Many people face difficulty in attempting to define the meaning of user experience design. Most likely, it’s due to the field being so vast, and all encompassing that it’s simple for one to get lost in the shuffle of everything which falls under the umbrella term. Information architecture is certainly something which can complicate the process, seeing as it’s such a crucial, yet often unnoticed facet of user experience design as a whole. In this article, we’ll be breaking down the meaning of UX information architecture, as well as its primary principles. Finally, we’ll delve into some FAQs regarding information architecture in UX as well.
What is UX information architecture?
A major aspect of user experience design is finding out how users respond to content, in the presence of the context of a design. This is known as an information ecology, and understanding it is key to mastering UX design. This is where information architecture in UX becomes relevant, essentially, it is the science by which designers organize, structure, and arrange content and information on a website or application.
In simpler terms, information architects arrange aspects of a design in a manner which can be best understood by the user. Similar to how a conventional architect would arrange rooms in a manner which makes sense to those who will use that space eventually, such as not placing a search bar on the footer of an app, or a toilet inside a kitchen.
We all have experienced websites or apps with poor IA, unable to find what we need, getting lost between pages, and not being able to find a search bar. In fact, studies suggest that 38% of users will abandon a website if the layout isn’t engaging or attractive. With this in mind, the best IA is the kind that goes unnoticed, when the user enters a ‘flow state’ while using a site or app, and doesn’t have to think about what they’re doing, to get where they need to be. So how exactly do we separate the good UX information architectures from the poor ones?
What are the principles of UX information architecture?
Legendary UX designer Dan Brown outlined the 8 principles of information architecture, to help designers old and new get a foothold in the world of information architecture for UX.
The first principle of UX information architecture is that of objects. In essence, it revolves around the fact that every piece of content on a UX architecture should be treated as a living thing. Every object has its own tendencies, behaviours, and life cycles, which must be considered independently, and in relation to one another when working on information architectures in UX.
The principle of choices in UX information architecture is concerned with the decisions a user makes while interacting with something, or from the designers side, the decisions which the user is allowed to make. This principle states that too many options can burden, or paralyze users from progressing meaningfully, therefore, offering a few, meaningful choices is always a better choice.
The third principle to consider when designing an information architecture in UX, is disclosure, which much like the previous principle demands restraint from the designer. This principle states that the user should only be shown enough content to decide whether they’d like to progress further into the design, or not. This ensures that all aspects of the architecture are appreciated, and internalized, with proper breathing space, before the user chooses to move forward.
The next principle of designing a UX information architecture is that of exemplars. The first use-case principle on the list, this states that if the options are not self explanatory, it’s important to present examples to the user, to help them make a more informed decision. The principle also makes clear that visual imagery makes for great exemplars, and do help users internalize the nature of options better than text.
Dan Brown’s fifth principle of UX information architecture is the principle of front doors, which is concerned with how, and why users arrive at the design in question in the first place. The principle says to operate under the assumption that around 50% of the users of your program have found it via means other than the front page, so it’s important to keep them up to speed no matter how they accessed the site. This includes having tooltips and navigation aids to help them find what they need, or simply their way around.
The principle of multiple classifications states that users should always have more than one way to search all available content on a program. Most sites do this by having a search bar, as well as top level menus, but there are far more ways UX designers can be clever with providing navigation options.
The penultimate principle of designing information architecture for UX is that of focused navigation. This principle states that navigation should be a focused, deliberate process on both how the designer creates it, and the user interacts with it. Clearly separate items as per their function, and alleviate overlap in types of content wherever possible.
The final principle of UX information architecture is perhaps the most important of all, and ties together all previous points. This is concerned with the scalability of your design, informing designers that the content one begins with initially will at one point be but a fraction of the total content on the design. For this reason, making programs which are scalable, modular, and easily expandible is one of the most important things to keep in mind when creating an information architecture.
