If you are even a little bit familiar with the concept of UX and UI, then you have probably heard about Information Architecture, more commonly abbreviated as IA.
You must have come across some variation of this quote by UX design expert and influencer Jared Spool:
“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.”
And, any good UX designer would know that invisible design is, invariably, a function of solid IA.
The internet has evolved to unimaginable lengths and continues to evolve every minute. It has become a very organized place. Users are instantly turned away by the slightest amount of clutter, now that ‘clean’ is a key term when it comes to good UX. To go beyond aesthetics and build a greater, smoother experience, a UX designer needs to be a good Information Architect.
What exactly is Information Architecture?
Designing information architecture is as much science as it is integrated into the art of UX design. Pia Klancar, UX Designer, Mentor, and Writer, calls it the ‘science of order’. Right from the libraries of ancient Egypt to the early days of World Wide Web pages that needed better organization to the chaos that the internet is today, IA has always been a core need of humans while working with information.
IA organizes content so as to create easy functionality for product users. It takes into account the target audience, the product category, the competition, the brand, and other product + marketing factors.
In design, IA is the foundation of UX. It is a skeleton of the design which is later developed into wireframes and sitemaps, and then guides designers for navigation planning. IA is the technical aspect focused on goals, to which UX adds psychology, behavioral study, and emotional needs.
There are four key components of IA, upon which any IA structure is usually based.
1. Organization systems:
These help users in predicting where to find different kinds of information in an interface.
One of the three organizational systems is hierarchical, wherein elements are aligned as per their order of importance or relevance through differences in size, contrast, color, alignment, etc. Here is an example below-
A sequential system is where content is arranged step-by-step for easy navigation. This is common in e-commerce sites, such as this-
A matrix is a system in which content is grouped as per alphabetical, numerical, chronological, and other schemes, and users are given an option that suits them best. This system involves a little more work for the user to do.
2. Labeling systems:
This is basically the stacking of data into one icon or one link in order to avoid cognitive overload. It also includes hovering elements that add some aesthetic appeal at the same time.
3. Navigation systems:
Navigation is similar to user flow but more basic of a concept. It simply refers to how a user moves through a given page or interface. Navigation systems, however, can be a whole study in themselves.
4. Searching systems:
Searching systems are crucial for complex interfaces where users must have guiding tools such as search bars, filters, etc. to sort through the information overload efficiently.
The 8 principles of Information Architecture
Once you meet the technical requirements of your IA, you need to optimize them as per these 8 principles laid down by Information Architect Dan Brown.
1. The principle of objects: Content on your interface should be treated as breathing objects with lifecycles, attributes, and behaviors of their own.
2. The principle of choices: Follow the ‘less is more’ adage.
3. The principle of disclosure: Always give users a preview of information coming up upon deeper search.
4. The principle of exemplars: Give examples of content while describing categories.
5. The principle of front doors: Work with the assumption that a minimum of 50% of users will use a different point of entry than your homepage.
6. The principle of multiple classifications: Use multiple classification schemes to offer users choices for browsing.
7. The principle of focused navigation: Keep the navigation simple. Don’t mix different things and different paths.
8. The principle of growth: Make the interface scalable with the assumption that the site/app is going to grow.
The process of Designing Information Architecture
While you embark upon this process, remember that involving content creators in the process is important, as you will build the website around the content and not the other way around.
1. Define company goals:
Involve all key stakeholders of the company and find answers to these questions:
- Why are you making this design/interface?
- What are you aiming to achieve with it?
- Are you aiming to make more revenue?
- Are you looking at cost reduction?
- Is the goal to help users make better decisions?
2. Define user goals:
Think user interviews, personas, best-case, and worst-case scenarios. Also, think about constraints such as the availability of technology.
3. Competition analysis:
Analyze competitors’ IAs for the following before designing your own:
- What are the common denominators in terms of content?
- How easy are the interfaces to navigate?
- What are their positives and negatives?
4. Define content:
Define a content inventory and conduct a content audit to find out how feasible and effective it is.
The actual process:
Label content: Use card-sorting techniques to list prioritize, group content, and turn it into menus and sitemaps.
Define navigation: Connect your collection of UI elements in a meaningful way. Predict user journeys and find the best routes possible.
User testing: Test at each stage possible. Use tree testing, close card sorting, and usability testing for the best results.
Designing Information Architecture is an irreplaceable part of designing UX. You might be an artist by nature, yet focusing on some science will work wonders for your art and deliver marketable and usable designs. Unleash the architect, design thinker, and marketer in you! If you’re a company that needs IA-focused UX designs, you’ve come to the right place. Check out Divami’s portfolio to know how we have brought several IAs to life with incredible design philosophies!