On the one hand, Information Architecture is a method of content organizing, structuring and designing. Its aim is to enable a digital product user to quickly access and easily learn how to use it.
On the other hand, Information Architecture is a science of optimizing information management methods.
The literature on the subject often features synonyms.
The term ‘Information Architecture’ is frequently replaced with content management, content strategy or information design.
However, regardless of the term used by the authors, they usually mean a creation of a certain model of content organizing, sharing and presenting.
In other words, stressing different points, one might say that Information Architecture (e.g. website Information Architecture) is focused on content organization, structure information and presentation.
Through such practices, the website, mobile application, online store users can immediately see the relationships between elements and understand their relationships within the entire system.
Information Architecture is also specifically concerned with making the content as useful and accessible (both, cognitively and as regards the ease of access to specific information) as possible.
In addition, when designing Information Architecture, the emphasis is also on the content functionality.
Information Architecture specificity
IA is no exception. As most terms based on the knowledge from multiple sources, Information Architecture is also a fuzzy concept.
Situated at the intersection of interface design, navigation, graphic design, programming, taxonomy, cognitive psychology and several other fields on knowledge, AI is a multidisciplinary specialization.
It is a concept backed by several decades of theoretical reflection and practice. It dates back to 1970s, and originally was associated with library science, architecture and cognitive psychology.
In the era of mobile and web applications, IA is a specialization including the creation of:
● site structures
● menu structures
● category structures
● site and application maps
● navigation paths
Basic components of Information Architecture (IA)
What does Information Architecture consist of? In the most general, broadest sense, it includes three systems.
● organizing system
● labeling system
● searching system.
Each of these components plays a distinct role within the whole and contributes to it synergistically. The organizing systems serve categorizing and grouping of information.
Typically, in accordance with the categorization patterns clear and familiar to the audience of a specific Information Architecture.
The organizing system allows the users to understand and to navigate more easily in a structure that is more predictable and more user-friendly.
Usually, it is structured hierarchically (visual hierarchy, according to validity criterion of a given piece of information) and sequentially (the structure functions as the guide).
The labeling systems, in turn, are used mainly for labeling and describing individual categories and groups.
Thus, it is possible to reach the required content faster. However, naming and labeling should be as simple as possible and intuitive.
The searching and navigation systems are used for information finding, establishing links between categories, combining them into consistent, logical and comprehensible paths.
However, Information Architecture is not an abstract system, but a practical system for making the content of a website or mobile application more user-friendly.
In this sense, IA must take into account the content audience and context.
The users issue primarily involves the way they categorize the world, their linguistic and cultural competencies, methods for information searching and ranking (assigning them value and importance).
The Information Architecture Design process must also take into account the user behavior as regards the information search. The same applies to the context of the content reception.
What type of device, in what circumstances, to what purpose the user receives the content - these are the determinants of the manner of its interpretation and processing.
To fulfill its task, Information Architecture must address several important questions:
● Is the information presented useful and easy-to-understand?
● Is the information presented in a clear and attractive manner?
● Does the information support the user flow, implementation of tasks and achievement of objectives?
Psychological basis of Information Architecture
The IA Design cannot do without the understanding of the way the digital product users perceive, comprehend, interpret, categorize and learn about the world.
In order to understand this distinct perspective, the knowledge of cognitive psychology is very useful.
It is the study of human mind and its mental processes.
The Information Architects must above all take into account three key issues which determine the efficiency, usefulness, functionality and satisfaction resulting from a specific Information Architecture.
They must understand what mental models get activated in the web or mobile application users when interacting with digital products.
And one must bear in mind that the search for information follows specific models which must be reflected in the content structure and labels.
Each contact with page content is associated with the cost for the user, the interaction cost.
It includes cognitive loads, a cognitive effort, a need to put an amount of psychic energy and working memory resources into the information processing.
The Information Architecture Design (e.g. website Information Architecture) must take these issues into account, and adapt the quantity, complexity and order of information to the limited cognitive abilities of the users.
Making decisions, directly related to mental models and cognitive loads is equally important.
To make a decision, you need to have access to information, and the timing (time dimension) and context (circumstances dimension) are extremely important.
Consequently, information should be provided in a thoughtful manner, and in line with the expectations of the user in a particular phase of Customer Journey.
Benefits of Information Architecture design
The customers able to find information quickly and easily are more likely to buy, submit RFP or use services.
Easy access to information translates into a higher retention rate and lower bounce rate.
The Information Architecture Design (e.g. website Information Architecture) is a very important issue in the common approach, the User Centered Design. The user comfort, orientation in a website structure and its content structure are the main objectives of the Information Architect.
Keep in mind that the IA design is virtually always the basis for the design works and forms the backbone of every application and website.
There is a direct relationship between navigation performance and Information Architecture organization. Unstructured content, arranged randomly cause the navigation to be perceived as illegible, illogical, dysfunctional and unusable.
And this nearly always results in abandoning the site, unwillingness to choose the offer and establish cooperation.
Information Architecture is as susceptible to the first impression effect as graphics and navigation components. It is not an exaggeration to compare this function to the function of dress code. Simply, there is a number of expectations regarding websites and mobile applications.
Similarly, there is a set of expectations for clothing in particular places and situations. One of these is offering information in a logical, sensible, simple, comprehensible, clear manner and in line with expectations.
How to create Information Architecture?
Creating IA (e.g. application Information Architecture) is a challenge. It is also a task requiring knowledge, experience and understanding of the interactions between the users, site or application content and a broad context.
The context includes business objectives, technologies, devices, but also cultural or social issues.
The content is strongly conditioned by the needs, objectives and tasks the digital product users want to achieve.
All these elements determine each other. Therefore, several standard content organizing schemes have been developed.
They can be organized by time (chronological scheme), alphabetical order or subject. These are very common and well-known, accepted and understandable methods.
One of the most interesting Information Architecture design methods has been presented by Dan Brown.
He distinguished 8 principles which form the basis and criterion of the content structuring.
● Principle of Objects
● Principle of Choices
● Principle of Disclosure
● Principle of Exemplars
● Principle of Front Doors
● Principle of Multiple Classification
● Principle of Focused Navigation
● Principle of Growth.
According to the first Principle of Objects, the content should be treated as a living thing with its own attributes and lifecycle. Understanding its specificity and its nature enables you to make it useful.
The next principle, less abstract, suggests designing content offering making decisions and choices. As a result, the content promotes the performance of tasks.
The Principle of Disclosure refers to showing only enough information needed for navigation and making decisions. Next, the Principle of Exemplars suggests offering examples showing the contents a particular category.
Very often the users arrive at one of the subpages, so the homepage cannot exclusively contain all necessary information.
The Principle of Multiple Classification, in turn, suggests offering the users different classification schemes to allow them to browse a site according to the best fitting pattern.
The Principle of Focused Navigation warns against mixing categories and chaotic navigation.
The last principle is equally important, suggesting always planning and readiness for the site content growth. In practical terms, it means the need to take car of its scalability.
Information Architecture (AI) role in User Experience (UX)
The impact of IA on the User Experience (UX Information Architecture) is indisputable.
Information Architecture (e.g. website Information Architecture, page Information Architecture) is directly responsible for impressions, experiences, and emotions evoked as a result of the interaction with digital products.
Accessibility, comprehensibility, communicativeness, conciseness and usefulness of information affects and determines the user comfort. It affects his/her behavior, actions, emotions and attitudes.
A clear, effective Information Architecture, perceived as helpful and useful, positively influences the User Experience.