Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture

There’s one curial concept that often gets overlooked and misunderstood.

If you’re familiar with user experience (UX) design, you probably know what we’re talking about. Otherwise, you might be wondering “what is IA anyway” and we feel you.

Right off the bat, you should know this term isn’t any novelty. Emerging in the early 1970s, it predates web and mobile apps, as well as UX. Moreover, it builds on foundations set by cognitive psychology, architecture, and library science.

You can think of it as a compass telling uses where they are in relation to the information and content they seek. From a business standpoint, it provides a roadmap for organizing complex information.

It all comes down to how this information presented and whether it helps users accomplish their goals. At the same time, IA is preoccupied with the question of what the user journey through the digital landscape looks like.

As such, it’s a vital component of modern UX design and ultimately, market success.

What is IA Supposed to Do?

We operate in times of dwindling attention spans and instant gratification.

Modern consumers want to instantly find what they need. While they can afford to take their privileges for granted, we cannot.

Realizing this is a matter of surviving and thriving in an oversaturated tech environment. IA framework reminds us great UX is the result of extensive planning, research, and testing.

Its main purpose is two-fold: to support our business goals and help people grasp their surroundings. The latter isn’t exactly a straightforward process, as there is usually a whole maze of options to navigate.

Hence, IA aims to aid people in finding what they’re looking for. It’s the means by which they can locate themselves in a broader cyber environment.

For digital professionals, IA is equally essential. It lays the groundwork for a website, app, and other digital projects.  What is more, it maximizes user engagement and satisfaction.

More specifically, it takes various concrete forms, such as:

  • Sitemap
  • Categorization
  • Hierarchy
  • Navigation
  • Metadata

These elements encompass multiple areas, including target audience, online technology, and data science. This goes to show IA doesn’t exist in a vacuum— quite the opposite.

From the Ground Up

IA heavily borrows from several complementary disciplines.

The first one is library science, which was pioneered by traditional public institutions. This field revolves around cataloging, categorizing, and locating knowledge resources.

Thus, it gives us guidance in building content archives. These tasks reflect a typical UX workflow and target the same goals.

Furthermore, we have cognitive psychology. Its role is to shed light on mental processes and models behind decision-making. This repository of insights is the key to successfully shaping interactions and structuring information.

For instance, it lets us avoid UX pitfalls like overloading users with too much information. “Less is more” principle instantly comes to mind. Indeed, it enables us to become masters of steering people toward optimal choices.

Finally, the “A” in IA is there for a good reason. The two approaches rely on the same techniques. You have to start from foundations (ideas) and work your way up, don’t you?

Similarly, the organization of building blocks (information) is paramount. You need a proper blueprint and construction methodologies to nail these priorities.

And just like in architecture, various professionals have to work closely together. Namely, designers, content strategists, and developers are all tasked with creating and maintaining IA.

A Step-by-Step Game Plan

A lack of specific job title attached to IA is peculiar, but it shouldn’t fool you.

IA is a fully-fledged field of its own, defined by its unique resources, processes, and tools. Understanding them is a prerequisite for successful deployment.

So, there’s a wide range of IA tasks one has to deal with.

Most prominently, the essential list involves:

  • User research
  • Navigation creation
  • Wireframing
  • Labeling
  • Taxonomies and metadata
  • Data Modeling

In the following section, we’re going to cover these steps in a bit more detail.

Covering all the Bases

When it comes to research, there are multiple ways to go about figuring out priorities. You can carry out usability tests and card sorting or stakeholder user interviews.

Once that is sorted out, you can start fleshing out your website project. In case of a website, this entails selecting and organizing pages for it. Typically, this is done via sitemap, which establishes a clear hierarchy of content.

One closely related approach would be wireframing. It offers an overview of links between pages and sketches the most important elements for designers.

As for labeling, it determines how the information segments (pages, links, etc.) will be called. In other words, it titles navigation, content categories, and hierarchy.

On the other hand, taxonomy groups information together based on the target audience’s mental models. One additional step is tagging content with metadata, which facilities content browsing (search bar feature).

Lastly, data modeling comes into play to deliver finishing touches. It’s meant to align content types with business strategies, user needs, industry requirements, and editorial policies.

These steps should equip you well to mitigate pain points and rough spots on the user’s journey. They bring you closer to accomplishing near-perfect navigation and content experience.

Ahead of the Curve 

We’ve answered the questions of “what is IA all about” and “what it does”.

It should be clear now information and content systems can be an unruly beast. Taming this matrix of moving parts is borderline impossible without IA. It encourages us to plan ahead of time and engage in smart strategizing.

So, do your homework. Map out the project and govern the efforts of multiple departments teams.

Understand how people are likely to interact with your information flow and digital real state. Give them a clear idea of where value is and a taste of what they can expect from digging deeper.

Remember that the window of opportunity to hook someone closes fast. Therefore, you might want to spring into action and gain a competitive edge. Check out our services in case you need help with your digital strategy.

It’s time to add value to users and enhance your bottom line!