Header Logo

Usability

Information Architecture

What is Information Architecture?

Information architecture is the process of creating intuitive navigation for software products. It generally applies to websites but may also apply to web, mobile and social media applications.

Information architecture focuses on solving basic problems of accessing and using the vast amount of information available on the web. It is primarily a production activity and relies on many sets of guidelines, best practices, and professional expertise.

IA focuses on the organization, structure, and labeling of content in an effective and sustainable way. Its goal is to assist users in finding information and completing tasks. To accomplish this, it is important to have a diverse understanding of the interdependent nature between users, content, and context.

Ideally, a navigation scheme creates an easy way to find information or increase functionality. On a website, information architecture can also supply important context to the current page.

A building architect needs to balance the demand for aesthetics, structural integrity, heat, light, water, and drainage when creating blueprints. An information architect provides a similar service that creates navigation schemes that are concise, descriptive, mutually-exclusive, and contain obvious clues to where information may be found to produce spaces that are safe, predictable, enjoyable, and inspiring.

In an article by Martin Belam, the Guardian provides a definition by the Information Architecture Institute, which describes it as the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability. This brings the user together with context and content to form the structure of information.

The History of Information Architecture

The term information architecture originated in 1964 at IBM, restated in 1970 at Xerox, and relayed to the public in 1976 by Richard Saul Wurman. The term came about through the development of information design in the 1960’s and 1970’s and system design in the 1980’s to form the idea of information architecture as we know it today.

Image of Site Map

Tips for Usable Navigation Systems

To provide an enjoyable experience for the user, navigation should:

Image of Structure Diagram
Click Image for Larger Version

Steps for Developing Intuitive Websites

The following steps outline the process for developing intuitive websites . You should:

  1. Determine the purpose of the website
  2. Establish immediate and long-term goals of the site
  3. Identify the primary audience
  4. Assemble content and develop an inventory
  5. Determine organizational structure like:
    • Hierarchy
    • Width and depth
    • Sequence
    • Tags
    Image of Structural Diagram
    Click Image for Larger Version
  6. Create an outline through site maps and content inventory
  7. Create a visual blueprint using wireframes or storyboards
  8. Define the global, local and utility navigation systems
  9. Conduct user research through user–testing and feedback