While there is not a universal definition of Information Architecture (IA), this area of design when applied to websites commonly refers to the process and the output of the organization and categorization of content. The IA is the roadmap that defines the relationships between content and contextual connections between them. The “art and science” of IA stems from the need to organize content, usually in more than one way, in order to enable audiences to efficiently find the information they need, in the format they need it in.
How It Applies To Your Website
IA plays a part in all aspects of a website including how the content is organized within a specific page, how overarching front-end user experience functions, how the backend database is organized, and more. IA also directly informs navigational elements on a website. This could include top / side / sub menus, and anywhere else there would be a need for a contextual hyperlink to other content. The goal is to create a navigational structure based on the IA that gives visitors multiple ways of getting to the same information, so that no matter what their original entry point they can still easily find a way to get what they came for.
The IA Process
The process of creating IA for a website should be iterative and ongoing. As you consider both current and future content, it is important to think about how new content will fit into the categories you create, and try to anticipate any ‘wildcard’ types of information that might be added in the future. This is especially important when considering how IA impacts visual elements such as navigation bars, lists of links, and ensuring they are visually scalable where necessary.
One tricky part about IA is that what might be a logical content organization to you might not be logical to other visitors / users. This could be influenced by differences in intention, lexicon, comfort with the subject matter, and a range of factors. The success of creating an IA that works for more than one type of visitor requires that the information architect attempt to think about the content from more than one frame of reference and consider what each “type” of visitor might be looking for during their visit to your website.
The ROI of Good IA
IA is a foundational element of creating a positive user experience. Poorly designed IA will almost certainly result in a poor user experience and could even potentially cause visitors to leave a site. Consider how much time you spend in a given day searching for information online, and how valuable that time is to you, your employer, your team, etc. Visitors frequent websites that provide them with the information they need the quickest, in the most logical way. Websites where you struggle to navigate, browse, or search to find information are frustrating and often abandoned altogether if there are alternative ways to get the information.