A Step-by-Step Guide to Information Architecture in Design

1875 Updated 07.21.2023
Vasyl Polych

Founder & CEO at Northell


Table of contents

Why Information Architecture Is So Crucial in Design

To be perceived by people, the information should be well-structured and presented in a logical way. What’s more, it should have a solid foundation, and it is the information architecture that allows building this foundation for successful information delivery.

Understanding and implementing the best practices of information architecture helps designers create products that bring real value to users. In this article, we will discuss what information architecture is and the role it plays in the design and development process.

What Is Information Architecture?

Often, people understand information architecture as a menu design on a website or in an app. However, this is a much broader term, and menus take only one part of it. 

Referencing the works of renowned information architecture experts Abby Covert (How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody) and Donna Spencer (A practical guide to Information Architecture), we can sum up the definition of the term information architecture:

Information architecture (IA) relates to the methods of organizing information in a clear, logical way to help users absorb this info and benefit from the knowledge received.

Information architecture web design decisions are majorly influenced by three factors:

  • Users
  • Content 
  • Context

When a product team presents relevant content to the target audience in the right context, we can talk about great information architecture.

To sum up, IA is both the art and science of content presentation on the website, mobile app, or any other software or digital products to enhance its usability and user-friendliness. Information architecture has a significant impact on product design and aims to help end-users find important information quickly and conveniently.

The Role of Information Architecture in Product Design

Although information architecture is not really visible to the end-users, it plays a vital role in the product design and acts as a basis for UI/UX design decisions. Let’s take a look at the role of IA for end-users and businesses.

The Role of IA for Users

In our fast-paced world, people are constantly bombarded with tons of information. That’s why only the relevant content provided at the right time can reach users and deliver the intended message. On the other hand, if users want to find some information, but the process seems too complicated or slow, they will highly likely abandon it and move on to something easier and more engaging.

In their book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld divide users’ needs into four main types when it comes to websites and applications:

  • Interest

Users are looking for something desirable and inspiring when visiting a website or trying an app. They are not sure yet what they need exactly but have the intention of exploring the available options. 

  • Perceived needs

Users come to a website or use an app with a clear goal of achieving something: finding important information, learning something, buying something, etc.

  • In-depth research

Users decide to do extensive research on some topic and want to find as much info as possible when visiting a website/app.

  • Returning

Users seek the desired items they once have seen/used. They visit a website/use an app to return to some things they enjoyed before.

Understanding the users’ intends and needs helps product teams build the most relevant information architecture that allows for intuitive navigation and excellent user experience and usability.

The Role of IA for Businesses

The benefits of well-built information architecture for businesses fully depend on the benefits that the end-users achieve from using the product. If users find it hard to access important information or perform some actions on the website/app, businesses can lose potential and loyal customers.

Also, for companies, information architecture plays an important role in: 

  • Brand reputation
  • Sales
  • SEO ranking
  • Employee recruiting and retention
  • Reduced marketing and customer support costs

8 Principles of Information Architecture

There are a lot of factors that a product team needs to take into consideration when building the IA for a website, app, or any other software. According to a well-known IA expert Dan Brown, these eight principles of information architecture are basics of the IA design: 

  • The Principle of Objects. Content is a living thing that has its own lifecycle, features, and specifics.
  • The Principle of Choices. All choices given on the page/screen should relate to a specific action only in aim to not overwhelm end-users with too many options. 
  • The Principle of Disclosures. By limiting the content delivered to users on one page/screen, it is possible to improve the perception of this content.
  • The Principle of Exemplars. Every content presented on a page/screen should have relevant examples that show the context. 
  • The Principle of Front Doors. A homepage acts as a front door, and some users may not visit other pages. Therefore, it’s important to have all the relevant information (such as menus or contacts) on every page so that end-users could navigate the site or app easily.
  • The Principle of Multiple Classification. It’s vital to deliver different ways to browse content on a website/app for the convenience of different types of users.
  • The Principle of Focused Navigation. It’s more important what navigation contains than how it looks. Navigation panels should be simple and easily accessible from any page. 
  • The Principle of Growth. A product team should keep in mind that content will grow with time, and there should be a place for the new content in the product design.

By following these points, UX information architects and product teams can design a high-end information architecture that contributes to product usability, information findability, and great user experience.

Why Is It Important to Use Information Architecture in Design?

It’s no mystery that it is vital to produce high-quality content that end-users will find valuable, interesting, and engaging. But, at the same time, it is no less important to ensure that users can access this high-quality content easily and conveniently.

Nowadays, time is people’s most precious asset. In our modern world, people expect to find a solution to their problems within minimum time and effort. If it’s hard to use a website or app, find the needed content,  read the text, and so on, users will unlikely persist in their efforts with the given product and move on to a better, more user-friendly solution. What’s more, after an unpleasant experience with the product, users will unlikely return to it ever again. 

However, with well-designed information architecture, it’s possible to avoid many common usability problems and ensure that the product meets the end-users’ needs. Information architects and product teams strive to create IA that helps users achieve their goals and find the information they’ve been looking for instead of struggling with complex navigation and unintuitive design.

How to Create an Effective Information Architecture

To build a high-end information architecture, it’s vital to take into account several factors. Based on our experience, our Northell team believes that the steps below allow creating a great IA that meets the users’ needs and ensures great user experience:

  1. Define the primary purpose of the project.
    First of all, it is essential to understand the purpose of the project and its strategic vision. When having a clear picture in mind, it’s possible to move to in-depth market research.
  2.  Research and understand the users’ goals.
    Any well-built and visually appealing product will fail if it doesn’t deliver real value to the end-users. So, no matter how great the initial idea seems, it’s essential to research and find out whether the future product will meet the users’ needs and mitigate their pain points.
  3. Create user personas.
    Based on the research findings, a product team can create user personas that will guide them on creating a relevant UI/UX solution.
  4. Plan the IA hierarchy for user-friendly navigation.
    Only now, after all the research, it’s time to map information architecture, plan navigation specifics, and create wireframes.
  5. Prepare content.
    It’s important to note that you should prepare content alongside the product design or even prior to the design stage. As we mentioned above, content and context play a crucial role in information architecture. A product team should operate with at least the approximate volume of the content presented on a website or app.
  6. Create a UI prototype.
    After finishing wireframes, a product team moves to create the visual part of the product.
  7. Develop the product.
    Once the product is ready, it can be launched and become available to the end-users. However, it is not the finish but rather a significant milestone. For the product’s success and great user experience, a product team should perform usability testing, evaluate the website/app’s performance, and monitor users’ reactions.
  8. Collect feedback.
    Feedback is the backbone of a genuinely great product in the long run. The user feedback helps understand usability issues and improve/upgrade the product to meet the users’ needs.
  9. Adjust the product accordingly.
    Product design and development is a continuous process, as there’s always room for improvement. For information architecture, it is the same because IA can and should be adjusted to create the best user experience with a website or app.

Final Remarks

To sum up, information architecture is a foundation of great user experience. IA allows delivering well-organized, relevant content to the target end-users at the right time, making it easy and convenient for them to use the product. 

We at Northell believe that information architecture is a crucial factor to consider when creating a product design. 

If you want to build a high-end website or application and look for a professional product team, you are welcome to contact us. We are happy to discuss details and create a remarkable solution to meet your business needs. Get in touch now!

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