Imagine going to a mall to buy several things from several different stores as efficiently as possible - get in and out and on with your life. You would probably want to find a map of the mall and plan out your shopping excursion, visiting each store in order to quickly get what you need. While walking through the mall you are led along your path by landmarks from the map or by wayfinding signage that provide context to where you are located and oriented - ensuring that you are moving in the right direction toward your goal.
Now let’s transfer that idea to the digital space, imagine landing on a website to do a few different tasks - getting started and completing the first task but then you find yourself wondering what to do next. Maybe the site has a lack of clarity around its process or you just plainly don’t understand why the process is what it is. This lack of understanding is a breakdown of Information Architecture.
What is Information Architecture:
Information Architecture, as defined by the Information Architecture Institute, is “the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable.” Good information architecture makes navigating a digital space intuitive - while bad information architecture makes it difficult for users to understand what needs to be done.
According to UX booth - Modern information architecture (or IA for short) leans heavily on cognitive psychology - with a focus on cognitive load and mental models. Cognitive load refers to the amount of information a person can process and mental models are assumptions people carry in their minds before interacting with a website.
Richard Saul Wurman, a graphic designer and architect, is considered one of the founders of modern IA - he believed information should be structured like a building, with a solid foundation and a precise, intentional structure. In his opinion, the presentation of information can be more important than the information itself.
How does Information Architecture affect your digital marketing efforts?
Information Architecture is crucial when creating a website or digital product and is related to a variety of deliverables. The most obvious of these deliverables is the navigation and organization of content on the site - understanding how to group information into categories that your users will be able to make sense of. This begins with a sitemap showing how to organize the pages that make up your site in a way that makes the most sense based on what you think your users will expect.
For example - you may think an FAQ page should be put under the “Help Center” section of your site (since it provides information answering questions), but looking at competition websites suggests that the common architecture pattern in the industry is that the FAQ page lives underneath “Product” section of the site because it contains questions and answers specifically related to the product being sold. It is the information architect’s job to weigh these different factors to determine what makes the most sense for each website project.
Another common deliverable that relies heavily on information architecture are the wireframes for your website. Experience UX defines wireframes as “a way to design a website service at the structural level. A wireframe is commonly used to lay out content and functionality on a page which takes into account user needs and user journeys.” Wireframes are basically blueprints of your website that take the form of simple boxes representing different copy content and imagery. Information architecture becomes a crucial factor when putting together wireframes as it helps dictate how content should be grouped on a page-by-page basis - laying out how the buyer’s journey will flow through the website.
Wireframes help illustrate how complex topics can be broken up across multiple pages but still provide a cohesive story for the user. Information architecture serves as the outline for that story, ensuring that users don’t miss any important plot points during their journey through the website or digital product - creating an information hierarchy, as outlined in this article by UX writer Emily Galeano.
Information Architecture: A Conclusion
In our modern age, complex systems of information are part of daily life, and as humans we are always trying to decipher the patterns to achieve what we need to achieve. Whether you are navigating a shopping mall or utilizing a digital product, information architecture serves as the basis for how we break down that information into a usable form.