Information architecture is one of the foundational concepts of user experience design. A website or app with poor information architecture will stand out like a sore thumb, with IA being much easier to notice when executed poorly then well. As a UX designer, having an understanding of information architecture is essential, however truly wrapping one’s head around the science can lead to a more holistic understanding of the disciple as a whole. To see UX information architecture in action, check out our PVR case study, wherein we revamped the UI and UX of the app as a whole, with particular emphasis on the IA side of things.
Frequently Asked Questions
UX architecture is essentially information architecture. This is the study that dictates how and where to organize the pieces of the information featured on a design. In essence, they are similar to a traditional architect, but in the field of website, or app design. Laying out items, pieces of content, and tools is the job of the UX architect.
Information architecture is the process by which all content, information, and functionality is arranged across the design of either a website, or app. To have a good information architecture would mean that a user utilizing the app would easily be able to go exactly where they mean to, with minimum hindrance or interference.
User experience design is all about ensuring that the user has a smooth, and valuable experience with whatever application they may be interfacing with. Information architecture can be seen as the layout of the UX design process, where the designer decides what goes where, and why, an extremely valuable part of the UX design process as a whole.
Developing an information architecture requires an in-depth understanding of the UX process as a whole. On top of this, conducting user research is also of utmost importance, since understanding how the user base gives a foundation on which to construct the app or website.
UX design is a versatile and dynamic field, which is extremely demanding from those who partake in it. UX designers are expected to have most of the following skills;
– Effectiveness at gathering primary research
– Knowledge of information architecture
– Proficiency in visual communication
– Comfortable in wireframing and/or prototyping
In a sense, all UX design is “product design”, wherein designers optimize the processes and journeys which the users take when interacting with a product or service. However, not all product design is UX design, seeing as UX normally refers to computer interaction, whereas product design of physical objects more often falls into the general category of ergonomic design.
Information architecture is about balancing two components, content and context. Essentially, Dan Brown has laid out 8 rules for information architecture, to help simplify the process, these are:
– Front Doors
– Multiple Classifications
– Focused Navigation
These essentially highlight tried-and-tested methods by which ideal balance between content and context can be achieved, and are discussed in further detail with the above article.
As mentioned above, good information architecture often goes unnoticed by non-design savvy users. It’s typically poorly designed information architectures which are noticed most consistently. Good information architecture is where the user shouldn’t feel lost, overwhelmed, or confused at any point, especially with regards to the structure of the information, or app/website itself.
Information architecture is one of the major aspects of UX design. While not all-encompassing of the discipline, a massive part of any UX designer’s job is to construct and execute information architectures. This is the process by which the contents of any given app or website are organized intuitively with the user’s interaction with it in mind first and foremost.
The user flow is the journey taken by the user upon first arriving at a website or app, till when they achieve the task they initially intended. User flows are used primarily to assess content requirements across an app or website. An example of a user flow could be the steps taken for a user from when they open an e-commerce website, to checking out, and receiving an order confirmation.
The user interface, or UI defines the look, feel, and general interactivity of the medium by which a user interacts with a product, or the interface for short. UX is a far broader term, the process is associated with pinpointing, and solving issues faced by users in a product. It can be defined as the overall experience a user has with a company, and it’s products or services.
A style guide is essentially a document which outlines the guidelines, rules and canonical logics which a designer creates throughout the design process. This allows designers to adhere to the same principles across a project, no matter how much time has elapsed between decisions. It also helps additional designers to integrate easily, since instead of having to be completely debriefed, they can simply refer to the style guide.
Interaction design is the practice of designing interactions between users and products. On paper, there is plenty of overlap between interaction and UX design however, in practice, there are key differentiators. UX design involves far more than simply designing an interaction, there is plenty of research, user and usability testing, as well as the subject of this blog, information architecture construction
Information architecture adds an incredible amount of value to the user experience design process. Having a great information architecture can make your designs more engaging, user-friendly, and reliable. While it may not generate any tangible value, a good information architecture is a cornerstone of all good apps and websites, ensuring that these are not only successful today, but can easily make the transition to the trends and technologies of tomorrow.