Information architecture is the backbone of user experience design. But what does it actually involve? Read on to find out.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Consider every webpage, link, photo, and video available on the internet—it’s an overwhelming amount of content that, without proper organization, would be impossible to find, use, and navigate.
This is where information architecture, also referred to as IA, comes in. Information architecture is a discipline that focuses on the organization of information in digital products such as websites, apps, software, and platforms. If the role of UX design is to make a website or platform accessible, intuitive, and user-friendly, it helps to think of information architecture as the crucial step that comes before any design takes place—information architects establish a blueprint of content flows, determine hierarchies, and label different elements involved so that the product, once designed, is understandable to the user.
“Good information architecture makes users less alienated and suppressed by technology,” said Jakob Nielsen, a principal at the Nielsen Norman Group and an expert in human-computer interaction research. “It thus simultaneously increases human satisfaction and your company’s profits. Very few jobs allow you to do both at the same time.”
“Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable,” according to the Information Architecture Institute. This is applicable to both digital products and physical spaces, although the discipline is more widely associated with interaction design and user interface design for the web.
In practice, this can take many forms. For example, UX designer Soojin Sielle Kim was hired by the Museum of Art and Design in New York City to assess the information architecture of its website. As part of the project, she conducted user research using the card sorting method, inviting participants to do a card sort using the museum’s existing pages to determine what cards and categories made sense to them. Kim’s research yielded findings such as some participants not understanding what certain cards (and, by extension, page labels) meant, confusion about acronyms such as “FAQ”, and a lack of clarity about secondary pages that were nestled within primary links—all of which then fed into recommendations for ways to organize information to improve the navigation system, clarify labels, and rethink the content strategy.
In another example, an information architect might be brought on to conduct a content inventory audit, which, as the name suggests, involves cataloging the contents of a website or digital product in a clear and accessible way. IA plays an important role here because it can help design and product teams understand what they have to work with, remove unnecessary or outdated content, and improve the findability of work that is currently hidden. It can also help identify inconsistencies in messaging, ensure metadata is accurately tagged, and that complex website structures are clearly mapped for designers.
In a nutshell, information architecture is like the skeleton on which functional, accessible, and logical digital products are built.
Information architects spend their time structuring content in ways that make sense to the end-user. In action, this job commonly involves the following steps:
UX researcher, information architect, and interaction designer Dan Brown authored a paper in 2010 on the eight principles of information architecture—a list of principles that information architects can use to help them make design decisions. They are as follows:
In addition to user experience research tools such as card sorting, user interviews, tree testing, and usability testing, and more analog tools such as pen and paper and sticky notes, information architects rely on a range of site-mapping, flowchart-generating, and template-creating tools to do their jobs. Some of the more commonly used pieces of software include:
Information architecture is a key aspect of UX design. Strong information architecture ensures that the wealth of content inside digital products is well organized, pages and buttons are clearly labeled, and information can be clearly and easily searched and arranged in such a way that is understandable to both designers and users. In other words, the better the information architecture, the better the blueprint UX designers have to work with.
“Good information architecture can do more than just help people find objects and information,” according to information architect Donna Spencer. “It can empower people by making it easier for them to learn and make better decisions.”
Ready to switch careers to UI/UX Design?
Springboard offers a comprehensive UI/UX design bootcamp. No design background required—all you need is an eye for good visual design and the ability to empathize with your user. In the course, you’ll work on substantial design projects and complete a real-world externship with an industry client. After nine months, you’ll graduate with a UI/UX design mindset and a portfolio to show for it.
Check out Springboard's UI/UX Design Career Track to see if you qualify.
Not sure if UI/UX design is the right career for you?
Springboard now offers an Introduction to Design course. Learn what designers do on the job by working through a project with 1-on-1 mentorship from an industry expert. Topics covered include design tools, research, sketching, designing in high fidelity, and wireframing.
Check out Springboard’s Introduction to Design Course—enrollments are open to all!
Download our guide to UX design fundamentals
This 50-page guide will take you through the foundations of user experience, including information architecture, user experience, and user interface.
Ready to learn more?
Browse our Career Tracks and find the perfect fit