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Christina Meador
Christina Meador

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Introduction to Information Architecture

“How should I structure the menu? How should I decide the navigation flow of the website?” These are common questions which designers encounter before starting to design the product. Information architecture is the answer to all of these questions.

IA is the science, art and practice of structuring, organizing and labelling the content for a website or application. It is likened to a visual representation of the product’s infrastructure and hierarchy. Information Architecture serves as the blueprint for your website. The main aim is to come up with a structure that aligns with both user and business needs, while being both effective and sustainable. It should also be descriptive enough for a person to read and understand the system.

Basic Components of an Information Architecture

The aim of Information Architecture is to focus on understandability, and to make the content of the product easily identifiable. For example, it should not be difficult for a user to figure out how to utilize the ‘Log Out’ button on a website. In their book, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville distinguished four main components of Information Architecture: Organization Systems, Labelling Systems, Navigation Systems and Searching Systems.

Organization Systems: These types of systems deal with defining the relationships between various elements in a product. Organization Systems are the groups or categories in which the content or information is divided, which allows you to develop a product that is consistent and intuitive to the users.

Organization Systems can be broken down into three types: Hierarchical, Sequential and Matrix Structures.

Hierarchical structures deal with the visual hierarchy of the system. Broad categories start at the top, and trickle down to smaller categories. An example of this would be a retail website narrowing down groups of products from broader to more specific categories. Sequential structures include a step-by-step structure you create for a user to accomplish a specific task. This type of system avoids confusion on the part of the user, and is prominent in the check-out experiences of retail websites. On the other hand, Matrix Structures are both complicated and contrary to Sequential structures. In this situation, the user is given the choice to navigate in their own ways. An example of this would be organizing the reviews for a specific product, and giving the user the ability to sort entries by date, or in alphabetical order.

The other components of IA include Labelling Systems, Navigational Systems and Searching Systems.

A Labelling System deals with conveying more information from a single word, which will help the user to find the content they are looking for in a single place. In eCommerce products, users expect to have all the information about a specific product including size or color for clothing products, or toppings and sauces for food items. Another example would be on a specific company’s website: when a user presses a button labelled, “Contact Us” they expect to be provided with a phone number, email address or physical location for the company.

Navigational Systems include the set of actions or techniques that guide the user to navigate through the product, and should allow the user to successfully complete the task. To successfully build a navigational system for your product, you must understand how users expect to move through information presented on the internet. Some questions you may ask yourself include: “Do they really know what they are actually looking for and are they at the correct place?”

The final component of Information Architecture includes Searching System design. Imagine attempting to navigate Netflix without a search box. It seems almost impossible. A searching system enables a user to search for data within your product or application. A search system comes in handy when there is a lot of data in a product. For example, in a food ordering app, a user would have to sift through a number of restaurants to find one that matches their desires. They are comparing factors such as value for the price, reviews, distance from their residence, and many other factors. The only possible way for a user to use and organize all of this information is if an efficient search system is in place.

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