What you should know about Information Architecture
Information architecture (IA) simply means structuring/organizing and presenting content to users in a way that’s relevant to their context and needs.
IA can be broken down into: Content — the type of information and how relevant it is to the user, Context — Where, when, why and how a user engages with the content, and Users — The people the content was specifically created for.
Users + Content + Context = Information Architecture. The arrangement of your content should be intentional and relatable to the user by taking into consideration their pre-existing beliefs and experiences. It should also be relevant by considering their environment and situations in which they engage with your content.
Good IA does not prioritize aesthetics over usability. In fact, the usability of your design plays a huge role in what makes it a good design. A beautiful thing that doesn’t serve it’s purpose is pretty much useless.
User Flows (UF)
User flows are visual diagrams that show how a user experiences a system over time. It shows the paths they follow and steps they take to achieve a goal. User flows and information Architecture work hand in hand because when organizing your content you have to bear in mind the steps the user needs to take. Those “steps” is where user flows comes in.
Types of flows include Task flows, user flows, wire flows and customer journey maps.
User flows are necessary because;
- They help us understand the processes, relationships and connections, complexities and boundaries within a product or system.
- They help us communicate everything in point 1, the structure of the system, interactions and opportunities in the system and why design decisions were made.
- They help us identify pain points, gaps, what can and can’t work.
Interaction design (ID)
This is the creation of a dialogue between a User, a product and Time.
Interaction design and user flows also work hand in hand because flows show the touch-points that a user interacts with on a product. Those “touch-points” is the users interaction with the product.
In summary, Information Architecture, User flows and Interaction design are all intertwined-one cannot exist without the other. The organization of relevant content for users (IA) involves arranging all the different touch points (ID) in a series of paths (UF) that allow users interact with the product easily and achieve their goals successfully.
Methods of Information Architecture
There are 4 different ways to structure or organize content on a product, so that users can interpret all the content easily.
1. Organization Systems: a method of grouping that helps users predict where they can find the specific information they need easily. Types of organizational systems include:
- Hierarchal: presenting content in a way that the level of importance of each element is easily understood. Could be by color, size etc E.g in the image below there are different text sizes and shades. The bold texts indicate the main category of the various podcasts. People would most likely focus on the bold texts to help guide them through their search.
- Sequential: Creating a step by step interactive process in order for users to achieve their goal. E.g all the fields must be filled before anyone can join the app.
- Matrix: leaving it up to the users to organize the content the way they prefer. E.g The filter option on an e-commerce website, gives users the option to select what content they want displayed on their screen.
Others include Alphabetical, Chronological, Topical and Audience schemes.
2. Labeling Systems: using a few words to represent a group of data so users don’t get confused. E.g there’s a diverse range of music that exists in the world today and genres help to simplify things a bit by grouping songs based on similarity in styles. In this context, Pop, Afro, R&B etc are all labels.
3. Navigation Systems: these are the ways and techniques through which users move through content. Types of navigation systems;
- Global: this is found at the top of every page throughout a site and consists of links that allows users access the most important pages of a site. E.g the top part of the website that contains the logo, menu icon and other major aspects of the site.
- Local: this is an extension of the global navigation and takes users closer to the content on they need site. E.g The page that pops up after clicking the menu icon on the global navigation.
- Contextual: this is used to direct users to more specific pages, when the information can’t be categorized under the global or local navigation. E.g The pop up below that notifies users about the app being an alternative to the website.
4. Searching Systems: used to help users find specific data or tailor their search within a product that has a large amount of information that could be overwhelming to the users. E.g Search engines and filters.
Supporting elements of Information Architecture.
Two things that can help designers make organizing their content for users more effective are Content Strategy and UX Writing.
Content is the most important part of any website or app. An online platform with colorful pages and no content is simply an empty space. Content includes: Information, texts, media, any function people are there to get.
Content strategy is the art of bringing the right content to the right person at the right time, and in the right context.
Right person + right content + right time + right context = Content Strategy.
Content strategy + IA
Content strategy plays a huge role when deciding on what IA method to use because the ultimate goal is to ensure you create and curate your content in a way that it attracts the right users, fits their situation, meets their needs, and achieves the business’ goals.
Another noteworthy detail about content strategy is storytelling. Most interfaces are stories. Every page should be thoughtfully designed and curated in a way that a visitor would understand the message quickly and easily.
Useful content strategy tips:
- Before organizing your content, create scenarios and ask questions with regards to the users of environment, needs, mindset, expectations.
- With regard to UI, be clear about your intention behind the UI and how it relates with the UX.
- Make sure that intention is communicated in an authentic way.
- Display your information in the best way by using texts, images and videos effectively.
- Clearly define the action users need to take agreed going thorough your page story.
Some UX Tools that can be used for Content Strategy: Personas, Empathy Mapping, Customer Journey mapping, Competitive Analysis.
UX writing is simply using words and language to help users achieve their goal. Words are as important as every other aspect of your design because just as humans use words to communicate with each other, softwares also use words to communicate with users. UX writing can affect users and the overall business of the product.
General UX writing tips:
- Be Clear, Concise and Human: Use a language that is simple, straight to the point and easily relatable.
- Be helpful: Prevent any anxiety users might have using your product by anticipating their needs and possible questions at every stage. Help them answer those questions and guide them.
- Start with the objective/benefit: when a sentence describes and objective and the action needed to achieve it, always start with the objective.
- Reflect Brand Voice: This will help your users relate more to your brand and feel some form of humanity behind the brand. E.g Ope from Cowrywise
- Use Numeral: when numbers are involved, use numerals instead of spelling it out. Numeral are easier to scan than words.
Some important aspects of UX writing:
Don’t leave any page empty. Empty states are a great opportunity to interact further with your users. Ways to fill up empty states:
- Inform your users about something they can do within the product.
- Inspire an action. This is a good way to motive users to complete a task or try something new.
- Show your brand voice. This is a great opportunity to add some humor and show brand personality to make users connect with your brand more.
This consists of the container, title, body text and buttons/actions.
Confirm dialogs: Intended to prevent users from making a mistake, confirming their decision and seedling permission.
Information dialogs: Usually a friendly heads up to inform users about complications, recommendations, invitations, promotions, and explanations about issues users might be unfamiliar with.
Title: if the dialog requires a decision, then craft the title as a specific question that’s relevant to the situation.
Body text: this should be concise, helpful, and easy to interpret providing only the necessary information the user needs.
Button/Action: Makes sure the question and action use the same words to prevent any confusion. Use literal action verbs. Sometimes using words like “yes”, “no” or “ok” as actions can be confusing. For information dialogs, that don’t require any action, keep the words simple and as human as possible.
- Be helpful: state what happened using clear and human language avoid technical terms. Tell your users how to fix it or what to do next.
- Don’t accuse the user: sometimes the error is the users fault. But you don’t want to rub that in their face by making them seem silly. Craft your message in an empathetic way.
- Read the room: the user might be frustrated at certain touch points an using a funny brand tone might annoy the user instead of easing their tension.