Ivan Vasilev

Information architecture

Information architecture or shortly IA is the art of organising the content in a logical and user-friendly way. If the IA is done right the user can easily navigate through the product we are designing.

We can find the roots of Information Architecture back in library science and cognitive psychology. Imagine yourself as a digital librarian – in other words the information architect organises content across digital product. Main questions which should be asked are:

Where should go what information?

Intuitive ordering of data into categories and subcategories creates a sense of completion and satisfaction. The user is confident where she is in this moment and can tell what is she looking at without reading the tittle of the page, because she got there on realised path.

How important elements should be prioritised?

The most crucial purpose of IA is to help user find exactly what she need quickly and easily. If for example a website is tricky to navigate through, the user will soon give up and leave. It is crucial that the Information Architecture is logical and user-friendly.

Why should we reduce the cognitive load?

By reducing distractions and number of options the user can have a much more efficient and focused experience. This is really important when we have to organize huge products that have a big amount of structured content. It is not the one and only solution to put entire Information on the home page overwhelming and frustrating the user. And here comes the step-by-step approach of organising data which helps the users find fast and efficient what they are searching for.

What are the deliverables of IA?

Navigation or how the users search and look for information. The main task for UX designer here is to organise the navigational elements in a way that is intuitive and logical for the people to find the information that they want to.

Sitemaps are diagrams that show the way in witch different pages, screens and bits of functionality within an app or a website are connected.

User flows on the other hand are diagrams that define a specific path that a user might take to achieve a goal or outcome. This applies to products as well as services. Useful insights can be collected on how the user is interacting or will interact with the product by sketching user flows for each phase of the creation of a product.

Wireframes are lo-fi representation of a user interface. They don’t include visuals such as Typography and Colors. They are mainly used to show hierarchy and structure of different pages when it comes to content and functionality as well.

The way we organise content in other words Categories, Subcategories, Taxonomies, Meta- data and Tagging. This may seem less important, but it really helps the users find everything they want quick and user-friendly.

Example – amazon.com, amazon.de

I tried to summurize one small part of amazon’s IA (in the case – Navigation and Sitemap) to illustrate how huge categorisation of products can be. The process can take enormous amount of resources including a lot of user test – card sorting, qualitative and quantitative research and of cource testing.

Amazon’s 37 different subcategories

The demographic profile is also taken into account by amazon’s team and I will prove this by comparing the navigation on amazon.com with that on amazon.de :

.COM vs. .DE

Obviously there are a lot of differences. First the items on the menu for US version are 37 and for DE – 27. Second there is no clear differentiation between amazon’s own products and others on US version of the shop. In the German version we have hardly visible grey line which separates them. The order of the items is also different – the football (soccer) is obviously not so popular in the states like in Germany. But someone will say that these differences are normal and we are comparing two continents. So let’s have a look at Spain which is also in Europe:

.COM vs. .DE vs. .ES

The answer is that even on the same continent the I.A must be different according to the user specifics. In this case again we don’t have football like in the US. In Spain we also add “Amazon” in front of some items in the menu. Sorting order is also different.

The location is one variable that can and should affect the Information Architecture, but the Time has to play a role in the equation. We can not promote ice cream in the winter and sun protection in the summer. Of course we can but it wont help. So time of the year + country make great combination of factors we have to bear in mind when we are creating I.A of a product.

Category: User Experience (UX)

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