UX Basics: What is Information Architecture?
Let’s start by breaking the name ‘Information Architecture’.
Information - The data present on a website or application. It could be text, images, videos - anything.
Architecture - This defines how the Information is organized.
So drawing the analogy of a building and its blueprint, Information Architecture is the blueprint of the website or application. It dictates the organization system, the labelling system and the navigation system of a website or platform.
Why is it essential to have a good information architecture?
A big chunk of user experience or usability problems can be attributed to users not being able to find what they want on a website. Saying it the other way around, if users can find their way around on a website, then its half the battle won.
Userzoom.com presents the importance of Information Architecture precisely with its case study on ING Spain. ING Spain - the Spanish counterpart of ING, a multinational banking and financial service provider. Their call centers were receiving a large volume of calls from customers facing problems in accomplishing simple tasks like transferring money. As a result, the company was incurring heavy support costs on top of the bad user experience. The company was able to identify the underlying issue - a problematic Information Architecture.
After fixing the information architecture, the number of calls received by customer service from app users has dropped to 0.7%
The full case study is available at UserZoom.com
The ability to structure data to makes it easy for users to find what they are looking for has never been more critical. Especially since data is growing at an exponential rate.
Is ‘Search’ an alternative to good Information Architecture?
Short answer - no.
Even though Search plays an important role in helping users find what they are looking for, it cannot do a lot of things that Information Architecture does. For instance, Search is like a black box - it does not reveal what is available or possible. Users cannot browse or explore by just searching.
Another thing to consider is that well-structured information architecture is a necessity for a robust search function. Unless the contents are organized properly and have correct and sufficient metadata, the search results are not going to be accurate.
This topic is very clearly explained in a video by NNGroup.
Are Information Architecture and Navigation the same thing?
We have already discussed what Information Architecture is, so let’s briefly look at Navigation.
Navigation consists of the components visible on the UI. Users interact with to move around in an application. These components include links in the header, footer, breadcrumbs and so on. It also defines the pattern - tabs, global navigation, mega menu etc.
So are they the same? No.
Is there a relationship between Information Architecture and Navigation? Yes
The selection of Navigation pattern depends on Information Architecture. The selected Navigation scheme should be able to handle the breadth and depth of the underlying Information Architecture. Overlooking this could be very costly as it can be corrected only by a complete re-design of the application.
Information Architecture is like the blueprint of an application or website.
A well-thought comprehensive Information Architecture makes finding things simple and easy.
Bad Information Architecture has a direct negative impact on cost.
Search and Navigation schemes depend on Information Architecture.