IT Expert Derek LaFever Provides a Brief Overview of Information Architecture
Information architecture (IA) is the science by which digital and other platforms structure and organize their content for display. It is a process that is generally taken for granted by end users, especially when it is done well.
With the information age in full swing and gargantuan amounts of valuable data being produced and disseminated, building a highly efficient system through the skillful use of information architecture is more challenging and important than ever says IT expert Derek LaFever.
LaFever currently serves as the Senior Director of Information Technology & Strategic Planning at FOX Architects, where he has handled several important software transitions that have helped the design firm become more flexible and productive.
In the following overview, LaFever shares some of the most important principles of information architecture that he’s gleaned from his more than 25 years of experience in IT.
Assessing a Platform’s Information Architecture Needs
While there are some broad IA design theories and trends, Derek LaFever says it is equally important to consider various additional factors specific to that scenario when building a digital platform’s IA structure.
One of the most important steps is to identify the platform’s target audience and their needs. If users struggle to find the information they are looking for because the process is too complicated or unintuitive for their needs, they will quickly seek out another source of that information.
Users can be divided into four main groups based on their objectives:
- Users that know what they are looking for
- Users that are trying to re-find something they previously came across
- Users that need to conduct extensive research
- Users that want to explore for the sake of discovery and inspiration
Which users or combination of users a platform has will largely determine the organizational systems and schemes that should be deployed.
Choosing the Organizational Systems and Schemes
There are three main organizational systems, each of which is more or less suited to particular user audiences: hierarchical, matrix, and sequential.
Hierarchical is probably the most common and can feature a strict hierarchy of pages or a more flexible pattern of co-existing hierarchies, depending on the amount of disparate content on the platform.
Sequential systems are more focused, guiding the user through a narrow range of actions and keeping them on target. On the opposite end of the spectrum are matrix systems, which allow the user to explore the platform using their own preferred criteria.
Furthermore, there are multiple schemes that can be used to group content within each of those systems, including alphabetical, chronological, and topical.
The Role of Cognitive Psychology in IA
The role of an information architect even includes a little bit of cognitive psychology according to Derek LaFever.
One of the most important considerations that he says must be managed is users’ cognitive load, which is the amount of information they are able to process at once. If users become overloaded from the presence of too much information or too many decision-making opportunities, they are likely to get frustrated or confused and take off.
Speaking of decision-making, IA designers can make that mentally taxing process easier on users by supplying information or options at the right time and in the right places (namely, places that are consistent with what their mental models are expecting), gently guiding them along and keeping them engaged.
As you can see, there are various factors that go into the design and layout of information systems, all of