Information architecture is the blueprint upon which all other aspects are built - form, function, metaphor, navigation and interface, interaction, and visual design.
As an IA, I translate client's business objectives, user and stakeholders requirements, and marketing strategy into a system, which is user centric and interactive. This is explored further through a series of workshops that begin to display the information in rudimentary interfaces until I design the system infrastructure’s clarity, simplicity, and ease of use. It is one of my favorite phase because everything is possible but logical.
"Information architecture is about helping people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for, in the real world as well as online."
In other words, information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, application, or other project, that allows us to understand where we are as users, and where the information we want is in relation to our position. Information architecture results in the creation of site maps, hierarchies, categorizations, navigation, and metadata. When a content strategist begins separating content and dividing it into categories, he/she is practicing information architecture. When I sketch a top level menu to help users understand where they are on a site, I am also practicing information architecture.
Cognitive Psychology - is the study of how the mind works, and what mental processes take place there, so it’s not surprising that it influences both the interactions we design and the way we architect information.
However, information architecture draws on some different elements of cognitive psychology to influence how we structure information. Here are some of the key elements of cognitive psychology information architects most value:
Cognitive load is the amount of information that a person can process at any given time. Keeping in mind the user’s cognitive load helps prevent information architects from inadvertently overloading a user with too much information all at once
Mental models are the assumptions people carry in their minds before interacting with a website or application. Information is easier to discover when it is in a place that matches the user’s mental model of where it should be. Decision making may not sound like psychology, but it is! It’s a cognitive process that allows us to make a choice or select an option. Information architects can help us make decisions by providing certain information at key moments.
Why IA? - Modern information architecture’s founder, Richard Saul Wurman, was not a web designer. He was a graphic designer and an architect, and it was from architecture that the field of IA was born. Wurman believed that information should be structured in the same way a building is structured: with a solid foundation. Much like architecture, information architecture can take many attractive forms, and is based on a precise, intentional structure and solid foundation of ideas, though IA features in everything from libraries to websites.
Daily Tasks and Develirables - I will generally do a variety of activities as part of a UX project team. Common tasks include research, navigation creation, wireframing, labeling, and data modeling. Most of these tasks are valuable because of the process they follow, and some also result in deliverables, which we’ve referenced where relevant.
User Research and Analysis - IAs take on myriad responsibilities for a project. To learn about the project’s audiences, I need access to the results of usability tests, card sorting exercises, stakeholder interviews, and user interviews, just to name a few. Often, I will take an active role in facilitating interviews or card sorts, where they can see how a prospective user would categorize a variety of terms. Through this research, I am able to learn what people will do with an application, how people will use information provided by the application, and what mental models the users have when they use the application. After conducting this research, I will begin to analyze the data. I might present the information to the rest of the team as a spreadsheet or a set of recommendations, or even as a set of user personas that will showcase who the typical user is, what their goals are, and how they might approach the application.
Navigation and Hierarchy Creation - As an information architect, I am the key person responsible for determining how information across a website or application is displayed and accessed. As we’ve discussed, this is the key piece of information architecture. In order to create this hierarchy, I need to consider what the user expects to see, as well as what content the organization wants to connect.
Throughout this phase, I conduct many usability testing to ensure I am on track and the deliverable that is most commonly associated with this work is a site map, which illustrates the hierarchy of content across a website.
Survey - A high level review of a system or site's main sections and pages. It enables to develop an understanding of the general site scope and major chunks of content
Detailed Audit - this is a comprehensive inventory of every page on a site. This inventory will list every page's filename, title, URL, and possibly its file type and a description. It's also helpful to assign a unique page ID that will correspond to the pages location on the Site Map
Content Map - This simply entails laying out the site content in a graphical format
Persona - A user profile or persona is a realistic (but likely fictional) example of a target audience member
Use Cases (Usage Scenario, Task Analysis, User Flow) - are narratives that describe how a user might use a system or site.
Site maps show the overall structure and hierarchy of a Web site or a system
Wireframes - They convey the general page structure and content requirements for individual pages
Paper or digital prototype (low fidelity prototype) - it involves using screen shots and/or hand sketched page diagrams to quickly elicit user feedback and identify interface IA problems
Storyboards - (set of wireframes that follow a task)
Styleguide - Style guides are used to document baseline design requirements for a site or system
Projects, I worked as part of the AI team, are:
Surrey County Council
The Fuller CV
Resolve family Mediation
By HDP Riviera
Emma Wright's Studio
La Florette, Biot
The Esplanade, Weymouth
Ashtead Cancer Group
Caterham upon-Hill Parish
The Work Foundation
Yahoo! Inc UK and Ireland
Cabinet d’Expertise Immobilière
Sara Faulkner Design