What is information architecture (IA) in UX design?

by | Jul 17, 2023 | User Experience

Unleash the sticky notes

You get two types of people in this world: people who label everything and people who go through life without worrying about where things are. The latter can’t be trusted (and usually marry people who operate like the former).

You’ll find that people who label everything may tend to be disorganised, hence the labels. And if you mess with such a person’s system, do so at your peril.

The point is, we need organised people in the world. No doctor, CEO, or lawyer would survive without a personal assistant or receptionist to help them handle the admin. Sure, they go through more sticky notes and highlighters than a reassuring primary school teacher, but at least you know you’ll always find what you’re looking for.

Information architecture (IA) is the personal assistant or receptionist that makes or breaks a digital product or system’s user experience (UX). It involves designing the underlying structure and framework that dictates how information is categorised, labelled, and interconnected to create a seamless UX.


Key elements that define information architecture in UX design

  1. Organisation and structure
    IA is the backbone of UX design, organising and structuring content in a way that makes sense to users. Just as a skeleton supports and shapes our bodies, IA supports and shapes the user’s journey through a digital space. It involves grouping related info into categories, subcategories, and sections to establish a clear flow.
  2. The way-finder
    IA is critical in designing navigation systems that guide users through a digital product or system. It determines the placement of menus, links, and other navigational elements to ensure easy access to different sections and content. In other words, without Brenda’s filing system, you’d never be able to find your way to those tax invoices from three years ago.
  3. Making sense of complexity
    With the digital landscape being a daunting and chaotic place, users often find themselves lost in the online abyss, desperately searching for clarity. Fortunately, IA guides users to their destination by breaking down complex information into manageable chunks, categorising it into logical groups, and presenting it in an easily-understandable way.
  4. Hierarchy of information
    Hierarchy is all about organising information logically, creating a clear order and allowing users to navigate and access information more easily. It involves highlighting the most important elements and developing a visual and conceptual order that supports user comprehension and engagement. It’s basically like a roadmap for users, helping them make sense of content and find what they need.
  5. The user is king
    Every decision and choice revolves around users’ needs, desires, and preferences. User research becomes a Sherlock Holmes investigation, uncovering insights that shape the architecture. Understanding the user’s mental models and how they perceive and organise information is vital to creating a successful IA. The ultimate goal is to reduce cognitive load and make the system as intuitive and user-friendly as possible.
  6. The art of flexibility
    IA must be flexible and capable of handling future growth, changing user needs, and emerging technologies. It’s like a chameleon, seamlessly adjusting to the changing landscape while maintaining its core structure. Embrace the chaos, be open to change, and make sure you can accommodate these changes without compromising the overall UX design.
  7. Cross-platform consistency
    Users no longer only use desktops, so ensure your IA is consistent across multiple devices and platforms. In other words, Thoko should just as easily access content with her iPhone as Tshepo does using a desktop.
  8. Wireframing and prototyping
    You can use wireframing and prototyping techniques to visualise the content structure and layout. These visuals can help you understand the flow of information and adjust elements during the design process. For example, wireframes are visual blueprints outlining the format and structure of a digital interface, while prototypes bring wireframes to life, allowing for interactive UX testing and evaluation before development.


Ready to develop your information architecture? We are! Call us to help you design an IA (no sticky notes or highlighters necessary).

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