Information architecture has always been important. Whenever we create groups and describe things other people need to use, the information architecture (how things are grouped and labelled) directly affects how easy things are to use.
As the amount of information available to us keeps growing, information architecture becomes even more important. The more information there is, the harder it can be to sift through and find what you need. Good information architecture can help people find their way through the information, and ignore what isn’t relevant.
But good information architecture can do more than just help people find objects and information. It can empower people by making it easier for them to learn and make better decisions.
So what’s a good information architecture? It’s one that is both easy for people to understand and works well for whatever is being grouped. A bad one is just the opposite – it’s hard for people to use, and the con tent doesn’t easily fit. For example, an online supermarket with a good information architecture may put all the chocolate together and group it with other snack foods. One with a bad information architecture may group all grocery items by manufacturer, making people check every manufacturer to see who produces chocolate.
What you need to create a good Information Architecture
You need to understand three very important things before you can design an Information Architecture that works really well:
- People: What they need do to, how they think and what they already know
- Content: What you have, what you should have and what you need
- Context: The business or personal goals for the site, who else will be involved and what your constraints are.
Without a good understanding of these three things, you simply can’t create a good Information Architecture.
- If you don’t know enough about people you won’t be able to group content in ways that make sense to them, or provide ways for them to find it easily
- Without a good understanding of your content, you won’t be able to create an information architecture that works well for current and future content.
- And if you don’t know all about the context, you won’t be able to create something that works for people and the business, and you’ll have endless trouble in the project.
Structured or Unstructured Content
One of the most important things to figure out for each type of content is whether it’s structured or unstructured (and whether you’ll use the structure in the IA).
With structured content every item of a particular type is made up of the same pieces. You can look at one item and know that all the others of the same type will be similar. If you’ve ever worked with a database you’ll know what I mean – everything in a database is structured content. All content of a particular type has to fit into the same structure.
Unstructured content is where every item in the website is different (structurally). As one of reviewers for this book said “unstructured content is stuff that only occurs once in a website”.