Information architecture is a process is often carried out by a team of UX designers, developers, content strategists, and other professionals.
As a content professional, it's important to understand the basics of information architecture and how it impacts content strategy and user experience.
Information architecture is perhaps a proto-content strategy skill set. In the earlier days of the web, information architecture was the skill set that dealt with all the content on the site from a user experience point of view.
An information architect answers questions like:
Information architecture is well defined in Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond. According to this source, information architecture is:
Today, information architecture is a skill set that content strategists and UX practitioners use to structure websites, intranets, extranets, e-commerce sites, and other information products.
It considers questions like:
The practice can be applied to many areas in corporations and organisations. This article will mainly focus on information structures within websites and intranets for content-heavy websites.
Content architecture is the way that content is organized, structured, labeled, and linked together. Effective content architecture is vital to creating a pleasant content management experience for editors, content managers, and content strategists. But perhaps more importantly, solid content architecture is essential to creating a positive experience for the user who is consuming the content.
Overall, focusing on content architecture will benefit any organization by increasing the content team’s agility and empowering them to rely less on developers to find and organize content. When the content team has a clean and easy-to-navigate backend of the website, it ends up benefiting the frontend as the team can more easily grow the content on the website’s frontend over time.
Before we dive into deliverables and principles, we need to define a few other key terms related to information architecture:
When designing websites and intranets, information architecture touches a number of deliverables in the discovery and design process. While there can be many variations of the deliverables, in general, information architecture produces:
Information architecture can also lead or have input into:
Information architecture work can happen in small and large organisations as well as agencies. The scope of deliverables depends on each project.
In our definition above, information architecture looks at organisation, labeling, navigation, and search to support usability, functionality, and findability. This organisation system supports both users and internal staff.
Most information architecture projects follow a very similar pattern of research and discovery, strategy, and design. Information architecture can also heavily contribute to content migration efforts.
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Information architecture is a skill set that interacts with a number of other specialities.
There are many examples of websites with good IA, structure, metadata, and taxonomy. Here are a few examples that are publicly available from content-heavy sites.
Goodreads uses taxonomy and metadata to allow users to find books of interest. One of their taxonomies is Genres. A piece of metadata is “new release.” Combine this together with a specific genre, and you can see what’s new in Historical fiction.
On the homepage of GOV.UK you can see all the topics for which they have content. If you pick a topic, you can browse deeper into the visual hierarchy. They have both wayfinding pages on their site and content pages.They get people to browse for their Topic via the Topics taxonomy, make a choice, then show content. Users can also search and narrow search results via taxonomy. Many government websites are good examples of content-heavy sites.
The Usability.gov site uses two levels of navigation, then displays content tagged with different taxonomy terms. Go into How-To & Tools to find all the different articles they have about Methods, Resources & Templates, and Guidance.
Many Support websites are content-heavy. Looking at Support.Apple.Com, the home page has a search box as well as their product categories. Dive into a product category to narrow it down to different topics for that product. Search terms such as “password” and use the filters to narrow down your results.
Here are some pretty useful information architecture tools:
If you're interested in learning more about information architecture, here are some helpful resources:
Content strategy and information architecture are interconnected because good information architecture is one of the ways you would carry out your content strategy. Choosing which content to highlight on a site or page is one way to provide an effective user experience for your target audience.
Information architecture enables content strategy in that it allows an organisation to tell its story by giving them the tools to guide visitors through a certain path. If an organisation's IA doesn't lead visitors through a strategic path of content, it will limit how and how well you can carry out the content strategy.
Content strategy and information architecture are so interconnected that one cannot be created before the other. Instead, content strategy and IA need to be created simultaneously so they can work together effectively.
GatherContent offers a centralized platform for you to bring content strategy and information architecture so you can implement your content strategy while structuring your content. With this platform, you can bring the whole team together to organize, plan, and create content according to what your audience needs.
Key Pointe’s founder and principal consultant Theresa Putkey applies content strategy, IA, and taxonomy to solve problems within a content management or digital asset management environment. With more than 15 years experience, Theresa brings a valuable external perspective to each consulting project. As a content strategist, she applies her skills and passion for content and structure to produce great user experiences that meet business needs. She focuses on bridging the communication chasm between business leaders and developers and acts as a liaison between stakeholder groups with divergent interests and drivers.