Information Architecture Design

Originally published December 2004

Information Architecture (IA)

Information architecture is the foundation open which websites are built. You can think of it as the blue prints for a website. It defines a website’s structure, hierarchy, and navigation. Individuals who specialize in this science are referred to as information architects. Many of the original Web information architects had backgrounds in library sciences.

Wikipedia defines Information Architecture as “the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems.”

The information Architecture Institute (IAI) defines it as

  1. The structural design of shared information environments.
  2. The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranet’s, online communities and software to support findability and usability.
  3. An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

Information Architecture Design – How to Start?

Before you can dive in with the actual information architecture design you need to complete a through requirements analysis. This analysis should include detailed documentation on the site’s requirements, user groups, objectives, and goals. If the project involves redesigning an existing website, then considerable time is usually required to analyze the current IA. Only after you have a handle on how the site is structured, can you begin to developed an improved information architecture design. I usually then proceed to create a content inventory and prioritize the existing or new content. The client and project team should evaluate and determine which content should be kept. You should probably then work on categorizing the content either through card sorting or some similar method. Labels for each content section should be considered and documented. After the generally structure has been agreed upon you can move on to create a detailed site map. After that it’s time to design page level wireframes for the home page and other unique page layouts. More on information architecture design process

Information Architecture Design Deliverables

There is a wide variety of deliverables that are used and produced as part of information architecture design. Probably the two most widely used, and important, are the Web sitemap and website wireframes. Together these documents can provide a detailed roadmap for the design and development of a website. Other documents include content inventories, user profiles, use cases, paper prototypes, and Web style guides. In my work as a web designer and IA I have come across many inconsistencies in the way Information Architects and other Web professionals refer to Web information architecture deliverables and diagrams. In speaking with various Web design groups I have heard multiple terms for the same deliverables. Web information architecture is a relatively new field which has yet to develop a consistent and universal set of deliverables, and terminology to refer to those deliverables. More on information architecture deliverables

Information Architecture Design Tools

Information architecture tools and software have naturally grown in recent years with the emerging field. It seems that at one point the only tools professionals had for information architecture design were standard publishing software like Word, PowerPoint, and Visio. For me, Visio is actually still my favorite. I have yet to find the perfect software to automate the process of designing site maps and wireframes. Some recent product releases are close, but I’m still waiting.

Some IA software options include

  • Visio
  • Intuitect – an add on for Visio.
  • Axure
  • PowerMapper
  • SmartDraw
  • ProtoShare

Information architecture design is typically an iterative process.

Follow Discussion

3 Responses to “Information Architecture Design”

  1. Andrea

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for your informative post on IA design. Also, thanks for including ProtoShare in your list of available tools.

    Question though: You say, “I have yet to find the perfect software to automate the process of designing site maps and wireframes. Some recent product release are close, but I’m still waiting.”
    What are you looking for in the “perfect” tool?

    I’m curious as to what your typical workflow is and what your needs are. This is the type of feedback that helps guide developers in your industry.

    Feel free to contact me directly, I would love to chat.

    Andrea @ProtoShare

  2. Glen

    Andrea – thanks for the response. It’s actually been over 5 years since I wrote this article. I was seeding this new site with some old – but still relevant content. Safe to say a lot of products have improved since then. It’s on my list to find some time to revisit the IA software on the market. I know Smashing Mag did a good synopsis on tools for wire-framing a while back. Thanks.

  3. Regine

    You could also include OmniGraffle as one of the tools.

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