Understanding Information Architecture — A Case Study

What is Information Architecture?

Information Architecture is an often overlooked and underrated field within the realm of User Experience Design. Information Architecture however, can make your website or product stand apart from the competition, if done right.

In this article I would first like to lay out what information architecture is and what it entails and then relate these principles to a real-world example.

Information architecture (IA) refers to the structural design of information and content which focuses on organizing and labeling so that users can best find what they are looking for.

“Information architecture strives to make the complex, clear” Dan Klyn

Based of the above definition, IA dictates how a user will make sense of the information provided, how they move through a task, in essence, good IA is what really creates the delightful experience all UXer’s are striving to create.

IA relies upon the interplay of three components to ensure delightful user experiences:

  1. Ontology
  2. Taxonomy
  3. Choreography

Ontology

Ontology is about establishing particular meaning. For example, labeling a Fuji Apple in a produce section of a grocery store establishes it’s particular meaning by distinguishing itself from just an apple.

Taxonomy

Taxonomy defines the way elements are organized or categorized to accomplish specific goals within or across contexts.

Taxonomies can be broken down further into two concepts:

  1. Classification- Used to put like elements together
  2. Hierarchy- Used to rank information (importance, frequency, alphabetical, numerical, recency)

Going back to our grocery store, a fuji apple could be placed or categorized into a fruits section, which could also be placed into a larger produce section.

The placement of the produce section within an grocery store, as well as how and where the fuji apples are placed (hierarchy) also determine the items taxonomy.

Choreography

Choreography comes together when meaning (ontology) and categorization (taxonomy) interact with each other to create an experience. In our grocery store example the choreography of ontology and taxonomy is evident in how a shopper navigates the store. Most often is it goes unnoticed by the shopper, unless of course the system makes no sense.

Case Study

Now, lets focus on IA in a digital world. We will breakdown the IA of one of AirBnb’s webpages to see how ontology, taxonomy and choreography help create a delightful experience.

Here is the my staring point.

Within the realm of finding a place to stay, the ontology (meaning) of the text ‘check in’ located in the form field may or may not be so obvious. However to make it even more clear, when I click in the form field, a calendar with dates appears. The meaning is now clear…I am choosing the dates I want to check in.

Notice too, that the ‘check in’, ‘check out’, and ‘guest’ options are categorized within the taxonomy of ‘dates’, which helps to further establish meaning to me.

Also notice the particular hierarchy of the filters I must select to narrow my results. I would imagine this particular hierarchy came from many user interviews to discover what is most important to them.

Within the ‘room type’ taxonomy, we have three different ontological labels which help establish meaning which helps me clearly select the option I am looking for.

As I select the filters of the labels to fit the context of my future needs, taxonomy (hierarchy)of the image results change. The use of ontology and taxonomy to help change those results is an example of choreography.

As you can see, good IA utilized the interplay of taxonomy and ontology to create choreography, which in turn, drastically contributes to creating a delightful user experience.

Stanford K. Kekauoha

Written by

Product Designer @Insturcture. Curious about people and how design & ideas can can positively impact their lives.

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