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IA: Definition and best practices

Each time we visit a website, we have some expectation of how its information is arranged. For instance, we are likely to know where to find the ‘contact’ and ‘about us’ pages, largely due to our familiarity with how content is arranged on a website.

This content structure is often referred to as the site map or information architecture (IA).

IA is essentially the structural design of information that includes the organising and labelling of content. It can be found not only on websites and software products, but in physical places such as libraries and supermarkets.

Good IA aims for seamless user experience. The ultimate goal is to provide users with fast and intuitive access to information. New visitors to a well designed website should easily find what they need, or at least know where to start.

If your web IA needs work, here’s a summary of five tips on how to improve it:

  1. Go beyond wireframes. Analyse impacts on business processes, and dive deep into the customer journey to understand why customers are on your site or product.

  2. Check your biases. Challenge assumptions -- are we seeing patterns that aren’t there? Turn to research and data.

  3. Understand the eight guiding principles for IA design. Objects, choices, disclosure, examplars, front doors, multiple classification, focused navigation and growth.

  4. Remember your goals. Does the information align with your brand? Are you making sure only the necessary content is kept on the new site? Every decision you make should go toward building the best site or product for your users.

  5. Nail the visual hierarchy. Are the design elements best arranged for how users view content on a webpage. For example, most Westerners read from left to right, and top to bottom, making the F-shape or Z-shape web layouts very popular.

To read more, check out the full InVision article here.

By Jo Lo
Jo Lo

About the author

Jo Lo

Jo is a digital producer at Pattern. Jo has a background in communication, and has worked as a producer and editor for organisations such as Les Mills International, Tailor, Auckland Libraries and XtraMSN/Telecom. From 2007-2009, Jo was the web editor for Taste and Metro magazines.