Basics of Information Architecture (IA)

While doing some research on Information Architecture for work, I actually learned a couple of things about its history that I didn’t already know. I thought others might be interested too, so that’s what this article is all about. Enjoy!

What is Information Architecture (IA)?

The term “Information Architecture” (IA) was coined in 1976 at an American Institute of Architects (AIA) conference by Richard Saul Wurman, who is probably now best known for being one of the creators of the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences. As with many things website development related, IA seems easy to define on the face of it; however, the deeper you delve, the more robust and abstruse it becomes. When referring to web design and development, IA is the way an Information Architect sets up and structures the webpages (information) throughout a website, to put it simply.

So, what’s an Information Architect?

An Information Architect is the person who helps bring together all of the different elements of a website: design, usability, functionality, SEO, page copy, page hierarchy, and site navigation, as well as the overall internet marketing and digital strategies. The goal of an Information Architect is to create an intuitive website structure that is friendly to both human users and search robots alike. Another way to define IA is as “the art and science of creating and maintaining a model of a system of information describing the rules on how the information should be organized, interlinked, accessed, and presented.” For a little further explanation, here are some quotes on IA from industry leaders:

“The art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities, and software to support usability and findability.” —Information Architecture Institute

“Flickr allows me to upload my pictures and organize them, tag them, however I see fit. There is no central authority telling me what to tag my pictures. This is partly because it’s not going to hurt anybody if I do it ‘wrong’ … Flickr isn’t a mission-critical system. It’s a playful social platform…if you want a serious photo library, then use a system like the national archive or Corbis has, but not Flickr. There’s a difference between managing information, and designing the infrastructure to let others manage it themselves. But both approaches are architectural.” —Andrew Hinton, Information Architect

Why is IA so important?

IA is important for a few reasons. It allows for intuitive navigation of a website. It also increases usability and findability for visitors and search engines. Once you know your purpose and understand your target audience, you need to draft a plan on how you wish to convey and structure the information on your website so that it will enable human users to easily find what they seek. This also allows robots to crawl your site more efficiently.

Components of IA:

Here are some techniques that information architects use to develop effective IA. The book, “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, names four components of an information architecture system:

  • Organization systems are categories that organize information;
  • Labeling systems represent the information;
  • Navigation systems are how to navigate between pieces of information;
  • Searching systems are how to find information.

Tips on Intuitive Website IA:

  • Know the purpose of your website;
  • Understand your target audience;
  • Determine the short-term and long-term goals of your website;
  • Decide on your website’s organizational structure:
  • Draft an outline of your site;
  • Develop a wireframe or blueprint of your website;
  • Define your site navigation.

With a well executed plan, you can really improve your website’s organic SERP (search engine results page) standing, while keeping your target audience happy. Building a structurally sound website becomes a bit easier when you understand the basics of Information Architecture. Empower your content to be impactful by putting a solid digital strategy behind it.

By: Danielle Dandridge

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