Have you ever gone to a website and not been able to find what you’re looking for?
You know the information must be there somewhere but you just cannot locate it, and when you click on a category you are presented with information that is not what you would have expected.
This is when a website or web application can benefit from analysing and restructuring its Information Architecture (IA). The analysis would focus on organising and labeling content in an effective-sustainable manner to create a structure, based on interpreting where the user would go to look for things.
Five ways to organise information
As Chris How explains in his interactive session ‘Digital Experiences and Information Architecture’ there are five main ways to organise content:
This is excellently done via maps, which, is not just in the geographical sense but also could be a map of the human body or other objects (think of when you receive a massage and there is a body map that points out all the pressure points).
Dictionaries and indexes are faithful to this method.
The Bible and war memorials are great examples of arranging information via time.
To begin categorising you would need a great understanding of the business goals and user experience. I would recommend starting with a Information Ecology diagram to help you break down the following:
- Context: business goals, funding, politics, culture, technology, resources, constraints
- Content: content objectives, document and data types, volume, existing structure, governance, and ownership
- Users: audience, tasks, needs, information-seeking behavior, experience
This would then lead on to card-sorting activities and user research.
This method can be based on most popular to least popular, biggest to smallest, or heaviest to lightest. Basically, it shows how something connects to another in order of importance or rank. Organisational structures are usually a great example, however, when it comes to site navigation I would steer away from basing it on your company’s organisational structure, as it makes it difficult for users to understand what that would look like and where they could find what they need.
Want to learn more about IA?
I would recommend checking out Donna Spencer’s book ‘A Practical Guide to Information Architecture’, it uses real examples from previously worked-on projects and Donna’s knowledge is from first-hand accounts from her years of teaching and practicing Information Architecture.