Information Architect and Information Architecture
Imagine you are a tourist in a new big city where you need to find a particular cafe or a museum. It’s hard to do without a map or asking for a direction from a passer-by. The same is with information on the Internet, where it is easy to get lost in a pile of information, especially if you don’t know where you are. Luckily, there is someone who can help with this — an information architect.
An Information Architect (IA) is in charge of the organization, search, and navigation systems with the goal to help users find information and complete tasks. An IA makes information attractive and accessible to an audience. An Information Architect creates the “structure for a website, application, or other projects, that allows us to understand where we are as users, and where the information we want is in relation to our position,” according to the UX Booth. As a result, we have site maps, hierarchies, categorizations, navigation, and metadata.
Modern information architecture’s founder, Richard Saul Wurman, 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 similarly to a building: with a solid foundation.
Information architecture is based on a precise, intentional structure and solid foundation of ideas, though IA features everything from libraries to websites.
An information architect generally does various activities as part of a UX project team. Here are some of the questions that arise when doing such activities:
- What is the flow of users through the site?
- How does the application help the user catalog their information?
- How is that information presented back to the user?
- Is that information helping the customer, and driving decisions?
To answer these questions, the information architect must focus on:
- the target audience,
- the technologies related to the website,
- and the data that will be presented through the website.
What Tools to Use for Information Architecture?
Information Architecture demands a good deal of mental work, so some information architects prefer to use paper and pen. As a result, however, information architecture ends up with a site map creation, metadata tagging, and categorization. This is what clients should see in some visual format. Some IAs create site wireframes, which require additional tools. Here are some of the products information architects use to create site maps, define categories, and design wireframes.
- Axure is a diagramming and wireframing suite, handy for information architects — particularly interaction designers. Axure’s goal is to create wireframes and prototypes of websites and applications rapidly.
- Omnigraffle by OmniGroup. Similar to Axure it is a wireframing and a diagramming tool. Wireframes can be set up with a hierarchy so that users can not only click from one screen to the next but can also see a sidebar showing how all the pages relate to one another. This product can do diagrams, process charts, quick page layouts, website mockups, etc. An IA can find a lot of value in what Omnigraffle offers.
- MindManager is a visual framework meant to “promote freeform thinking and quick organization of ideas.” Easy drag-and-drop functionality allows information architects quickly get ideas out and organize them into a site map that illustrates them. IAs can export maps as JPGs, PNGs, PDFs, or Word documents with MindManager.
- XMind is another mapping software; here IAs can save their maps to Evernote. They offer an entire library of maps for users to share their finished work or see others’ work. Users can download a free version or buy XMind pro, and they work on Mac, Windows, or Linux.
- Treejack is a great tool for information architects who want to test their hierarchy and determine how well users can find information. Billed as an “information architecture validation software,” Treejack lets IAs input a site hierarchy, set up tasks, and recruit users. Then they can see the results of the unmoderated test and share or download the results.
The value of an information architect for users is undeniable. The users find the information they need, complete a task successfully, and don’t have to open a support ticket. An information architect is responsible for representing the structure of digital space in a meaningful and helpful way for its users.
“Follow the river and you will get to the sea.”