We live in the age of information. Did you know that the internet has over 5 billion GBs of data? Can you imagine a human brain making sense of all this data if it were not organized? It would make no sense to anyone if it’s not organized coherently. Information architecture (IA) is all about this – it’s the art of organizing content and information in digital products so that users find it easy to understand and navigate.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of information architecture, its significance in creating delightful user experiences (UX), and why it matters so much in making successful digital products.
What is Information Architecture?
Information architecture (IA) is the science and art of organizing and structuring the content of a website, web app, mobile app, book, etc., to make it easy to comprehend and navigate. In other words, it is a way of arranging the parts of something in such a manner that it becomes comprehensive and easy to understand. Richard Saul Wurman, an American graphic designer, and architect, is considered by many to be the pioneer of information architecture.
Information architecture is all about organizing the content of a digital product to make it easy for end users to find what they are looking for. But how your team structures the content essentially depends on the nature of your product, your target audience, and their unique needs.
So, take the example of a health blog as opposed to a government-run website allowing users to schedule appointments to get their driver’s licenses. Both are websites; one is a blog focused on health issues, while the other works to provide public service. Naturally, information and content on both websites will be structured differently to meet the distinct needs of their respective users.
As a result, information architecture has become the bedrock of software development and design, no matter what type of app, website, or digital product one is building. It is a crucial element in making a digital product not only acceptable for end users but also desirable.
Information Architecture Its Role in Design
No matter which design approach you use for your digital product, the information architecture determines how the various design elements interact and integrate with one another. Today, a combination of user-centric and mobile-first approaches is most prevalent when designing applications.
Information architecture is the foundation of any design approach. It determines how application functionality, visual elements, navigation, and user interaction are to be built. The most critical aspect to bear in mind while designing a product is that a superb user interface (UI) that employs compelling content elements can only succeed if it is backed by proper IA. When your content is disorderly, it becomes difficult to understand how to navigate your website or application.
Given the intensity of competition in the digital realm, users are highly unlikely to give your product a second chance if you fail to satisfy them the first time around. First impressions do make a difference, sometimes the most significant difference.
Many companies dismiss the importance of information architecture; they believe it is unreasonable to spend so much effort on deciding the structure of content on a website or app. It is true that establishing information architecture is a challenging task, one that requires meticulous thinking and dedication to finish, not to mention a unique set of skills.
However, such companies also fail to realize the power of a robust IA. A well-structured information architecture ensures that your product is high-quality, as users will not have to run from pillar to post to find relevant information. Consequently, it saves both time and money for the company as well as the end user. The company saves money by avoiding navigational issues, which need to be fixed if present in a product. Users save time.
Information Architecture and User Experience (UX) Design
Many people use the terms information architecture and user experience interchangeably. But that’s wrong. While both terms are closely related, there is a clear difference between them.
Think of IA as a blueprint that you can generate as a sitemap or wireframe of a project. It offers the basic elements designers use to build a navigation system. On the other hand, User Experience UX encompasses much more than just the way you structure content. It is aimed at making interaction delightful for the users, focusing on ensuring user comfort while using the product. UX designers, therefore, give due attention to psychological and emotional factors that may impact how a user feels when using the product.
There’s another way to look at this. Think of IA as the essential skill set that all UX designers must possess if they are to deliver an excellent user experience. But once you combine ease of navigation (the goal of IA) with a solid design strategy (the goal of UX), your product becomes much more likely to succeed.
The Four Components of Information Architecture
While we have already explained what information architecture is and how it relates to user experience, we have yet to spell out what IA comprises. If you want to build a robust information architecture for your digital product, knowing what components it consists of is critical.
Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld describe the four primary parts of IA in their book “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.”
Let’s look at what these components are.
1. Organization Systems
Organization systems are categories or groups of information. They allow users to identify where to find specific information without a hassle. There is further categorization into various structures within organization systems.
- Hierarchical – humans have always categorized information into a hierarchical structure to make it easy to understand. Two examples one can easily think of are our family trees and organizational structures. Hierarchies help us understand the relative importance of certain information and also its relationship with other information. As a result, the user can easily understand how important a certain piece of information is.
- Sequential – it refers to setting a kind of sequence, a series of steps one needs to take to achieve something. Going through an e-commerce website is an excellent example of a sequential structure, where the user explores products to buy, adds a few to their cart, and then checks out after making the payment—a sequence of events culminating in a purchase.
- Matrix – under a matrix model, users select their own navigation method. They choose from a range of content organization choices. For example, whether they want to organize content according to date or topic. Moreover, users can also group content according to organization schemes, such as alphabetical schemes, topic schemes, chronological schemes, audience schemes, etc.
2. Labeling Systems
Labeling systems relate to how you represent data. In order to keep the website or application from becoming cluttered with content, designers use labels to sort lots of data in just a few words. The Contact Us page is a good example of a labeling system.
When a user sees the label ‘Contact Us’ in a website’s navigation bar, they automatically understand that clicking on the label will lead to a webpage that contains the office address, email address, and other contact details of the company. Hence, a labeling system helps designers unite data efficiently and effectively.
As the name implies, these systems are designed to help guide a user through an application or website, allowing them to achieve their goals and interact with the company, its services, and its software products.
In terms of information architecture, navigation systems relate to how a user moves through the content of an application or website. It uses various approaches and techniques to make such navigation possible.
4. Searching Systems
Again, as the name implies, a search system in information architecture helps users search for relevant information. Such systems work best for products where there is loads of information and users risk losing themselves in the maze of content.
Designers should put in place a search engine with proper functionality and filters to help users easily search for content. They should also consider the data’s appearance once the search bar returns the results.
To wrap it up, information architecture is a critical component of modern software design. It is as much a science as it is an art.
With a powerful IA in place, you can help your users navigate your application or website with convenience, thus resulting in a delightful and intuitive user experience.
Are you looking to develop a robust information architecture for your upcoming digital product? Drop us a line at [email protected] to learn how we can help you build one.