What Is the Role of Information Architecture in Design?
One of the most important factors of UX design is information architecture. When a user has an easier time finding what they are looking for, there’s a reduction in the total amount of effort they need to invest in interacting with a product.
IA informs the content strategy, user interface design, and interaction design. Creating a content-first experience–considering content early on in design projects and letting it inform product design decisions–is a significant goal for many products. To achieve this, it’s important to ensure that IA forms the skeleton of the design project. The navigation between screens and pages along with the organization of content should help users find information and complete tasks with the least amount of effort invested.
Both new and existing products benefit from proper IA design. For new products, good IA design helps streamline the product design process if the design team is aware of the target user’s mental models (what users believe about the product at hand) and then create an experience that matches user expectations (design a product in accordance to how users prefer to get information). For existing products, IA design can be beneficial during product redesign because team members can address the areas in a product that cause major friction.
What Are the Principles of Information Architecture?
There are many considerations to keep in mind when building the information architecture for a digital product. Created by information architect Dan Brown, these eight principles of IA are widely accepted within the design community:
- The Principle of Objects. Content should be treated as a living, breathing thing with a lifecycle, behaviors, and attributes.
- The Principle of Choices. Pages that are created should offer meaningful choices to the user. All choices should be focused on a specific action to avoid overwhelming the user with too many choices.
- The Principle of Disclosures. Limiting the information a user sees at one time will allow them to better absorb the information presented.
- The Principle of Exemplars. Contents of a category should be described by showing examples of that content.
- The Principle of Front Doors. Assume that at least half of users will not enter through the ‘front door’ or your home page. This means every page should include enough information so the user can understand where they are.
- The Principle of Multiple Classification. Ensure that there are different ways a user can browse content on your site.
- The Principle of Focused Navigation. Navigation should be focused, meaning what they contain has more importance than how they look.
- The Principle of Growth. Assume that content on the site will continue to grow.
These principles help ensure the information architecture supports usability and findability, but when designing an IA, there are also key processes to follow in order to create a great user experience.
What Are the Key Processes of Information Architecture?
The process of designing an IA starts with user research. Information architecture practitioners learn about the users and their needs, wants, and expectations surrounding a product and then connect this information with project goals and context for interactions. Designers then conduct card sorting and tree testing exercises with people who represent the target audience (to understand how users categorize information) as well as overseeing a series of interviews with stakeholders (to understand business goals and match them to users’ needs and wants).
But the process of designing an IA doesn’t stop after the implementation of the architecture in a product. Similar to any other product design decisions, IA practitioners need to ensure that the logic of content organization continues to work well for their target audience. That’s why information architects should participate in usability testing sessions with prototypes or real products.
Usability testing helps them gain insights into the people who interact with a solution and what problems they face during the interaction. These insights help designers introduce changes in the existing structure of content and navigation elements to make the interaction easier for users.
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