Let’s talk about IA

What is it about Information Architecture (IA) that worth making a 4-million dollar company in 2002? The first Information Architecture Summit was established in 2000, and has been held annually since. Institutes for IA has been opened, best-sellers books has been printed. So, what is IA?

Argus Associates, one of the earliest pioneers operating on IA. Source

What is Information Architecture? 

Information Architecture (IA) is a term coined by Richard Saul Wurman – an architect and graphic designer – when he put together the word “Information” and “Architecture” in the conference of American Institute of Architecture in 1976, before the Internet went mainstream. This guy is passionate about making a world a “clearer” place, literally. 
Simply put, Information Architecture is how we arrange information to make sense of the world around usAnd an information architect is “an individual who organizes the pattern inherent in data, making the complex clear” (Wurman, 1976). 
Basically, we can find Information Architecture everywhere in our everyday life, from different folders on our own laptop, different food categories in a restaurant’s menu, chapters in books, street signs to different categories in software, applications, and website designs. 

Menu is a form of Information Architecture

To this point, you may wonder: “So, it is all about categorizing? Why would there need to be a specialist for that?”. Tell me something I don’t know.

“Tell me something I don’t know”

#Funfact1: Richard Saul Wurman, the man who coined the word (IA), was the legit man who create the TED Conference, which almost everyone knows and tries-to watch. 

#Funfact2: Your life is a mess. Oh, maybe you know it but you just won’t admit it. So will your websites or applications, if you don’t pay enough attention to Information Architecture.

Tell me more about Information Architecture in website design

As stated by Morville & Rosenfeld in 2007, Information Architecture is:
The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support findability and usability.
In another word, IA can be seen as an artful semantic game that requires more than just intuition. Andrew Dillon in his IA research presented the ideas of “big IA” and “little IA”. Let’s say you have a start-up with 250 people in 3 different countries. “Big IA” would involve strategic brainstorming with the CEO, board of management and an IA specialist to agree on what to call a task or department that can be simultaneously understood by sales, marketing and financial teams.Meanwhile, “Little IA” is rather the execution of applying agreed guidelines into practice. That way, even an intern could follow up with what the CEO is implying, because a good IA system has put them on the same boat. 
A good IA in digital platforms, such as website design, software or applications is when users can find what they are looking for and use it. A successful IA system would allow people to answer these three simple questions: 
For instance, you own an online clothing shop. Your customers have been successfully lead through different pages, from promotion, to product details. However, they failed to find the “check-out” button in an effortless way. This means you also failed. 
In this article, we don’t want to bore you with too much details about IA methodologies such as Library Science, Taxonomy, Metadata, etc, which you can Google later. Here we will take you through four basic systems of IA for website design that are necessary to know: 

Four basic system of IA in websites

Navigation System 

But what exactly does an Information Architect earn a living by ?

So, what an Information Architecture does on a daily basis, to be exact.
Being an IA means you can take on a myriad of work, and work closely with Graphic Designers, Developers and Content Strategists to deliver the best guidance for users in term of information. Sometimes, a role of an IA is rather vague and shared by different roles. 
User research 
The first step involves understanding the audiences. An IA need to make friends with popular methods of user-centred approaches such as Usability Testing, Customer Interviews, Card Sorting, Personas, etc. By doing this, an Information Architect can learn how people mental minds work, how they perceive a new product or procedure, how they approach as well as give up the procedure. 

Card Sorting example

Navigation creation 
Information Architect is the key person responsible for the website navigation system, in which they access how content is divided, connected and available. For example, an IA will decide whether to put tab “FAQ” under “About Us” or “Work” in navigation menu. 
Wireframe is also a task of an IA. Based on information gained through research and navigation, wireframe is used to show clients also to test on users to gain a practical angle of view along side with prototypes and mockups. 

Example of Wireframe

Taxonomies are tags that an IA used for different products, besides putting them into categories. For example, this article lies within “Content is King” category, and we also put on tags “information”, “website design” to make it easier for searching and also increase SEO. 

Isn’t that what an UX designer does?

*UX: User Experience

If you are perceptive enough, you would notice that tasks of an IA is quite similar to that of an UX designer. That is not wrong. Indeed, many leaders from UX field are Information Architects at start. Based on the backbone of IA, UX completes the customer journey with a touch of fairy dust, in which emotions play a big role, as long with Accessibility, Usability, User Flows, etc.
The relationship between IA and UX can be summed up by how UX Booth put it: “UX is the love child between a Creative Director and an Information Architect”. 

UX and IA. Source

Again, why should I care?

Well, it is good to answer that question with the answer to the question below:

In another words, what is the point of having a lot of beautiful clothing that you cannot find when you need to put on something nice today? 

The point we are trying to illustrate here is, as important as having valuable information, those pieces of information need and must be arranged in a way so that people can easily find and use them. To illustrate the importance of IA, it is worth considering that one of the biggest company in the world right now, Google, functions mainly on the ideology of Information Architect. Google states that their mission is:

In the time of massive data like today, it is high time Information Architecture was taken seriously to make the world a clearer place. 

Want to discuss more about IA or more topics relating marketing with Whales. Let’s us know below in the comment.

For work, contact Carlos.

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