Why information architecture is the foundation of UX

4 min read Optimal Workshop

Ever wondered what the relationship is between information architecture (IA) and UX? Simply put, IA is the foundation of UX. We outline why.

What is Information Architecture?

According to Abby Covert, a leader in the field of information architecture, IA is ‘the way we arrange the parts to make sense of the whole.’ This can relate to a website, a retail store or an app. And you could even consider the way a library is sorted to be information architecture. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on digital products (apps or websites).

Well-organized information architecture is fundamentally important to the success of your product. As a designer, knowing the content you are delivering and how, is fundamental to creating a UX that performs. Working with the needs of the organization and meeting the requirements of the users in a meaningful and delightful way. Organizing and structuring the information so that navigating, searching, and understanding your product is seamless is ultimately what UX design is all about. Arranging the parts to make sense of the whole, you could say.

While design is about creating visual pointers for users to find their way, information architecture can be broken down into 3 main areas to consider when building a great user experience:

  • Navigation: How people make their way through information 
  • Labels: How information is named and represented.
  • Search: How people will look for information (keywords, categories)

When put like this it does seem pretty straightforward. Maybe even simple? But these tasks need to be straightforward for your users. Putting thought, time, and research at the front of your design and build can increase your chances of delivering an intuitive product. In fact, at any point in your product’s life cycle, it’s worth testing and reviewing these 3 areas.  

Key things to consider to build an effective IA for UX

Developing a well-thought-out and researched information architecture for your product could be considered a foundation step to creating a great UX product. To help you on your way, here are 6 key things to consider when building effective information architecture for a great user experience. 

  1. Define the goals of your organization: Before starting your IA plan, uncover what is the purpose of your product and how this will align with the goals of your stakeholders.
  2. Figure out your user’s goals: Who do you want to use your product? Create scenarios, discuss with probable users and find out what they’ll use your product for and how they’ll use it.  
  3. Study your competitors: Take note of websites, apps and other digital products that are similar to yours and look at their information architecture from a UX point of view. How does the design work with the IA. Is it simple to navigate? Easy to find what to do next?  Look at how key information is designed and displayed.
  4. Draw a site map: Once the IA is planned and developed and the content is ready, it’s time to figure out how users are going to access all of your information. Spend time planning navigation that is not too complex that will help users to browse your product easily. 
  5. Cross browser testing: Your information architecture behavior may vary from one browser so it’s worth doing some cross-browser compatibility testing. It would be very disappointing to work so hard to get the best UX with your product, only to be let down because of browser variances.
  6. Usability testing: End users are the perfect people to let you know how your product is performing. Set up a testing/staging environment and test on external users. Observing your participants while they move their way through your product uninterrupted and listening to their opinions can shed light on the successes (and failures) in a very insightful way. 

Wrap Up

Information architecture is the foundation of designing a great product that meets (or even exceeds) your users’ needs, wants, and desires. By balancing an organization’s needs with insight into what users actually want, you’re well equipped to design an information architecture  that helps build a product that delivers a positive user experience. Research, test, research, and test again should be the mantra throughout the development, design, and implementation of your product and beyond.