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What is Information Architecture?

When talking to clients I will often mention working on their information architecture. Their face kind of scrunches up and I know they're thinking, "She is talking about website construction, not building construction, right?" Information architecture (also called IA) is how the information on your site is categorized and organized. I find the best way to explain IA is by example:

You come to a website and sit staring at the page wondering what link you must click to find the information you seek. You might even click one, find it wasn't accurate, and try another link. This site has very poor information architecture because the information cannot be accessed intuitively.

Conversely, you come to another site, click away and within seconds find what you were looking for. You didn't give much thought to your navigation journey as it was a cinch to follow the trail of links right to the answer. This site has very good information architecture since it was so intuitive you didn't even think about it.

An effective information architect will always strive for the second scenario, but also accept that there is no perfection when it comes to information architecture. A site is a fluid entity which is always changing, which means the information architecture needs to be revisited on a regular basis. At least once a year a site review for IA revisions should be formally completed to make certain your site retains the best possible organization for user navigation.

So how do you know when you get it right? A formal usability study is really the best way to make certain you've created a successful IA for your site. But if a formal study isn't in the cards, do an informal study by asking some regular users if they will surf your site and provide feedback to specific questions. In the end it's the users who will know if the IA is optimum, so it's important to go outside your company to confirm that your IA is a success.