The information architecture or IA has become a real trend among designers. As any data in the world, information brings much more value when it’s structured. So, let’s look through the principles of information architecture that make sense. It’s much more than just card sorting and mind mapping!
Do you want to help users clearly understand complex digital products? You’re in the right place at the right time! Let’s go!
IA is a stand-alone science of structuring and organizing the content of apps, websites, socials, and so on. It studies the principles of information arrangement that leads to better user experience.
This scientific direction was founded by Richard Saul Wurman — a graphic designer and architect from the US. To date, this sphere grew up to have its own Information Architecture Institute. According to experts from this institute, they develop the practice of arranging the parts of bigger systems to make the whole picture understandable. Being clear and logical to easily navigate through complex information sets is their main objective.
According to the scheme with Users, Content, and Context, we conclude the following… Creating valuable content is useless unless it is findable. If users find what they need quickly, they are ready to pay for that! Today, when time is our most precious value, people are not ready to spend hours searching for data. Users will abandon their attempts if looking for information is too slow or complicated. This may kill an app or website, as the user's goals will be lost in a huge amount of information.
Do you want to monetize your product and make it simpler (read, more attractive) for an end user? Use the right IA and UX approaches!
So, what is the role of IA in design? Modern UX approaches are all user-centered. And they are impossible without good information architecture. It is the backbone of any design project. Visual elements, functionality, navigation, and interaction are built on this backbone. Just imagine tons of unorganized content so that users are even not able to perform a single action on the website! Sounds dreadful, right? In 99% of cases, users will quit such a site. And no second chances will be given to your product if that happened!
Of course, creating IA takes time, nevertheless, its further effect will be indispensable. It is a guarantee of a high-quality easy to use the product. If you were putting it off for tomorrow, start acting right now. It’s the right time, as your competitors are already doing IA-based design and conquering the market with intuitive and user-friendly products.
You might wonder how IA differs from UX, as they sound very similar. Both of them are about simple navigation, finding necessary content…
Although they are tightly connected, UX is a broader term. While IA is only about structuring data, UX is about pleasant colors and layouts that evoke a response at the psychological level. You see, information architects do more focused work aiming at cognitive perception, without involving emotions.
Still, without a proper IA, no great and logical UX is possible.
What does strong IA consist of? According to Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld, IA pioneers, there are four components:
They are different types of categories or groups all information is divided into. With these systems, users can quickly assume what a separate data group is about. Consequently, this component can be divided into three sub-components:
They are key in conveying global senses in a couple of words. Finding content by high-level concepts is simple. And you don’t need to navigate through plenty of irrelevant information. It is time-saving and definitely a good choice for users who want to achieve their goals asap.
Here is a short example. When you’re looking for contacts on an e-commerce website, you don’t look for an email or phone number. Users commonly look for the ‘Contacts’ or ‘Contact Us’ label.
The term ‘navigation system’ is more than a sitemap. Though, according to IA science, it is less than a great UX/UI interface. In classic terms, such systems are used for users to easily move through content and fulfill their goals.
Also, searching systems can be mentioned at this point. Not all products have them, but it makes the work with apps and websites easier when they are full of various content.
After we’re done with the terms and definitions, let’s dive into the details of the principles. They will help you a possibility to streamline your data:
This point is similar to what we have in object-oriented programming. Pieces of content actually are living objects with their lifecycle, attributes, and behaviors. They are based on templates, which are named ‘classes’ in programming.
Designers and information architects should show people the amount of information necessary for figuring out what’s next. This amount of data should be reasonable, otherwise, one might decide that they don’t need that at all. So, a user sees content and decides whether they want to dig deeper into the topic.
The more options there are, the more difficult decision making is. If there are dozens of options, try to keep a couple of the most meaningful ones to not distract users from their goal.
Descriptions are good, but with examples, users will remember your product better. What’s more, showing something in action is always the best explanation. And cognitive scientists have already proven this! Human brains perceive categories as sets of good examples.
Surprisingly, but not all users enter sites via the front door. So, you don’t need to place everything only on the homepage. Think of those (and there are almost 50% of them) who use a side entrance to get acquainted with your web resource. No matter what entry point your visitors choose, take care of what they will see on a page. Keep all of them clear and easy to navigate through.
The design should accommodate the fact that people look at information from different perspectives. So, products should have at least a couple of classification systems to work the best. Nevertheless, don’t overdo it. Too many schemes can distract users from the final goal.
Forget about using extraneous links in your navigation. A way around, keep it focused. Each menu should have a purpose and structure perceptible for an end user. This approach is different from naming menus based on the location (for example: ‘Main menu’ or ‘Global navigation’.
Your today’s content is only a part of what you’ll have on the website or in the app tomorrow. So, designers responsible for information architecture should anticipate adding new forms and formats: videos, PDFs, photo slideshows, presentations, and so on. Growth is progress! Keep increasing your success!
Okay, let’s assume you’re ready to get to create and develop IA for your product. What tools are there on the market? You can find overviews on most of them in our previous article. We’ve done this research for Mac users. As for other platforms, we recommend using web-based apps. They mean quick and granted access to your working projects from any device, be it a powerful PC on Windows or your personal iPhone.
Try a demo to see how everything works and sign up for free to start your project!
Information architecture seems extremely complex in theory, so let’s consider a couple of examples. Everything is much simpler than you think!
By the way, you can also browse other examples of our experts’ work in the same section. There are lots of inspirational materials!
To sum everything up, let’s examine these tips. After this, you’ll be able to sign in to your FlowMapp account and implement fresh knowledge in practice.
If you are responsible for information architecture at your project, consider yourself a cartographer. Map the project — be it a website or app — define what needs to be mentioned in your IA design. Pages of the website, landing pages, decision points, patterns for user behavior… This depends on your and users’ needs.