Building Solid Information Architecture

ia

We had another UX session, this time with Lisa Min, Senior Experience Architect at Akendi. In this post I will go over the key points I took away from the session.

Information architecture (IA) is the foundation or skeletal structure of the product. It’s about the relationship between users and content, and how that content is organized. It’s also about how we shape information and experiences to support findability.

IA shouldn’t be confused with wire-framing, graphic design and coding. IA done well helps reduce frustration in not finding information. If a user feels confident while using your site/app, it’s probably because it has a strong IA.

On Language: Don’t try to Re-invent the Wheel

IA should be built on how users think content should be organized, and how they will find that content. Conventions are your friend; don’t try to reinvent the wheel! It’s best to reduce ambiguity and increase consistency when using language for your site or app. Geography will impact how people use language. Words mean different things to people depending on where you are in the world. For example, “precipitation” is understood by most Canadians as anything that has to do with rain, snow, hail etc. But people in the UK, for example, would be more likely to use the term “rain” instead of “precipitation,” simply because it is the most predominant form of precipitation in their region. As such, solid IA benefits from well-designed taxonomy and an understanding of user mental models. If you understand the way the user thinks, the language they use, and the conventions they’re used to, they will be able to understand how to use your product better.

Organize Information using LATCH principles

There are five main ways to organize information:

  • Location
  • Alphabetical
  • Time (Chronological)
  • Category
  • Hierarchy

Many sites and apps use a combination of LATCH to show their information. LATCH is important in IA because it helps users find what they are looking for faster. The more you’re able to reduce the user’s frustration, the more satisfied they’ll be with your product.

Sitemaps as supplemental Navigation Systems

Sitemaps aren’t just used in the planning phase of a website or app. They can also be found living within a site. A website with over 20 pages could use a sitemap to help the user navigate to a particular topic without having to find it through embedded navigation systems that are integrated in the web page. Supplemental nav systems such as sitemaps and indexes present a top-down view of most of the site’s content.

sitemap-uoft

While sitemaps and indexes are useful for larger sites, it’s best not to replace the embedded/main nav system with these supplemental navs because this would be considered poor IA. These days larger sites benefit from using a search feature to enable users to find information quickly.

Thanks for reading!

Abby

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