Information architecture (IA) is one of the most important yet deserted fundamentals in web design. Organizing the content and functionalities in a line may sound easier than it actually is, which is why it’s high time we actually realize the need of IA. Through this article, I will introduce the concept of Information Architecture to you and will try to explore how you can create a commendable IA on your website.
How can information structure be defined?
Information Architecture (IA) in simple terms is a structure or composition in which data is stored and defined. This data includes navigation methods, terminologies and other information that makes things easier for a user. Effective information architecture is one that offers all the necessary information to the user without any additional efforts from the user’s side. Generally, we associate Information Architecture with Websites and Intranets; also, it may seem funny but IA is usually noticed by the user when he is not able to find the required information or something goes wrong.
The first person to coin the term “information architecture” was Richard Saul Wurman, a professionally trained architect in 1975. According to Wurman, Information Architecture was the way in which information was collected, organized and presented in a much meaningful manner. Today, Information Architecture is the blueprint used when designing and developing modern websites.
There are two approaches through which Information Architecture can be defined:
- Bottoms-up approach: This includes defining the informational structure of a website in a detailed manner and then creating a detailed explanation of how it can support user requirements efficiently.
- Top-down approach: Contrary to the first one, this approach deals with evaluating the needs and requirements of the user first, based on which the informational structure is defined later on.
The thing that you have to keep in mind as an entrepreneur is that an Information Architecture easily defines your website goals and often proves to be a stepping-stone towards a marvelous website design. To keep it simple, IA is a business plan based on which other website aspects such as functions, navigation, interface and visual design are created.
Elements used to define information architecture
Here are some common methods and elements that are used to define Information Architecture:
- Site maps
It’s perhaps one of the most popular elements that define the information architecture of a website. A site is actually a high-level diagram that displays hierarchy, thereby displaying the informational architecture. However, it should not be confused with a navigational architecture.
- Annotated page layouts
The page layout actually defines the type of content, level of navigation and other functional elements present on the respective web page. Annotations on the other hand are for the guidance of the web developers and designers, who use the layouts to build the website. Page layouts are also known by names like screen details, blue prints and even wire frames.
- Content matrices
A content matrix is a page plan that lists down the content that will be appearing in each web page of the website.
- Page templates
The objective of Page Templates is to define common web page elements such as content and navigation. They’re required when you have to define intranets, large-scale websites or even Content Management Systems.
Things to keep in mind when preparing the Information Architecture of your website
Although there are numerous things that one needs to keep in mind while designing the information architecture of a website, user experience remains the priority. Here are certain things to keep in mind:
- Find what your users actually need
This step can be considered one of the basic and pivotal steps when it comes to creating information architecture. Some of the most effective ways in researching user needs include interview method, usability tests to check whether website navigation is friendly or not. Once you are familiar with the requirements of your prospects, you can tailor the IA accordingly.
- Visitors over your own views
Every website has a target audience, which is why you should keep your prospect visitor’s convenience in mind before your personal preferences.
- Clear goal
The key to an effective IA depends on how clear you are in your approach and goals. Based on the objective of a website, content is prepared and organized. For instance, if your website goal were to sell, then the content structure would be inclined towards product marketing and promotion. Meanwhile an educational portal would have informative and well-researched content to rely on. In case you have multiple objectives within a website, the content would vary according to the target area.
With a well-researched and defined IA, one can intuitively locate content, which further compliments the navigation on a website. I hope this compilation is enough to explain the importance of Information Architecture and its role in improving website navigation.