Book review: “Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond”

User experience design is a field that encompasses different design disciplines such as interaction design, visual design and information architecture and etc. As a UX team of one, I am usually involved in defining and creating each of those aspects for the overall “user experience”.

Information architecture is a key aspect of my UX process but there was a clear challenge to get it right without a solid foundation– What is it? What are the principles and concepts? How to get it done right?

Because of that, I was excited to pick up this book, to deepen and expand my knowledge on that particular domain. With a brand new highlighter (apparently, 1 is not enough) and my free time at night, I was eager to finish the book ASAP. This is my review and some key takeaways that I found interesting.

Review summary

In my opinion, this book is a must read for all UX practitioner or anyone who is involved in designing digital products. It is packed with valuable knowledge which I’ve learned a lot of highly applicable stuff. From the underlying principles and concepts to the nuts and bolts of it, all so that we can structure information in a way that’s easy to find and understand for people.

Some takeaways:

IA is focused on making information findable and understandable

We want to design products that allows us to find the information we want in relation to our position, and understand where we are as users (a sense of place)— I like this as it is pretty straightforward and easy to remember.

Findability starts with people and what information need they have

This depends on Information needs of users: are they looking for the right answer (known-item seeking), looking for more than a single answer (exploratory seeking) or they want all the answers (exhaustive research). It would make sense to provide direct access to users who know what they’re looking for, and more options for browsing to users who aren’t sure what they want.

Source: Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond

Context plays a critical role in making sense of things

The structure of the information environment helps people to understand where they are at and what they can do there. Context matters because we understand things in relation to something else and alter the way we perceive things; A painting hanging in a bathroom VS a painting hanging in a museum. Context also help to define distinct “places” :

“The difference between places play a critical role in how we understand one another and the things we can (or can’t) do in each of those places.”

For example, telling the difference between a bank’s website and gaming’s website by their design elements such as navigation labels, keywords and section headers.

The different components of IA

Breaking it down to visualise IA and to articulate the concept to stakeholders
1. Organization systems: how we categorise information
2. Labelling systems: how we represent information
3. Navigation systems: how we browse of move through information
4. Searching systems: how we search information.

Invisible information architecture: controlled vocabulary

Most often, the IA is invisible like the search and retrieval component (search engine), and the system should employ a controller vocabulary for the purpose of improved retrieval. Basically, these are the alternative words that you want to attach to a specific “preferred term” so you could connect users to stuff that they are looking for and that you want them to find. Instead of showing an empty result page when user enter a slightly different variation of a particular word.

Source: Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond

IA Framework: Context, Content, Users

An approach to doing IA (I find this relatively similar to some of the framework in UX), we must understand the business goals and the resources available. To be aware of the nature and volume of content, and learn about the needs and information seeking behaviour of the users. It is important to know that these 3 areas are highly dynamic so every situation is unique.

“The infamous three circles of information architecture”

Conclusion

These takeaways merely scratched the surface of the content in this book and I hope my interpretations are accurate. Information is all around us and whatever we use is made up of information– we need to put more emphasis on the IA of a product to improve the overall UX. This is one of those books where I will always refer back to a lot in the future.