Information architecture

Information architecture is about structuring information systems (such as websites and intranets) in a way that allows people to:

  • find information they need
  • find information they didn’t know they needed
  • make better decisions
  • complete information tasks faster and more accurately

Information architecture skills are most needed for projects that involve organising and managing large amounts of content – providing structure, navigation and labelling.

IA skills are are also necessary for interactive applications – providing the structure, workflow, labelling and navigation for a system.

IA in a project

Information architecture activities are design activities, done toward the beginning of a project. Most IA-heavy projects will involve steps like:

  • Elicit or articulate the business goals and context in which the project occurs
  • Analyse content
  • Undertake user research activities (which may include a card sort)
  • Analyse the findings from the first three steps
  • Develop a structure and labelling scheme
  • Develop navigation and page layouts (this step may also require interaction design skills)

Deliverables

The most common deliverables for the information architecture portion of a project are a site map and set of wireframes.

A site map outlines the conceptual structure and detailed structure for the site. A site map may be represented as a diagram (for conceptual structures or small sites), or as a big spreadsheet that shows details for all content chunks.

Wireframes are page layouts without detailed visual treatment. They show what content should be included on a page and it’s basic positioning. Wireframes can be very conceptual, showing only rough content placement; or very detailed, with final page copy.

The IA step of a project will involve other deliverables as is needed to achieve your project goals.

When to get me involved

Information architecture parts of a project do not need to be done by someone who uses a title of ‘information architect’ – and in most cases a specialist information architect is not needed.

You may want to get me involved for:

  • large sites of any kind
  • sites with a wide range of content types and a range of topics
  • content that people will want to access in more than one way
  • sites that use more than a simple hierarchy
  • implementing of a content management system
  • implementing or improving a search facility

I am also happy to provide mentoring you so you can improve your skills as you work.

Why choose me

I have been working intensely on information architecture for many years, in many different roles:

Books

I have written two information architecture books.

A practical guide to information architecture

Book cover for A practical guide to information architecture
‘A practical guide to information architecture’

This book is a very practical book about information architecture and navigation design, set in the context of website and intranet design and redesign projects. If you’re a website designer, intranet manager or someone without much Information Architecture experience, this book will help you feel more confident about your process and decisions.

Card sorting: Designing usable categories

Book cover for Card sorting
‘Card sorting: Designing usable categories’

Card sorting helps us understand how people think about content and categories. Armed with this knowledge, we can group information so that people can better find and understand it. In this book, Donna Spencer describes how to plan and run a card sort, then analyze the results and apply the outcomes to your project.

Interviews

Interview with Tom Johnson (I’d rather be writing) on IA and technical communication:

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Interview with Jared Spool about what makes a great information architect:

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Interview with Adam Churchill on Organization schemes for web content

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