How to Organize Information Effectively: What You Can Learn From Information Architecture
At its core, a website is a way of presenting information to users. When the information is organized effectively, it makes it easy for users to find what they are looking for and for the business to accomplish its goals. In this article, we’ll look at how you can use Information Architecture (IA) to create better designs.
What is IA?
IA is the process of organizing information in a way that makes it easy to find and understand. The goal of IA is to help users find information on your site so that they can complete tasks. When your site doesn’t have good IA, users might find it confusing and hard to use.
In order to organize the information on your site effectively, you have to understand how the different pieces of information work together and how they fit into the big picture of your website.
The main strategies for organizing information include creating systems for:
- Classification: Categorizing and structuring information
- Labeling: Representing information
- Navigation: Moving through information
- Search: Looking for information
For you to create the required IA systems, you have to understand that IA is affected by three factors: content, context, and users.
- Content: This is the amount of content that you have to organize, its type, how it is structured, and who owns it.
- Context: These are the business goals, culture, technology, and resources within which your site exists.
- Users: This is who the website is made for, the tasks that they need to accomplish, their information-seeking behaviors, and their level of experience.
Different types of IA design structures
There are different ways that you can organize the information on your website. The IA design pattern that you choose will depend on the three factors that we have discussed before: content, context, and users. Here are five common web structures.
Single Page Structure
In this IA structure, all the information is presented on one page. The single-page structure is suitable for sites with a small amount of information and a single goal. These can be personal contact sites or a site that promotes one product.
All the pages have the same level of importance in this structure. Users can access every other page from one page. Typically, this structure is used for simple sites that have few pages such as ‘Home’, ‘About’, and ‘Contact us.’
Strict Hierarchy Structure
This structure is made up of a home page, category/ subcategory pages, and then individual pages. The categories can be accessed from the homepage. Each category or subcategory has its own individual pages that are linked from it. A good example is an e-commerce site where the ‘men’ category has individual pages such as ‘clothes’ and ‘shoes.’
Multi-dimensional hierarchy structure
This structure is similar to the strict hierarchy structure with the only difference being that individual pages can be accessed from different category pages. This structure is suitable for sites that have a lot of similar information.
Best practices for IA design
Once, you’ve chosen a suitable IA structure there are several best practices that you need to follow as you organize the information on your site.
Keep the needs of the users first
One of the major pillars of IA is putting the needs of the users first. Consider the information-seeking behaviors of your users, their level of experience, and their cultural context. You should also map out the user journey of how your users might interact with your site.
Additionally, your site might have more than one type of user so its important to create different personas for each user type. This will help you keep the needs of all the different types of users front and center as you structure your site.
You can find out the needs of your users through user researching methods like interviews and usability testing. You can also use beta testers to find out if the intended users are able to navigate your site easily.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that users will have the same needs or preferences as you. It is only after truly understanding the needs of your users that you can figure out how to organize the information on your site to meet their needs.
Understand the purpose of your site
The purpose of your site is the main goal that it seeks to achieve. This goal might be educating users, informing them, or selling a product. The information on your site should be organized in a way that moves users towards achieving the goal of the site. If the goal of your site is to sell a product, the IA should move readers towards making a purchase. Similarly, if the goal is to inform users, your site should direct users towards the next most useful piece of information.
Often, your site can have more than one goal or sub-goals, which is okay. The key to good IA is to ensure that all content that leads to a similar goal is grouped together.
Use a consistent IA structure by grouping similar content together. If you have 5 category pages, put them together and don’t leave one out. A consistent IA will make it easy for users to understand your site, find the information that they are looking for, and complete their tasks.
Methods of IA design
When choosing how to design the IA of your site, there are several methods that you can use.
Card sorting is a simple and inexpensive method of getting the input of users on how you should organize the information on your site. First, you write the content type or page name on an index card, and then the users’ sort and group the index cards.
You can use the basic card sorting method where you place the cards at random and the users sort and group them or you can use the reverse card sorting method where you sort the cards into groups and then have the users rearrange them. Moreover, you can let the users name the groups or you can have them use pre-named groups.
Wireframing and Prototyping
Wireframes are useful for outlining how the design layout of your site will look. More than that, they also give a basic view of how the information will be organized once the site is complete. The same is true for prototypes which are an early model of how your site will look and function. You can use a tool like UXPin to create wireframes and prototypes that look like the real thing which will help you test the IA of your site.
This is a low-fi way of web organizing and illustrating the relationships and connections between the different types of content on your site. You can ask users who participated in the card sorting exercise to create mind maps of how they think the content should be grouped using pen and paper. You can also create mind maps yourself using software tools such as Lucid Chart.
Organize The Information In Your Designs Effectively
Information Architecture is the key to creating a site that is easy to use. Use UXPin’s prototyping and wireframing tools to create a site whose IA truly serves the needs of your users. Share the prototypes with your clients or users and collaborate with your fellow designers all in one place!