Information Architecture… What’s That?
Have you ever browsed a website and been instantly pleased by its layout, design, and ease of use? We have Information Architecture (IA) to thank for that. IA is the process of organizing information on a website or application that is straightforward and simple to understand. For the user, this means they can hop onto a company’s website and find exactly what they are looking for. The pages are set up in a logical order and keep the user engaged, or encourage the user to dig deeper into website content (we call this user flow).
Does Information Architecture Really Matter?
Your website must combine the many components of Information Architecture (IA) to keep people interested and give them the information they are seeking. Without thoughtful IA, you risk losing potential visitors to your site and customers to your business.
Successful info page design also provides the reader the content they’re looking for easily and quickly. Imagine a thoughtfully designed store, where the inventory is organized, and you are able to easily navigate your way towards the products you’re seeking. Successful websites are no different! Strong websites are aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate.
If users can’t find what they’re looking for on a website, they’ll quickly move on. Or, if a website’s structure is too full of information and sends the user into an information overload, they’ll leave the site in search of a simpler route to the information they want. When people have the whole internet at their fingertips to find what they’re seeking, it’s unlikely they’ll return to your website if they don’t have a positive experience on the first visit.
Integrating Information Architecture design that makes great websites can be a specific science. While there are massive fields of information about research into the do’s and don’ts of web design architecture, it can also be boiled down to the following pivotal components.
The Components of Information Architecture
So how should you format and build your website? Focus on the following Information Architecture best practices to take your website to the next level.
- Use an Organization System that categorizes information logically and helps your target audience find what they’re looking for. Organizational systems are broken down into 3 categories: Hierarchical, Sequential and Matrix.
- Hierarchical structures focus on page formatting components like typography, contrast, scale and balance so that the content you want people to see first stands out.
- Sequential structures create a roadmap where users can scroll through your webpage in an order you design. This can help emphasize important information.
- Matrix structures typically show lots of different content through clickable buttons that allow users to choose what they want to see first.
Now that your content is clearly organized, improve it even further using schemes to create categories. You can do this alphabetically, by topic, in chronological order or even based on different types of audiences or viewers who will visit your website.
- A Navigation System is another pivotal Information Architecture component that focuses on how a consumer moves through the information on the website. A navigation system can be categorized by global navigation and local navigation. The global navigation system follows the reader to every page of the website and reminds them of their options for other pages. You may be familiar with the global system being referred to as a “Navigation Bar”. Common examples included on Navigation Bars include things like “About Us”, “Contact”, “Add to Cart”, etc.
Local navigation hones in on the options a user has on each individual page of the website. Both local and global navigation systems can be vertical or horizontal along the sidebar of a site. Finally, contextual navigation is included in Navigation Systems and focuses on information that doesn’t perfectly fit into global or local systems. Think of buttons that say things such as “you may also like” that lead you to similar products on a retail website.
- Labeling Systems are crucial because they are succinct descriptions of content that help a reader quickly know if they’re on the right track towards the content they’re seeking. Labeling on a website can be done chronologically, by subject, alphabetically, by location, by genre etc. depending on the content and what is most intuitive. Good labeling systems help readers stay focused on the website, and commit to reading bulkier areas of content.
- Finally, Searching Systems help pull the IA together. Just like it sounds, the system gives the user the ability to search specifically or broadly for their desired content. An effective search system links users quickly to the specific content they want based on keywords and phrasing.
When does User Experience (UX) Design Come Into Play?
You may be wondering how Information Architecture is different from User Experience (UX). The two are often confused as being interchangeable, but in reality they are both unique components of website design. It helps to think of IA as the information structure that creates a usable website. Once that is accomplished, UX focuses on the emotional experience the user has while navigating the site. Is it aesthetically pleasing and creative? Is it drawing the user in so they want to keep scrolling? Did the site help them achieve a task easily or give them value? If so, the User Experience will be positive.
Still a bit confused about the difference between IA and UX? Think of it like a restaurant kitchen. For this metaphor, Information Architecture is the prep-chef in the kitchen who washes and chops the vegetables and meat, and gathers all the proper ingredients to make a great meal. Without this step, the meal wouldn’t have a foundation. Then the chef (who symbolizes UX) can come in and combine the ingredients quickly to pull the meal together. They can add garnish and plate the meal in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and fun. Both people are crucial to creating a successful meal, just as both IA and UX create the perfect website.
Information Architecture Sounds like Data Architecture… Are they the same thing?
Not quite. Data Architecture is the nitty-gritty information on a website. For example, it may highlight your company’s API’s, cloud storage, real-time analytics and data pipelines. Data Architecture may also include the product information, pricing, and specifics of your business. Of course a website needs this specific data so consumers know what the company is selling, or what message the website is communicating. However, simply filling your website with raw data won’t create a cohesive website, just like throwing together random items of food may not create a cohesive, delicious meal. The step that makes data architecture more user-friendly is when it’s joined with Information Architecture to display the data in a thoughtful, engaging way (often through using the organization systems listed above).
Successful website Information Architecture gives people the content they are looking for quickly and easily. Data Architecture collects all the necessary information a company wants to show their users. When Information and Data Architecture is linked seamlessly with User Experience Design, the consumer is able to get the content they are looking for, while experiencing a website that is beautiful, easy and fun to navigate. What’s the final result? A website that people love using, and increased sales for your company.