation. It will reflect how easily the visitors can find data on your website.
- Card sorting: It will help you learn users’ habits and behaviors to ease categorization.
One thing to notice here is to take notes after performing each research. You can note what strategy is working and which ones to change to get better outcomes.
Categories can be created in multiple ways such as personal habits. But while creating categories, you must ensure that it adds value for users.
For example, if you have a site that’s organized by internal vocabulary and acronyms, it could be difficult for new users to understand. So, to create categories that work for your audience, you can begin with a full content list. Next, implement user research to group and prioritize the content.
You can start by creating categories that apply to larger content groups with similar topics. For example, if you have different products such as t-shirts, dresses, shirts, formal wear, etc., you can group them as “clothing”. Now, you can divide clothing into different sections such as men’s clothing, female clothing, etc.
To come out with the best categorization, you can perform frequent user testing and utilize the research for each section. You can also do competitor research to fuel your categorization efforts.
Label Your Categories
After creating all your categories and subcategories, you must label each one of them. And if you want to create labels, make sure it’s done well since how you label every category impacts users while they use the site.
Some of the top qualities of a good label are:
- It must entice users’ attention with familiar, quick-to-understand terms such as “About Us”, “Home”, etc. It will help users understand which page they are willing to open and seek information.
- A label must show what a user can expect from it once they click on a label.
- Add context by using images and make the label easier to grasp for users.
- A label must be easy to scan so that users can quickly locate the areas to seek answers. For this, avoid complex or rare words that readers may find harder to understand.
Once everything is done, you can run usability testing to ensure it works well for them.
Add Metadata and Taxonomies
After setting the labels, organize each category and prioritize content for each group. With metadata, different taxonomies can be found easily. This way, visitors can find the right products or content faster.
To make the process efficient, you must take it slow, be consistent, and use some useful tools.
Include a Search Function
Adding a “search” function increases the searchability of products or content on your site. So, when you build a search functionality for your site, ensure you have a lot of pages or products on your site, its navigation is good, and consider the user habits.
At this point, you might also want to develop good navigation for your site so that users can easily see all the options and use them to get to wherever they want to go. You must also complete your website architecture with proper wireframing, prototyping, and data modeling.
After the above steps are complete, your information architecture must be ready. And to ensure it’s good, conduct user testing. Alternatively, you can utilize analytics data and gain user insights to shape your information architecture efforts.
Information Architecture Tools
#1. Optimal Workshop
To help users find the right information, you can use Optimal Workshop and create stunning architecture. You can easily use their tree testing and card sorting tools to test new IAs or benchmark existing designs.
In addition, you can use data visualizations and become confident that your design matches the mental models of your users. Optimal Workshop will also help accelerate design development by including your stakeholders at every step of the way.
#2. Treejack by Optimal Workshop
Treejack is another offering by Optimal Workshop that will help you create a sensible information architecture for your site. It will allow you to gain powerful insights about your site in seconds so that you can make better business decisions.
Treejack will help avoid guesswork and enable you to understand users’ difficulties and how to create better strategies.
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Adobe XD is built just for you with powerful tools along with expert tutorials and tips. From wireframing to development, Adobe XD is the one-stop application for all your design needs.
Information Architecture is an important step while managing the content of a site so that users can find relevant information faster. Explained above are some of the principles and methodologies that you can consider and use some of the best IA tools to create stunning designs.
You may also explore some best wireframe tools to improve your product design.