July 5, 2010

What is information architecture

Information architecture is the term used to describe the structure of a system, i.e the way information is grouped, the navigation methods and terminology used within the system.

An effective information architecture enables people to step logically through a system confident they are getting closer to the information they require.

Most people only notice information architecture when it is poor and stops them from finding the information they require.

Information architecture is most commonly associated with websites and intranets, but it can be used in the context of any information structures or computer systems.

Common problems

The most common problem with information architectures is that they simply mimic a company’s organisational structure.

Although this can often appear logical and an easy solution for those involved in defining the architecture, people using systems (even intranets) often don’t know or think in terms of organisational structure when trying to find information.

How to create an effective information architecture

An effective information architecture comes from understanding business objectives and constraints, the content, and the requirements of the people that will use the site.

Information architecture is often described using the following diagram:

Information architecture as an attribute of the quality of a system

An effective information architecture is one of a number of attributes of a usable system. Other factors involving the usability of a system include:

  • visual design
  • interaction design
  • functionality
  • content writing.


It simply isn’t good enough for organisations to build functionality or write content, put it on their computer systems and expect people to be able to find it.

Developing an effective information architecture is an essential step in the development of all computer systems.

Effective information architectures enable people to quickly, easily and intuitively find content. This avoids frustration and increases the chance that the user will return to the system the next time they require similar information.

Remember: people can only appreciate what they can actually find.

Creating an effective information architecture in 9 steps

The following steps define a process for creating an effective information architectures.

  1. Understand the business/contextual requirements and the proposed content for the system. Read all existing documentation, interview stakeholders and conduct a content inventory.
  2. Conduct cards sorting exercises with a number of representative users.
  3. Evaluate the output of the card sorting exercises. Look for trends in grouping and labelling.
  4. Develop a draft information architecture (i.e. information groupings and hierarchy).
  5. Evaluate the draft information architecture using the card-based classification evaluation technique.
  6. Don’t expect to get the information architecture right first time. Capturing the right terminology and hierarchy may take several iterations.
  7. Document the information architecture in a site map. This is not the final site map, the site map will only be finalised after page layouts have been defined.
  8. Define a number of common user tasks, such as finding out about how to request holiday leave. On paper sketch page layouts to define how the user will step through the site. This technique is known as storyboarding.
  9. Walk other members of the project team through the storyboards and leave them in shared workspaces for comments.
  10. If possible within the constraints of the project, it is good to conduct task-based usability tests on paper prototypes as it provides valuable feedback without going to the expense of creating higher quality designs.
  11. Create detailed page layouts to support key user tasks. Page layouts should be annotated with guidance for visual designers and developers.


Breaking down information and architecture
Definitions by dictionary.com


–          knowledge  communicated  or  received  concerning  a  particular  fact  or  circumstance

–          knowledge  gained  through  study,  communication,  research,  instruction,  etc.;  factual  data

–          the  act  or  fact  of  informing.

– Computers

a. important or useful facts obtained as output from a computer by means of processing input data with a program: Using the input data, we have come up with some significant new information.

b. data at any stage of processing (input, output, storage, transmission, etc.).


–          the  profession  of  designing  buildings,  open  areas,  communities,  and  other  artificial  constructions  and  environments,  usually  with  some  regard  to  aesthetic  effect.  Architecture  often  includes  design  or  selection  of  furnishings  and  decorations,  supervision  of  construction  work,  and  the  examination,  restoration,  or  remodeling  of  existing  buildings.

–          the  character  or  style  of  building:

–          a  fundamental  underlying  design  of  computer  hardware, software,  or  both.

–          the  structure  of  anything

Information architecture = the act of informing on environments


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