The Internet contains a huge amount of information that would be difficult to understand without proper standardization and good structure. We are used to seeing the content and functionality of digital products in an organized and easy-to-use manner.
However, this would not be possible without the participation of UX designers and developers. They are responsible for creating user-friendly content and navigation. The science that helps professionals construct content is called information architecture.
Information architecture – what is it all about?
Information architecture is a key area of User Experience design, which is responsible for the organization and distribution of content on the website. According to experts, information architecture is the practice of deciding how to organize parts of something so that it is understandable to the user.
The structure of the content depends on many factors. Foremost, specialists take into account the specific needs of the target group, because information architecture puts customer satisfaction in the first place. It also depends on the type of product and the companies’ offer. For example: the structure of an online store will be designed differently than the structure of a blog.
In 1998, Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld wrote “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web,” and although the authors did not expect much success, the book became Amazon’s best online book this year. So what did it show? The importance of designing an appropriate information architecture. Without it, the network would plunge into chaos.
Is information architecture the same as UX?
No. There is a strong relationship between them, but while UX involves many pieces of information architecture, they are not exactly the same.
The UX is much broader and covers several aspects of the user experience that the information architecture never touches – such as making sure that the interface responds to certain psychological needs of the user. In contrast, information architecture is much more focused on the user’s goals and the use of cognitive effort.
Here’s how the two concepts are closely related: without a good information architecture, there is no logical and effective user experience.
AI should be the foundation on which to build user experiences. It is the backbone of any project.
The sense of using information architecture
Many companies overlook the importance of information architecture because they find it impractical.
It’s hard to deny that building an information architecture takes time and requires specific skills to do it effectively. However, it is a guarantee of a high-quality product, as it reduces the possibility of problems with usability and navigation.
In this way, a thoughtful information architecture can save a business both time and money that would otherwise be spent on repair and improvement.
Value for users
According to Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, a site’s information architecture must meet the different needs of users.
They distinguish 4 main types of needs, such as:
- Known Item Search: Visitors will visit your site in search of something desired and familiar.
- Exploratory Search: Users will come to the site for inspiration. They are looking for something desired, but do not know what exactly.
- Comprehensive Research: Users are undergoing extensive research. They want to find as much information as possible.
- Re-search: the user needs the requested items again and tries to find them.
When thinking about information architecture, it’s important to think about the different users and how they will navigate, search, or use filters.
Example: e-commerce site. If you are looking for new wedding shoes, you can filter by style and colour. But if you are looking for a gift, you can see some hand-picked gift ideas. If you know exactly what you want, you want to be able to find it quickly without browsing.
Good information architecture has a big impact on the user experience. The sooner users reach their destination, even if the destination contains many options, the greater their satisfaction will be. Therefore, we should never forget that understanding users and their information-seeking behaviour is the key to success. When we know the needs of our users, we can prioritize which architectural elements to build.
Value for business
Companies can lose a lot if they are unable to find relevant information or complete certain tasks. Information architecture plays a role in the following cases:
- Employee productivity – poor internal information architecture can reduce employee productivity due to the amount of time employees spend finding information they need and cannot find,
- Sale – this is one of the obvious consequences of a bad AI. If customers do not find the right products, sleep sales. The effects can have a long-lasting effect, because customers can find a competitor who will solve their problem and meet their needs without any problems.
- Acquiring new members – depending on the business model, acquiring users of e.g. an application may be a key goal. Therefore, registration pages should be designed using UX research.
- Lowering your marketing costs – If users leave your website because they cannot find the information they are looking for, you will spend a much larger amount on remarketing to bring it back. Marketing costs will increase to get the same effect.
- SEO – information architecture also has a significant impact on website positioning. Ranking puts the page higher in the search results if the data and content of the website are properly organized.
Information architecture testing
There are several ways to test to see if the information architecture is working. The best known studies of information architecture are: card sorting and tree testing.
During a card sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and can also help label these groups. Sorting cards helps you understand users’ expectations and understand the topics. Card sorting is usually supplemented with tree testing to verify the identified categories.
Tree testing is a UX research method that allows you to evaluate a topic hierarchy on your website or app. In tree testing, participants only receive a text version of the site hierarchy and are asked to complete a series of tasks. The ultimate goal is to answer the question “Can users find what they are looking for?”
Where to learn about information architecture?
Links describing the information architecture
- Creating information architecture on the website – dynomapper.com
- Information Architecture Process: How to Create the Best UX – bluefountainmedia.com
- Complete Guide to Information Architecture – webdesignerdepot.com
- Improving Information Architecture: Tab Sort Beginner’s Guide – smashingmagazine.com
- AI navigation tests – nngroup.com
- UI engineering site – uie.com
- The Eight Principles of AI by Dan Brown – asis.org
- High cost of not finding information – utoronto.ca
- AI vs navigation – nngroup.com
- Understanding information architecture – prezi.com
It is worth remembering that even after completing the work, the structure of the site will always evolve and change depending on the needs of users. Information architecture should therefore be an integral part of the entire UX design process.
As an ever-evolving practice, designing IA is as much an art as a skill, which is in part why large corporations occupy the positions of information architects.