In the old days, if you wanted information you probably ended up going to a library, spending hours scouring through books one at a time, and hopefully returning satisfied. Today, this entire process takes only a few minutes. And if you’re not satisfied with the answers you find, there’s almost always another source. The internet is an ocean of information and to navigate through it easily we use what is called ‘Information Architecture (IA)’. In this article, we at Team Codesign help decode the concept of information architecture and its relevance in the digital world.
What is Information Architecture?
To put it simply, IA is the process of arranging, labelling, and structuring content in a way that helps users find the information they are looking for quickly & effectively.
Every person who works towards creating a digital product contributes to IA at some point or the other. A content strategist for example contributes to IA while categorizing the content; similarly, a designer contributes to IA while classifying menu bars. The Information Architect is the person who makes sure that all these individual contributions come together in a cohesive manner.
If you compare a digital product to a living being you could say that IA is the bones of the being while UX is the heart. While IA focuses more on the structure of information, UX concerns itself with the engagement the information provides.
How is Information Architecture Created?
To the untrained eye, IA may appear simple, but there’s actually a lot that goes on behind the scenes to create it. Here’s a look at the tip of the iceberg.
1. User Research: The starting point for any digital product is to understand the end-user. From creating user personas to conducting surveys or card-sorting sessions, UXers use multiple methods to do this. These processes give the information architect insights into how a user thinks, what a user wants, and therefore how information needs to be structured.
2. Content Inventory: A content inventory seeks to answer the question ‘what information does our product convey to our users?’ It helps assess the current content available, catalogue it and identify any discrepancies in the messaging.
A content inventory is usually a spreadsheet that lists down details such as the URL of the content, the kind of content it is (landing page, blog post, etc.) the meta elements it contains (page title, page description, keywords, etc.) and so on and so forth.
3. Content Audit: With an understanding of the existing content, a content audit can be performed. This process seeks to answer the question ‘How valuable is the information we convey?’ Content that doesn’t add value is removed, other pieces are edited, missing information is added, etc.
4. Taxonomy: Once the content is evaluated and updated, the IA attempts to classify it on the basis of similarities. This process is called taxonomy. It requires information to be classified and labeled in a manner that effectively communicates to the user where the information s/he is looking for is located. These classifications must also be scalable.
5. Hierarchy & Navigation: This step helps formulate the actual path a user will take through the product. Hierarchy & navigation can only be created when there is a clear understanding of both the user’s expectations & how the organization wishes to present itself.
6. Prototyping: Sometimes, information architects create low-fidelity prototypes to display the hierarchy of content and the navigation paths for the end-user. With this visual representation, the IA can be better understood by all stakeholders.
What is the Need for Information Architecture?
On the face of it, IA appears to cater only to the end-user, but having a good IA in place can also help businesses in the long- run. Apart from maintaining existing customer loyalty & generating new customers, IA can help increase a site's search engine visibility. Done well, IA can also reduce marketing costs & customer support costs.
IA is a broad subject, based on multiple disciplines including cognitive psychology, architecture & library science. As it often overlaps with every stage of the design process, all UX designers need to be well-versed with IA. In a world where the average person is used to finding answers within minutes, good information architecture can make or break a digital product.
Now that we’ve decoded information architecture for you, contact us if you’re looking to delight your customers with every interaction :)