What is Info Architecture and Its 3 Critical Components

What is Info Architecture and Its 3 Critical Components logo

Understanding exactly what is info architecture will help optimize your site and benefit your business and brand.

Given that 70% of failed online businesses failed because of bad usability of their website (many due to User Interface and failure to optimize for mobile) it is crucial to optimize your site’s information architecture. Information (Info) architecture is the purposeful organization of facts, data, and other content in a system for the purpose of easing and enriching readers’ and/or users’ locating and understanding of it.

Understanding what is info architecture includes mastering:

  • The different kinds of users and what they are seeking
  • Information Organization
  • Navigation and Wayfinding
  • Searching for the information

Different Kinds of Users and What They are Looking for

The first part of understanding what is info architecture is understanding the different types of users.

Just Do It’s/Get Er Done’s 

The first type of user wants to actually use the information, so they need to understand the information and content enough to apply it. This user should be your primary audience. They want to get the information quickly and understand it easily. 

To be blunt, they don’t care about you, your brand, or your problems; they just want to solve their own problem with little difficulty in as little time as possible. On top of this, if your site fails to help them, they will leave for a different site that shows the content in a way they understand or can find easier, and they will not be back (Ever!).

What’s that, Never heard of it’s 

These users just are looking for basics about something they just heard/seen; they are seeking basic understanding about a topic. They may have just come from a social media or blog post search for a word or phrase unknown to them or they may be looking for a service or product they are unsure how it works or even if it exists! These users want all the facts and details about something so they can tell their friends and coworkers (possibly their boss) and/or make an informed decision on a subject, a situation or dilemma, or about a product.

Browsers

These are people who are looking for interesting facts or new information about a topic; they likely already have a basic understanding of a topic and are looking for ‘bonus’ facts to augment their understanding (or impress their friends). These users are looking for specific statistics, surprising facts, enlightening articles, and helpful and interesting graphics.

2. Organization

The second part of understanding what is info architecture is organization. For such a simple, but critical thing, organization can easily be overlooked or done badly. Make sure to organize your content logically and effectively.

Site Maps

Site maps show the way to organize pages and posts throughout a site. They show how each page is got to from the landing (home) page. It has the main topics/pages (usually seen on the main menu) below the home page and subtopics/subpages below the main ones that are gotten from the main pages.

site map example

Lists

Think that lists are a waste? 70% of users pay attention to bulleted lists, which is an excellent way to organize and portray information. Just make sure to follow of few rules when making lists:

  • Only Use numbered lists when listing steps in order,
  • Make sure to make all the items in a list parallel (around the same length and starts with the same kind of part of speech with the possible exception of a necessary adverb),
  • End all your items similarly or the same (E.g., all periods, commas and a period, etc.)
  • Use 3-5 items per list to not overwhelm your readers.

Headings

Headings help users find specific subtopics within a topic. They are usually designated by number (heading 1, heading 2, etc.). Heading 1 is for main topics or whatever the highest level of organization is other than the title. Heading 2 is for the second level of organization, usually subtopics. The different levels of headers are denoted by change of size (the first level is the biggest, the second is the second biggest, etc.) and sometimes different colors, shades of a color, or fonts.

3. Navigation and Wayfinding

The third part of understanding what is info architecture is navigation and wayfinding. Navigation and wayfinding are how a user moves through a website and finds what they are looking for (or, at least, what the site’s owner wants them to find).

Expected/common UI elements and placements

These days there are user interface (UI) elements that have widely accepted and expected placements and setups in websites and apps. For example, most websites that have profiles have the login/logout on the top left of the site, and most sites have their logo and/or name on the top left of the site. 

Since this means that users have known expectations about common UI elements, this is helpful for navigation. Set up websites using common placements for elements and users will find them quicker and more naturally (you won’t have to guide them as much).

Menus

Menus are like salt; use enough that you can tell that they are there but not so much that it overwhelms everything around them (and the customer as well). Place the main menu at the top of the site, and make sure it is on just about every page. Place a footer menu at the bottom of the site; this should have either less options than the main menu or many more options, containing less used pages. It largely depends on the size of the website.

Also, don’t forget to make the mobile menu actually mobile friendly by:

  • Having the items far enough apart that there is no danger of clicking on a neighboring item,
  • Making the majority if not all of the menu fit on phone’s screens,
  • Only having the most important and/or searched for items in the menu,
  • Not overwhelming users with too many items (3-6 is preferable) or drop down menus (please avoid putting drop down menus in drop down menus; it makes it feel like little planning in the site map happened and the developer just stuck items in the menu as time went on).

Buttons

Buttons are an easy way to guide users from a major page to a minor one. Place a heading above buttons to give users indication of what the button does and where they would be going (even better if the heading is a call to action like: Want to read more?). Make sure buttons are clearly outlined or filled and are not overlapping anything else on the page. Lastly, have the text on the button: 

  • In a contrasting color so it is easy to read,
  • Change hue when hovered over to indicate that the button is working,
  • Very briefly describe what the button is for or what the user is expected to do (e.g., click here),
  • In a clear to read font that does not distract users.
Cartoon of product page on website

Breadcrumbs

In website design breadcrumbs are a way for users to see how they got to the page they are on and how to get back to the previous page. This does require proper naming of pages, logical organization of pages, and accurate titles that describe the content of the pages to properly work.

Helpful images or shapes

Use logos, graphics, and photos that symbolize or agree with topics and content to attract user’s eyes to key elements, buttons, or other content. Also, place content in helpful shapes that attract consumer’s attention like placing critical content by itself or arranging content in an arrow shape to something important. 

Search bars

Lastly, make sure to place a search symbol or bar near the top right or top left of the site. Some users don’t want to even look at a menu or button; they just want to search for something specific to answer a specific, critical issue or quam. Remember that different users will navigate the same site differently; try to have multiple methods of wayfinding to pages and content.

Summary

Information (Info) architecture is the purposeful organization of facts, data, and other content in a system for the purpose of easing and enriching readers’ and/or users’ locating and understanding of it. Now that you understand exactly what is info architecture you can optimize your site and benefit your business and brand.

Understanding what is info architecture includes mastering:

  • The different kinds of users and what they are seeking
  • Information Organization
  • Navigation and Wayfinding
  • Searching for the information

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