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 apps – providing the structure, workflow, labelling and navigation for a system.

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

  • Analyse content and create content models
  • Undertake design research
  • Develop a structure and labelling scheme
  • Develop navigation and page layouts

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

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:

  • collections such as for museums
  • large sites with complex content
  • 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

Why choose me?

I specialised in information architecture for many years, in many different roles and wrote two books. I haven’t yet met an IA project I couldn’t figure out.

Please get in touch if you have a complex IA project, or need to improve your team’s IA skills.

An example

I recently wrote, for a potential client, a description of how I could help them…

It sounds like there are some quite diverse IA needs here, and the focus will change from broad to detailed through the project. I can help with the following kinds of things:

Strategic IA / Making decisions about the direction of the project

  • Lending expertise around structural consequences of key decisions
  • Being involved in the big decision around the major content organisation method (e.g. demographics, scenarios, life stages, something else).
  • Being involved in activities to work these through in prototype form to see how they might play out; and helping create materials ready for testing them.
  • Plotting out information journeys particularly focusing on how people learn and increase knowledge
  • Helping analyse research, with a particular focus on how people use terminology and concepts, and what that tells us about how they think

Structure (broad)

  • Once we’ve made a decision (or decisions) about the major content organisation method, defining the structural aspects of it – how do different kinds of content relate to one another, and how do we define these so a computer can do it automatically.
  • Potentially working with data science folks to see how we might do this in a smarter way than human-created metadata
  • Creating a future content model to help the project move forward, but also help with the technology-selection process

Structure (detailed)

  • At the content level, identifying different ‘chunks’ of content that might be able to be re-used in different ways, to reduce manually creating similar content (also helps to reduce the time/cost to create non-textual content)
  • Defining different types of ‘document’ and what content chunks go into them
  • Potentially helping with materials to help content authors create independent chunks of content

Classification schemes, taxonomies and words

  • Defining/describing the broad classification schemes and deeply understanding their consequences – this is about really being careful about the organisation scheme that presents the content broadly (demographics/scenarios/life stages etc); and the scheme we’ll use to tag content. This is super-important as this is the place where it’s easy to accidentally exclude people based on the organisation scheme we use and the categories within the audience scheme. Or to accidentally communicate to them that they are not ‘welcome’ to participate in particular categories.
  • Defining all the detailed metadata that will make the system run
  • Describing all the detailed metadata so authors know what they should choose when creating content, and what the consequences are