Usability, findability, and discoverability are the cornerstones of good information architecture (IA). It defines how you structure, label, design, and organize your information around the digital platforms. The more the focus is on enhancing the information architecture — the better is the customer experience triggered by the UX-design-led-IA.
Findability precedes usability. In the alphabet and on the Web. You can’t use what you can’t find. – Peter Morville
Take an example of buildings, the simple structural buildings that surround us. That building could be a cafe with a soothing ambiance or a steel and glass elevated office space with beautiful cubicles. Both structures are built to serve the needs of the respective customers and enhance the space’s likeability.
Similarly, a website or a product has an architecture that is built purely from a customer perspective. So, suppose the platform looks neat and clean. In that case, users can find and discover features, navigate their way through a website, and execute the intended actions — it has meaningful information architecture.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on information architecture and why it is essential for your website and software products.
What is Information Architecture in UX?
Information architecture is about structuring, organizing, and labeling information to bring order to the content on websites and products. The goal of incorporating IA is to plan the navigation system to make it easy for people to find and use what they are looking for, i.e., facilitating a user-centered design.
Information architecture covers four essential aspects, i.e.,
- Organization of System: This helps distribute the information in the form of distinguishable categories that make the website or product easy to use.
- Labeling: Helps distinguish information with intuitive labels that depict the meaning or the intent of a button, an option, or a feature.
- Navigation: Aims at making it intuitive and easy for users to jump from one page to the other while trying to complete the intended action.
- Search: Helps promote findability and discoverability, i.e., making it easy for users to locate known as well as unknown features and functionalities.
Information architecture, user interface, and user experience are interrelated and share a common objective — offering a delightful customer experience.
Information architecture helps structure the website or the product content to help users navigate and find information easily. An ideal IA helps users know where they are, what they can expect, and where to find what.
Information architecture informs the user interface. When designing the UI, the predefined IA structure is referred to and followed.
The IA driven UI, in turn, helps enhance the user experience and hence draw more visitors.
Principles of Information Architecture
The following table highlights the eight information architecture principles that should be considered during the design phase:
|1. Principle of Objects||Every piece of data and information listed on the website or the product has attributes and a specific behavior|
|2. Principle of Choices||Do not overwhelm users with multiple choices. Try to avoid the paradox of choice|
|3. Principle of Disclosure||Add relevant labels to icons and categories so that the users get an idea of what lies ahead of clicks|
|4. Principle of Exemplars||Pop-ups should appear alongside the categories to give users an idea of what it entails. These pop-ups can either contain images or can be text-driven|
|5. Principle of Front Doors||This principle implies that every user may have a different entry point to the website. Thus, make your content accessible and welcoming on every page|
|6. Principle of Focused Navigation||Ensure that your navigation system is consistent, clean, and intent-driven. None of the elements of the navigation should be counter-intuitive|
|7. Principle of Multiple Classifications||Use multiple classification systems to help visitors find what they are looking for. Segregate your buyer personas and see how they browse before finalizing the different classification systems|
|8. Principle of Growth||The website or product content is ever-evolving. You need to ensure that your digital platform is scalable, and you have flexible planning around the IA|
What are the Main Components of Information Architecture?
The following three elements need to be in place to reach the best user experience that leads to a satisfactory customer experience:
This refers to giving labels to the individually identifiable categories, making it easy for the customers to understand what they are looking at.
A suitable information architecture example for Ontology can be yellow bell pepper, and red bell pepper is tagged and labeled for a user to identify them separately in a superstore.
Is a classification technique where “alike” elements are grouped. It is like a hierarchy that further helps in ranking elements.
Taking the example of the supermarket section of the superstore, you can find bell pepper under the “vegetables” section, which is further categorized under the “organic foods” section. Now how and where the bell peppers are placed also defines its taxonomy.
Refers to the user flow, i.e., the path that the user most expectedly follows to accomplish the intended task. In simpler words, the choreography is the blend of ontology (meaning) and taxonomy (categorization) that work together to offer a splendid user experience.
An example could be the ease of movement across the store and the intuitiveness that follows to help find bell peppers. If you master the choreography, the customer experience witnesses a positive impact automatically.
What are the Best Tools for Information Architecture?
Here is a list of five information architecture tools that can help you get started with website content organization:
- Visual Paradigm
Information Architecture: Best Practices
Here are five best practices to nail product or website information architecture in the right way:
1. User Research & Analysis
Understanding your target audience plays an important role here. To design and develop meaningful information architecture, you need to have a clue around human psychology. How do they use the interface, and what do they expect of the interaction design?
If you understand your user and their mindset, you are already halfway through to provide a great customer experience.
The Card Sorting technique can lend a hand at getting started.
A Short Note on Card Sorting
Card sorting helps design information architecture for websites and products while also lending a hand at analyzing it.
Here the content labels are penned down on cards and provided to the users. In turn, they are told to organize the card structure according to what makes sense to them.
There are two primary types of card sorting methods:
- Open Method: where users work on organizing the categories of the content as well
- Closed Method: where the categories are predefined and users only organize the underlying content
2. Working on Buyer Personas & User Scenarios
This step will help in a better understanding of your users, which, in turn, will help in better information architecture implementation.
At the end of this step, you would be able to make out who your customers are, what they are looking for, and what mindset they follow?
This starts with identifying your buyer personas and their expectations from a web experience similar to yours. You will have to brainstorm around:
The other part of the story is to connect the buyer personas with the corresponding use cases. A use case is usually a short journey-oriented story of how the user performs a particular task.
For instance, a use case could be to complete a transaction, and the corresponding route or actions that are taken define the particularities of a buyer persona.
By the end of this step, you’ll be able to figure out:
- How do the buyer personas think and act?
- What are the challenges that you would be facing?
- What can be done to overcome the existing challenges?
3. Organization or structure
Grouping of information in categories to form a neat and clean structure. There are three types of organizational structures to refer to — hierarchical, sequential, and matrix structure. As you scroll through each of these structures, you’ll have an idea of how to design information architecture.
a. Hierarchical Structure
Here, the content is distributed under different categories listed on the page. There is a visible hierarchy that is followed when navigating from one page to another.
Here, there is a visible path to the steps that should follow. The next steps appear in sequential order on the screen without having to switch between screens.
Here, the users get to choose how they wish to view the information display on their screens. There are links, buttons, and other elements redirecting to the same information.
It is the users who decide their navigation path.
4. Labeling the System
Once the site map that resonates with an ideal hierarchy and navigation are maintained, the next thing on the bucket list is “labeling.” It refers to the act of naming different pages in an intuitive format.
The focus here is to build a human-centered labeling system for the users, and intuitiveness should be prioritized.
For instance, if you label “About Us” as “Information,” — all you are doing is confusing the visitors.
It would help if you cleared the intent, starting with sticking to the traditional practices of naming the different categories and subcategories.
5. Offering an Orchestrated Customer Experience
The last step involves maintaining the flow of information, i.e., making the end-to-end experience worthwhile. It offers a connected and usable experience right from awareness, visiting the website, locating features, and performing the intended action.
The user experience flow should be consistent from entering, finding, locating, using, to performing the intended actions. This will only happen if you plan for information architecture before anything else.
Why is Information Architecture Important?
Here are some benefits that your business will witness once you ensure that information architecture has been taken care of:
- Good brand impression
- Increase in the number of visitors
- Better click-through rates
- More leads
- Improved conversions, and thus revenues
Information architecture in UX designing is indeed all about transforming complexity into clarity. You can refer to IA as the foundation of the UX design.
Invest in information architects, UX architects, and UX designers who collaborate and often communicate to weave an interconnected customer experience.