Information Architecture

In the context of web site design, information architecture describes the overall conceptual models and general designs used to plan, structure, and assemble a site. Every web site has an information architecture, but information architecture techniques are particularly important to large, complex web sites, where the primary aims are to:

  • Organize the site content into taxonomies and hierarchies of information;
  • Communicate conceptual overviews and the overall site organization to the design team and clients;
  • Research and design the core site navigation concepts;
  • Set standards and specifications for the handling of html semantic markup, and the format and handling of text content; and
  • Design and implement search optimization standards and strategies.

There are five basic steps in organizing your information:

  • Inventory your content: What do you have already? What do you need?
  • Establish a hierarchical outline of your content and create a controlled vocabulary so the major content, site structure, and navigation elements are always identified consistently;
  • Chunking: Divide your content into logical units with a consistent modular structure;
  • Draw diagrams that show the site structure and rough outlines of pages with a list of core navigation links; and
  • Analyze your system by testing the organization interactively with real users; revise as needed.

Choosing the right site structure for your site depends greatly on your audience and the content being presented.

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Many of the activities above can be achieved using card sorting and whiteboards.

References:
Web Style Guide: Information Architecture

Understanding Information Architecture

Information Architecture 101: Techniques and Best Practices

Jessie James Garrett’s IA resource page

Books:
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
Designing Large-Scale Web Sites
By Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld