Information Architecture Primer

Information Architecture Primer

At its simplest Information architecture (IA) is the labelling and categorisation of information. In the context of a website this is manifest through the sites structure, content and behaviour through the:

  • design, organisation and layout of the user interface
  • structure and context of information flows
  • design of navigation, access and search functionality
  • identification and use of language, data and vocabulary schemas.

Information architecture must address the needs of both the business and its users and ensure responsiveness and efficiency. This will require developing and maintaining strategies that not only facilitate these objectives but aid in the proactive, ongoing review of information systems throughout their respective life cycles.

And why would you want good information architecture?

  • To enable users to simply find information and services and complete tasks.
  • To support and communicate the business objectives of your organisation.
  • To provide visitors with a consistent, predictable and satisfying experience when interacting with your information systems/websites.

How can Clarity help?

Ok so here is the rub. This is not something your average web designer is necessarily good at or will even think is necessary. For some applications this may indeed be the case but if your organisation has identified the need for a more systematic approach Clarity can develop and maintain a documented information architecture strategy which describes, justifies and provides a strategic direction for the IA of your websites and information systems.

These documents should address all of the following IA components :

  • business needs analysis;
  • user research, customer development and analysis;
  • content and database inventory;
  • controlled vocabularies and metadata;
  • website navigation and hierarchy;
  • website layout, accessibility and security;
  • search model and behaviour;
  • usability testing;
  • monitoring and maintenance;
  • change management; and
  • ongoing review.

These strategies and documents should be monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure they remain current and relevant.

To do this, the architect should get a good understanding of the functionality of the site, and they should also have a complete inventory of the content. Once these requirements are met, the information architect can begin optimizing the IA using these 8 principles:

  1. The principle of objects: Content should be treated as a living, breathing thing. It has lifecycles, behaviors, and attributes.
  2. The principle of choices: Less is more. Keep the number of choices to a minimum.
  3. The principle of disclosure:Show a preview of information that will help users understand what kind of information is hidden if they dig deeper.
  4. The principle of exemplars: Show examples of content when describing the content of the categories.
  5. The principle of front doors: Assume that at least 50% of users will use a different entry point than the home page.
  6. The principle of multiple classifications: Offer users several different classification schemes to browse the site’s content.
  7. The principle of focused navigation: Keep navigation simple and never mix different things.
  8. The principle of growth: Assume that the content on the website will grow. Make sure the website is scalable.

As you can see, there are many things to take into consideration. Depending on the size of a website, IA can be a complex task requiring ongoing maintenance. But, it is one which is very much needed. Otherwise, it can mean failure for a business.