Information architecture (IA) is the discipline of making information findable and understandable. It includes searching, browsing, categorizing and presenting relevant and contextual information to help people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for online and in the real world.
IA is used in physical spaces like museums or department stores, as well as in websites and applications. For instance, in a natural history museum, you will find fossils from the Jurassic period exhibited together, just as your favorite packet of chips will always be in the snack aisle of your supermarket.
Information architecture operates from two perspectives:
People perceive information, products and services as places made of language.
These places or information environments can be arranged for optimal findability and understandability.
Language in this instance means visual elements, labels, descriptions, menus, content. We can arrange this language so that it works together to facilitate understanding.
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Good IA is informed by content, context and users.
© Interaction Design Foundation CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
In the book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango describe the concept of “information ecology” which comprises users, content, and context “to address the complex dependencies” that exist “in information environments”. The Venn diagram above illustrates the nature of these relationships. “The three circles illustrate the interdependent nature of users, content, and context within a complex, adaptive information ecology.”
Context relates to business goals, funding, culture, technology, politics, resources and constraints. Content consists of the document or data types, content objects, volume and existing structures. Users comprise the audience, tasks, needs, experiences and how they seek information.
Good information architecture is informed by all three areas, all of which are in flux depending on the information environment.
IA and UX design
As with all aspects of UX design, information architecture starts with understanding people—namely, their reasons to use a product or service. A methodical and comprehensive approach to structuring information is needed to make it findable and understandable irrespective of the context, channel, or medium employed by the user.
Once you understand how a user behaves and seeks information, you can design a successful sitemap (like the one shown below), website navigation, user flows and so on.
A bookstore’s sitemap
© Visual Paradigm, Fair Use
Designers need to understand the following when designing websites and applications:
the information needs of users
the site or app’s content
the business goals of the website, app, or organization
An information architect’s deliverables typically include:
Information architecture should be a holistic process, so when a new product or service is being designed, it’s important to start with IA. Good IA serves as the foundation of effective user experience design.
Learn More About Information Architecture
Card sorting is one of the most popular methods to understand how users classify information. Learn how to conduct effective cart sorts in this Master Class:
The guidebook to information architecture, Information Architecture, 4th Edition: https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/information-architecture-4th/9781491913529/
Better understand the practice of information architecture in relation to UX design:
For principles and the importance of IA in UX design, read this article: