Intro to Information Architecture (IA)

⭐️ Key takeaways

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Information architecture is the organization and structure of content and information.

The goal of IA is to help people understand what they see, find what they need, and complete tasks.

Information architecture connects people to the content they’re looking for.

IA is only a part of UX. It provides the bones, structure, and organization of information.

The 4 components of IA are (LONS): Labeling, organization (schemes and structures), navigation, and search

📗 Assignment

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💬 Transcript

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Humans today have the shortest attention span in the history of the world. 

The amount of stimuli that we are confronted with has grown so much that building simple user experiences has become more crucial than ever before. 

People don't have patience for bad UX. 

This means that we as UX designers have to be able to simplify information down to the essentials. 

And that's where information architecture comes in. 

In this video, we're going to give you an overview of information architecture, otherwise known as IA. 

We'll talk about the difference between IA and UX, and go over the four components of IA. 

But before we dive in and just so you can follow along once again, we encourage you to download our course materials at kickassux.com under our free UX course page. The link is in the description. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's get after it. 

So let's start with an overview of IA. 

Information architecture is the organization and structure of content and information. 

The goal of IA is to help people understand what they see, find what they need, and complete tasks. 

Information architecture connects people to the content they're looking for. 

Look at it this way. If you wanted to build a house, you call an architect who would create the layout and blueprint. 

If you wanted to build a website or an application, you call an information architect who would create the layout and blueprint for your app. 

Information architects create order from chaos. 

They build systems and structures to organize complex sets of data so people can find what they're looking for. 

It's all about clearly and logically organizing information. Here's an example of information architecture in the real world. 

Almost all grocery stores are organized in the exact same way, regardless of the store brand or where the store is 

This is because they use the same information principles and layout. 

That way, regardless of what store you're in, you feel comfortable and generally know where to find things. 

For example, you know that you can find milk in the dairy section, which is usually located at the back of the store. 

Just like you also know that ketchup is located in the condiment aisle. 

Could you imagine a store where everything was organized alphabetically? Ketchup would be located next to Kellogg's cereal. Ham would be next to hammers. It just wouldn't make sense. 

At this point, you may be wondering "isn't information architecture the same thing as UX?" 

The quick and dirty answer is no, they're not the same thing. 

Let's dig into that a bit more by talking about the difference between IA and UX. 

Remember the definition of UX? It's the process of making a product or service useful, relevant, and meaningful for people. 

By comparison, IA is the organization and structure of content and information with the goal of helping people understand what they see, find what they need, and complete tasks. 

When you see those two definitions side by side, you can see that IA is one of the pieces that make up UX. 

After all, how could you make a product useful, relevant, and meaningful if no one could make sense of what they're seeing and find what they actually needed. 

Like we talked about in the intro to UX video, as a UX generalist, you also need to be a competent information architect. 

You are in charge of organizing information onscreen in a way that is useful, findable, and helps users complete tasks in the simplest way possible. 

Now that you have a basic understanding of information architecture, let's talk about the four main components of IA: Labeling organization, navigation and search. 

As an easy way to remember it, don't forget to 

mow your LONS of information. 

First, let's talk about labeling systems or how you represent information. 

Labels and titles help people figure out whether or not the page, content, link, button, et cetera, will have the information they're looking for. 

Using the grocery store example, products like deodorant, shampoo, and hand soap can be found under the label of personal hygiene. 

Just like Blu-ray discs, TVs, and gaming consoles can be found under the label of electronics. 

As a grocery store shopper, you don't expect to find jello in the frozen food aisle. 

That's because the label doesn't match up with how the product has been categorized. 

People quickly scan labels before reading anything else to figure out if they're in the right place. 

And if it's worth their time. It's best to choose labels that are universally understood and familiar to users. 

Make sure these labels reflect the user's perspective, not yours.

Do your best to avoid using unfamiliar words or words, just to make your content seem more interesting. 

Use what's familiar. 

Next there's organization. There are two parts to organization, schemes and structures. 

Let's start with schemes, and no, we're not talking about pyramid schemes or the idiotic schemes of Wiley coyote trying to kill the road runner.   

No, we're talking about how you categorize content and how you establish relationships between pieces of information. 

Before we go further, there's a fundamental term to understand when it comes to organization schemes and that's taxonomy. 

Taxonomy seems like a scary word because no one likes taxes, but that's not what it is at all.

Taxonomy is the classification and the grouping of information within a shared information environment. 

Put more simply, taxonomy is how you name and group similar things into categories. 

It's how you know that an orange is different than an apple and that a Cripps pink apple is a different type of apple than a Fuji apple, even though they might look similar. 

Let's take a step back and look at taxonomy as one of the pieces that make up IA. 

If information architecture is the housing blueprint, then taxonomy is the plan for each individual room. 

The kitchen would only contain items that belong in the kitchen. Each bedroom would only have stuff that belongs in the bedrooms and so on. 

It's the grouping of things within the same environment. 

There are many ways to create a cohesive taxonomy. 

Doing so requires you to understand the needs of your users, the context they're in, and the content you're providing. 

What users are looking for, needs to make sense in the context of where they're looking for it. 

Now that you have a basic understanding of taxonomy, you can use that information to determine what scheme to use in your design. 

A scheme is a method by which you choose to categorize your content. 

There are exact schemes like alphabetical organized by alphabet. Think about the contact list in your mobile phone. 

Chronological, organized by date. Think calendars. 

Geographical ,organized by location. Think Google maps or Airbnb. 

And there are subjective schemes, like topic, organized based on the subject of the content. 

Task, organized by determining the actions and needs of the users when they come to that content. 

Audience, organized for the different types of people who will be accessing that content. 

And Metaphor content organized by relating familiar concepts, such as folders, applications, and trash, like you see in all computers. 

Great now we've covered the first half of organization. 

Now onto the second half, structures. 

Organizational structures establish how pieces of information are related to one another. 

A good structure allows users to easily find the content they're looking for on a site. 

There are three main organization structures: hierarchical, sequential, and matrix. 

Let's first tackle hierarchical structures and holy hell, that's a mouthful. 

These are also known as tree structures because there's a parent child relationship between the pieces of information. 

They start with the bigger categories, parent. And then narrow down into the more detailed pieces of content, children. 

For example, Apple's website is organized hierarchically.

It starts off with all of their main product lines elicit at the top. 

If you click on any of them, you'll see all the sub models related to that category. 

Next, there are sequential structures where you go step by step until you reach an outcome. 

Think of when you set up your smartphone. 

You had to go through a setup wizard that asked you a bunch of questions in a specific order before you could actually start using your phone. 

Another example is this course. You follow each lesson step-by-step before you can move on to the next lesson. 

Each lesson builds on the last until you finish the course and you've developed your UX chops. 

Finally, you have a matrix structure. This allows you to figure out your own path since content is linked in many different ways. 

Think Wikipedia, you can find something by searching for it, by reading about it on another article, or in a multitude of other ways. 

The structure of a website is incredibly important. 

It has longterm implications of how things will be organized, especially as new features roll out. 

If you're designing something from scratch, you need to make sure that the structure you choose allows for additions in the future. 

At this point, we've covered the LO in LONS. 

Let's move on to the NS. 

Next up is navigation. 

Navigation is all about how people move through and find content. 

When considering navigation ask yourself, how do people move throughout your product to find the information they're looking for? 

There are many types of navigation, including global and local navigation menus, bread crumbs, filters, links, and so on. 

These elements, help your users find the information they're looking for. 

Finally, we have search. 

This is exactly what it sounds like. It gives your users the ability to find the information they need. 

Search is helpful only if a website has enough content. 

If there is a ton of information, then search can help narrow things down. It just needs to be displayed in such a way that is useful and not overwhelming. 

To recap, information architecture is the organization and structure of content and information. 

The goal of IA is to help people understand what they see, find what they need, and complete tasks. 

Information architecture connects people to the content they're looking for. 

IA is only part of UX. It provides the bones structure and organization of information. 

And finally the four components of IA are: labeling, organization, which consists of schemes and structures, navigation, and search. 

And as a good reminder, don't forget to mow your LONS of information. 

The field of information architecture is vast and complex, which is why there are people who specialize just in IA or a subspecialty of IA such as search schemas or taxonomy. 

At this point, you now have an idea of what information architecture is. 

While this knowledge may be basic, the more you exercise or UX muscles, the greater your knowledge of IA will become. 

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