The ultimate IA reading list

Originally published at: Optimal Workshop
Publication date: June 1, 2019
Within the UX industry, there are myriad terms and concepts you’ll need to understand in order to get your job done. One of the most common you’ll come across is information architecture (IA).

What is it? How do you find it? How do you research it? And how do you create it?

We’ve compiled an extensive directory where you can find authoritative content from information architects all over the world.

You’ll find this resource useful if:

  • You’re new to UX
  • You’re a writer, intranet manager, designer, marketer, product owner or content strategist
  • You want to further your knowledge of information architecture

How to get the most out of this guide:

  • Bookmark it and use it as a learning resource
  • Share it with colleagues, students, teachers, friends
  • Read it and share some of the basics to create an awareness of IA and UX in your workplace
  • Check the health of your current IA with our handy checklist.

Read on to learn all the ins and outs of IA including topics for beginners, those with an intermediate skill level, and some bonus stuff for you experts out there.

Information architecture is the system and structure you use to organize and label content on your website, app or product. It’s the foundation on top of which you provide the design.

  • “How to make sense of any mess” – This book by Abby Covert is one of the quintessential introductory resources for learning about information architecture. It includes a great lexicon so you can understand all the jargon used in the IA world, and shows you how to make sense of messes that are made of information.
  • “Intertwingled” – A book written by Peter Morville that discusses the meaning of information architecture and the systems behind it.

Ways of understanding information (and how to design for them)

Information seeking behaviors

  • “Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them” – How do your users approach information tasks? Everyone can be different in their information seeking habits and patterns, so it makes sense to do your research and take a deep look into this. In this article, Donna Spencer explains the four different modes of seeking information: “re-finding”, “don’t know what you need to know”, “exploratory” and “known-item”.
  • “How to spot and destroy evil attractors in your tree (Part 1)” – People can get lost in your site due to many different things. One that’s easily looked over is evil attractors, which appear in trees and attract clicks when they shouldn’t. This can confuse people looking for certain things on your site. This article by Dave O’Brien explains how to find and get rid of these evil attractors using tree testing.

Defining information architecture

Ontology, common vocabulary

The relationship between information architecture and content

Content inventories and audits

  • “How to conduct a content audit” – Before you begin a redesign project, you must perform a content analysis of your existing website or app to get an idea of the content you already have. This article (and accompanying video) from Donna Spencer explains the basics of a content audit, how to perform one, and why people conduct them. As a bonus, Donna has included a downloadable content inventory spreadsheet that you can use for your own project.
  • “Content analysis heuristics” – Before you get started on an information architecture project, it’s a good idea to first analyze what you already have. To do this, you use content analysis heuristics. In this article by Fred Leise, you can learn how to conduct a qualitative content analysis, and what each of his heuristics entails.

Content modeling

  • “Content types: The glue between content strategy, user experience, and design” – A lecture and slideshow presentation from Hilary Marsh at the IA Summit 2016 that explains the importance of creating a good understanding of “content types” so people can all be on the same page. Hilary discusses content lifecycles, workflows, relationships, and includes a handy checklist so you can easily identify content types.

Content prioritization

  • “Object-oriented UX” – When you’re designing a new page, website or app, many people look to a content-first approach to design. But what if you’re working on something that is mostly made up of instantiated content and objects? This is when it’s useful to add object-oriented UX to your design process.

Ways of organizing information

  • “Classification schemes — and when to use them” – How do you organize content? Should it be in alphabetic order? Sorted by task? Or even grouped by topic? There are many different ways in which content can be grouped or classified together. But which one works best for your users? And which works best for the type of content you’re producing? This article from Donna Spencer discusses some of the different types of classification schemes out there, when to use them, and which projects you can use them for.

Research for information architecture

Every successful design project involves a good dose of user research. You need to be able to understand the behavior, thoughts, and feelings of people.

Here’s an overview of the different types of user research you can conduct for information architecture projects.

Testing IA

  • “Tree testing: A quick way to evaluate your IA” – When do you need to run a tree test on your IA? And how do you do it? This article from Dave O’Brien runs through a project he worked on, the research methods his team faced, and the results they received. He also shares a few lessons learned which will serve as handy tips for your next tree test.
  • “Tree testing 101” – If you’ve never conducted a tree test before, our Tree testing 101 guide will fill you in on all the basics to get you started. This guide tells you when to use tree testing, how to set your objectives, how to build your tree, and how to run a study in our tree testing tool Treejack.
  • “Card sorting 101” – A guide we put together to explain the basics of card sorting and how to use this method for information architecture. Learn about the three main types of card sorting, how to choose the right method for your project, and how to interpret your card sorting results.
  • “How to pick cards for card sorting?” – An article on our blog that explains which types of cards you should include in your study, and how to write your card labels so that your participants can clearly understand them.
  • “Choose between open, closed or hybrid card sorts” – A section from our Knowledge Base that explains what you need to know about running different kinds of card sorts. Learn what’s involved with open, closed or hybrid card sorts and which one best suits the project you’re working on.
  • “Why card sorting loves tree testing” – Another article from our blog that explains the relationship between card sorting and tree testing and how you can use the two research methods together for your projects.

Advanced concepts in information architecture

IA in a world of algorithms

Cognitive science for IA

IA at scale

IA and SEO

  • “Information architecture for SEO” – When you’re organizing content on a website, you really have two audiences: people and search engines. So how do you make sure you’re doing a good job for both? In this “Whiteboard Friday” from Moz, Rand Fishkin talks about the interaction between SEO and IA, and some best practices involved with organizing your content for both audiences.