It’s common for people to use the term ‘information architecture’ to refer to the menus on a website. However, that isn’t the correct use of the term.
While menus are certainly a part of information architecture, they are only one piece in a much larger puzzle.
The Information Architecture Institute defines information architecture as:
“The art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities, and software to support usability and find-ability.”
So, instead of viewing information architecture as just the menus on your website, it’s best to consider the concept as how you show visitors to your site or users of your application the content that you have available to them, and the actions that they are able to perform. When you adopt this perspective, it becomes obvious that information architecture is comprised of much more than just the navigation menus on your website.
Information architecture refers to the items that you place on a webpage, the overall structure of the website, and even the terminology that is used on the site to describe things such as products or benefits.
In their book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Lou Rosenfield and Peter Morville claim that information architecture is comprised of four main components:
- Organization Schemes and Structures: How information is categorized and structured.
- Labeling Systems: How information is represented.
- Navigation Systems: How users browse information.
- Search Systems: How users look for information.
Rosenfield and Morville go on to make the case that in order for you to create these systems of information, you will require an understanding of what they call the ‘information ecology’.
The information ecology is comprised of the interdependent nature of users, content, and context:
- Context refers to your business goals, the funding you have access to, the politics and culture within which you operate, your technical capabilities, and your resources and constraints.
- Content refers to your overall content objective, the types of documents and data you have, the volume of content you create, the existing structure of your library, and the governance and ownership of that content
- Users refers to your audience, the tasks they need to perform, their needs and pain points, their information-seeking behavioral tendencies, and their experience.
Effective Information Architecture Allows Users to Focus on Tasks
Showing your users or website visitors information in a way that they are accustomed to thinking about things will make the navigation of your site or app feel natural and intuitive.
This means that instead of expending energy on figuring out how to navigate your site or app, users will be able to focus on tasks more effectively, such as researching your product offerings.
The content on your site or app should be logically grouped so that searching, filtering, and sorting information becomes second nature. You want the UX to be as natural for your users as possible.
Optimized Information Architecture Serves as a Competitive Advantage
It’s probable that your site or application isn’t entirely unique. You most likely have competitors in your market that are offering similar products or solutions, and that have a similar website experience.
Having a research-backed, clearly defined and intuitive information architecture will help you differentiate your business from competitors.
If your site offers a better UX than the sites of others in your market, then prospective customers will naturally be more drawn to exploring your offerings.
Before you launch or release your website or application, you should perform research to obtain a detailed understanding of your industry’s standards for creating, storing, accessing, and presenting information. You should do your best to use these standards as guidelines for your own information architecture, but you should also make improvements where possible.
Additionally, if your site or apps information architecture is on point, customers will know that your product is likely just as usable and intuitive as the platforms on which it is marketed.
Conversely, if your site has poor information architecture you’ll be sending the wrong message to prospects. If information is displayed in ways that confuses users, they will quickly abandon your site and pursue alternative options in the market.
Far too often, information architecture is not prioritized appropriately when developing a new website or application. Failing to research how your target audience is used to finding, accessing, and retaining information can be detrimental to your bottom line, as it opens up opportunities for competitors to provide better experiences via more sophisticated information architectures.
Does the information architecture of your website or application need improvement? Are you currently in the development process, but feel that you could benefit from feedback from information architecture experts?
Contact us today to leverage our team’s expertise, and create experiences for your users that will in turn boost your bottom line!