3 Organization Methods for Information Architecture
“Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability;” - Wikipedia
“Information architecture (IA) focuses on organizing, structuring, and labelling content in an effective and sustainable way.” -usability.gov
All the definitions and explanations of Information Architecture talks about the ORGANIZATION. So if you have a good grip over organizing, you should have no trouble with Information Architecture.
We all have done some organization in our daily lives - be in arranging your clothes, setting up a kitchen or putting your documents in order. Often we follow some patterns or methods to organize things because it helps us get started quickly. For example, many file folders are available in the market that has separate sections like Education, Professional, Insurance, Banking, Home, Auto and so on to make sorting documents easy.
So are there some set organization methods for Information Architecture that can get you started?
These are three organization methods that can help you get started:
Product or service on offer
When using domain-specific categories, think of the highest-level categories used in your domain.
For instance, on the e-commerce website for a retail company that sells clothing for all, the highest level categories could be by demographics - Men, Women, Girls, Boys. But for a company that sells only women’s clothing, the highest level categories could be types of clothes - t-shirts and tops, shirts, skirts, pants etc. For a travel website, the content can be categorized geographically - North America, South America, Asia, Africa and so on.
It all depends on the domain.
Another point to remember here is that there could be multiple ways of defining the highest level categories. Consider the case of an e-commerce website selling only women’s clothing. Instead of categories based on clothes, they could start with occasion-based category - Casual, Formal, Party etc.
There are two things to consider here -
How the brand is being promoted?
What are the categories prevalent industry-wide?
If the brand is being promoted as a place to buy clothes for every occasion, then using occasions as the highest level categories might work better.
Information Architecture based on user types is suitable when the interest areas and tasks to be performed by the users using the platform varies by a high degree. These types of applications have distinct user groups.
Consider a university website. The things students, professors and administrative staff might do on the website is going to be different. A student might come looking to register for courses or submit assignments. Whereas a professor would want to upload grades or send out a reading list. An admin staff, on the other hand, might be looking at enquires, updating notice boards etc. In addition to these, there are going to be interests or tasks which are common to all.
If it is possible to define an exclusive set of tasks based on types of users then this method for structuring the information architecture is suitable.
Products or Services
Basing the information architecture on the products or services should be considered when similar types of information and tasks are available for each item but the specifics vary based on product or service.
Let’s take the example of Apple that sells a variety of electronic devices - Mac, iPhone, iPad etc. For each of them, it needs to list the different models available and their specifications. Another example could be a bank - they offer the services of accounts, cards, loans, insurance etc. For each of them, there has to be a list of accounts, tasks to add new accounts, transaction history, the task to do new transactions etc.
Hybrid Information Architecture
For websites or applications that have a lot of content or a large number of tasks to be done, a single organization method might not be sufficient.
Let us look at a bank that offers services to both individuals and corporates. So, at the highest level, the IA could start with user types - individual customers, international customers, corporate customers and so on. Then at the next level, the organization could be based on products and services - Accounts, Cards, Loans and so on.
Now you know the basic organization methods that make the foundation of Information Architecture. The first step to get started would be to get a full picture of the breadth and depth of the content and tasks of the website or application. And then try to come up with a grouping based on the three organization methods to see which is the most suitable one or if a hybrid scheme would work better.