Library > What is Information Architecture?

The term information architecture has myriad meanings, but in web terms it's safe to say that it relates to the perceived structure of a site—how it's organized, how it links together and what those links are called.

When you browse a site, especially a site with a lot of content, you may drill down through a hierarchy of information by clicking links. Information architecture is all about the way that pages are grouped together and labelled. When it's done correctly, the user navigates in a predictable pattern to his goal. When done poorly, the user gets lost or navigates in circles and becomes frustrated.

Building the information architecture should be one of your first tasks after you decide to create a site. Before graphic design and before writing content, you must create the skeleton.

When developing the architecture for a site, there are three aspects to consider.

Information architecture has three inter-related aspects: goals, users and content.

Goals

The first thing to consider when developing a site should always be its goals. What are we trying to accomplish with this site? It's important to document goals and refer back to them, no matter how obvious they seem, because it's easy to get carried away.

Users

Who are the intended audiences? What will they be looking for? Too often web sites are designed without the user in mind. Imagine a site that is organized around a company's org chart instead of the products and services that their customers are looking for. It happens...a lot!

Content

What content should be on the site? Does the content support the goals of the site? The way content is organized and even formatted will depend on the goals of the site and the audience to which it's directed.

The real trick to good information architecture is testing and revision. Chances are, you're not going to get everything right the first time. By doing usability testing with sample audience or by analysing your web stats, you'll be able to see where your users are getting off track and what's working well.

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