The history of IA and its relevance
Information Architecture is crucial because information is everywhere. It started way back with the use of glyphs, telling stories through pictures, to then having scroll bibliographies.
Development of language allowed us humans to classify and organise all the information in the world. Starting with the invention of the printing press, which lead to mass publications and books. These were then structured by having indexes within books and libraries organising those books, that gave rise to this field of information architecture.
As humans we compartmentalise things to make sense of them. We put them in boxes, we relate to shapes, colours, and everything around us, consciously and subconsciously arranging them, filing them, creating networks and patterns between thoughts and ideas, to then eventually hold an idea or picture of everything around us.
In this day and age, with abundance of information everywhere, stored in phones, as photographs, documents in the cloud, there is so much data all around us, and we create more with every passing second.
Now, with the rise in metadata, Information Architecture (IA) helps us make sense of this and categorise it. Which is why there is a widespread understanding that information needs to be organised, everything from creating a folder on your phone to having a wallet which then goes into your bag is all compartmentalisation, and ease of use for things to function smoothly.
With all this data and information to sort through, it is out scope for people to be able to do that. Artificial intelligence sorts and organises the data for us. What Google, Facebook, Alexa, all have in common is the data that they collect, and then analyse, which makes them smarter, and function better.
IN 2013 -
14.3 Trillion — Webpages, live on the Internet
Over 1 Yotta-byte — Total data stored on the Internet (Includes almost everything).
Internet users are growing by an average of more than one million new users every day.
Metadata has helped us make sense of tremendous amounts of data, from genetics to biomedicine, to culture and why people behave they way they do, and how history, culture, biology, the environment and other million factors, which are so intense to process and make sense of by people, has been possible because of compartmentalisation but also creating networks between things, and noticing patterns which is all information architecture.
What is IA?
Information Architecture is the structural design of information or content within a digital product. IA is all around us and can be found on every interface, some good, some not so good, but it exists everywhere. With the growth of the world wide web, there was a need for structure to help organize the content on websites, because of which most people turned to IA and over the years the quality and subject has grown to make clear well structures online content.
If you have ever struggled to locate what you need or figuring out what to do next when using a product, you’ve most likely faced a product with poor information architecture.
Users benefit from IA and the structuring of a website without maybe even noticing it, which is what makes it seamless. When a website is arranged in a way that makes searching and navigating through it simple, users are experiencing good IA.
IA is basically — Findability, Accessibility, Clarity and Credibility
Findability or ‘Search’ is where the user can easily locate what they are looking for- this is usually done by integrating a search bar within the product.
Accessibility is the ability to access the content on any device and it still works properly, this should also include accessibility for the visually impaired as well as hearing. For example, Voice UI like Alexa are great for people who are visually impaired.
Clarity is the information provided to the user should be clear and easy to understand. This includes the content along with the navigation which should be easy to use and for the user to get around the site without it being too complicated. Products can strengthen the organization of content and add valuable information to enhance the user experience by adopting a well designed navigation system. A website’s navigation is a collection of UI components. Navigation includes global navigation (constant), local navigation exploration of the specific area of focus), and contextual navigation (allows transition to other placed without having to go up and down the hierarchy). Navigation shows people what they can find on a site and is often easier for users to use than search when trying to locate an item.
Credibility is making the user feel like the product they are using is secure and something they can trust. Users should be able to rely on it and use it without any concerns.
IA helps people understand where they are, what they can do, and where they can go, both in the real world and online.
Voice UI is still in its early stages, but it will definitely change IA.
With a shift to Voice user interfaces, we will have to go deeper with information, considering speech tones, it is challenging as it delves deeper into a more personal and real interaction, which is at this point in time, hard to do.
In cases like social media, there wont be much change as that is mainly a visual platform relying mainly on text, image and video.Voice UI will be used mainly to perform tasks.It will make things easier for the user, where they might voice their issues to Alexa where it would read it out to them, instead of looking for them in the FAQ section after opening their phone and going to the browser and then typing the website url, there will be a shift but the shift won’t be a 100% but IA will be very essential for VUI to be functional enough.
For example, e-commerce sites lack the entire shopping experience, it works great, but it still lacks something, maybe with the rise in VUI, the experience could be more interactive just like talking to someone at the store asking for help, making it a more wholesome and positive experience, where reviews could be someone talking in the background while the user views the product.
As technology evolves, so will Information Architecture. Integrating VUI to products will change the way we interact with products.
The Future is uncertain
The definition of IA is constantly evolving and expanding, and there are many challenges and lots of excitement to see where it goes especially around areas like voice technology and machine learning.
On another note — Devices are probably listening to its users which is leading to a rise in data collection. Over time devices will learn and know more about human psychology, it will map human behaviour and learn patterns. But there is still a long way to go because we will need tremendous data and for machine learning to take place to understand syntax, speech tones, different languages, moods and psychology along with various other nuanced things.
This could go very wrong, where all of this data and machine learning could be used against us, and things could get horrible, but thats too soon to think about now.