In a web-based world, organizations are increasingly realizing the importance of information architecture. Functionality and content may be great, but intuitive accessibility is critical for making the online presence work.
There is an integral relationship between information architecture and usability, when it comes to practical projects in the real world. Technology has progressed quickly, and the vast scope of information, as well as functionality is a core issue. How do we define the concept simply? It is a term used to describe the way ideas are grouped, navigation methods and terminology used within a system.
We most commonly use information architecture with websites and intranets, but it can be used for any structure or computer systems. Two library scientists, Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville defined information architecture as the combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within a system.
Creating a robust IA requires understanding specific business objectives, constraints, and the requirements of people that visit the site. Understanding an organization’s business objectives, politics, culture, technology, and constraints is essential before considering development of the information architecture.
Some of the techniques for understanding context are:
1.Understanding existing documentation: This helps in developing a unique perspective. Mission statements, organization charts, research and vision documents can help create a unique context in which the system works.
2.Stakeholder Interviews:This provides valuable insight into business context and can unearth previously unknown objectives and issues. You can understand more about the industry.
3.Card Sorting: This also involves a number of representative users sorting a series of cards, each labeled with content that makes sense to them. It also generates ideas on how information can be grouped or labeled. The output gives an indication of general trends.
As in most taxonomies; there are two main approaches to an information architecture. These include a top-down and a bottom-up perspective. The names may or may not be self-explanatory. In a top-down idea, broad understanding of business strategies and needs helps define a high-level structure of the site, and then relationships can be established.
In a bottom-up approach, the system can support specific user requirements and then the higher-level structure helps to crystallize this. Various methods are used to capture and define a setup. There are other ideas such as site maps, annotated page layouts, content matrices, as well as other by-products including personas, prototypes and storyboards etc.
Usability and information architecture are somewhat similar. For most people, it is largely the attribute of a system, or a set of techniques incorporated in a design and development project.
To chalk out an idea, it is good to have site maps, annotated page layouts, content matrices, and page templates. Information architecture can also be defined with intranet designers and managers, website creators, visual designers, programmers, librarians and technical writers. Storyboards are sketches in which a user interacts with a system around a common task.
The structure of content depends on factors such as thesauri, vocabularies and metadata. It also means descriptive information on context, quality, condition, and characteristics. Establishing customer groups and improving user experience helps in creating a paradigm shift.
The Final Countdown
When analyzing any architecture, be sure to understand the business model, application and technology setup as well as existing systems, strategic plans and the operating setup. Good design is more predictable and visual.
Most users are successful when it comes to web accessibility, but leveraging technology for intelligent design can sometimes be difficult. From the perspective of the information architect, site architecture is a critical mix of technology and information. To sum up, navigation is intrinsically connected to judiciously mapping mental models of who uses the site regularly.