Defining the definition.What is information architecture?
Building a web site is more than decorating a web page with some words and pictures. Information architecture (sometimes called just IA) defines a site's content and organization:
- What a web site shows.
- How the site is laid out.
- How the site can be navigated.
- Delivers plans for design and development.
- Provides an understanding of function.
- Defines user interfaces.
Why bother creating an information architecture?
Why? To meet business needs. Information architecture is a discipline geared toward meeting business needs. It's a way of creating plans to meet those business needs.
Information architecture goes beyond deciding what the content should be and where it should go. Instead of simply arranging pictures and blocks of copy, somehow, information architecture delivers concrete answers about how to help visitors find what they need and understand it when they find it.
Helping visitors is vital. No doubt about that. But the ultimate goal is to serve the business. Good information architecture results in a partnership between user needs and business needs. The point is to meet everyone's needs.
Information architecture is more than just blindly accepting everything site visitors or site users say, and more than just making a single business client happy. An information architect has to understand a project's variables and create a balance that helps people find and manage information. Those people are both inside the business and outside the business. But the ultimate goal is to serve that business.
Deliverables to expect from an information architecture.
An information architect helps to create some or all of the following deliverables.
- Personas. These define types of visitors expected -- who might use the site and what they might be after.
- A content matrix. This lists each page in the site and identifies its content. It's like a site outline.
- A site map, a diagram giving an overview of the web site's structure. How to navigate a site is a separate issue, but it does depend on the site's structure.
- Page layouts. These describe types of content, placement of content, and what functional elements a page might have. They also describe navigation within a single web page. Diagrams are easy to grasp, but written notes add depth and critical details useful for designers and developers.
- Page templates. These are required for medium to large sites but optional for many smaller sites. Page templates define boilerplate, the layout of recurring page elements such as site-wide and local navigation schemes, sidebars, and standard blocks of text. Page templates also help in building a content management system.