What the Heck is Information Architecture?

May 3, 2017

Tony Zipparro

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It’s been butter smooth sailing so far, you’ve just recently partnered with an agency to help develop your brand and website, had the fluffy discussions about how great the end product is going to be and really been impressed with everything the account and creative teams have thus far presented to you. You wonder to yourself why the company and marketing team had never gone about this before. It all seems so painless and easy!

And then all of a sudden, BAM, you run smack dab into a creative popping the phrase ‘Information Architecture’ on you. It is used so casually though, just thrown into the conversation like: “We definitely understand the design direction you are looking to go from the examples you sent over and really have ideas on how we can better get your message to convert. Now, can you please give us your thoughts on structure so we can nail down the Information Architecture?”.

What? This was not part of the deal. You wonder if you mistakenly signed a builder instead of a digital agency for a second. This sounds super complicated and as such you close up and just think if you keep really vague this phrase too will pass.

What is Informational Architecture?

While the term is loosely used in some cases within the digital space (as compared to the original definition) Information Architecture is basically the mapping of the pages, user flow and goals for your website. It can be executed in part or in whole based on the complexity of the project and can more simply be boiled down to anything post creative discussion and pre digital design. It is the action and strategy in the middle of those two phases that defines what is actually to be designed and developed (at least that is how we at LLT adapt the definition of it).

The most commonly seen visuals delivered to clients within a nice visual package that represent this process are:

  • Sitemap: Detailing of the pages within your website, design layout usage and hierarchy of parent / children pages. (visual)
  • Wireframes: Visual outline utilizing lines and blocks to represent content sections laid out on a webpage (visual)
  • User Flow: Visual representation of the path a user takes in order to complete ‘tasks’ or ‘goals’ as defined by your website (visual)
  • Content Mapping: List of sections or content types with descriptions (where applicable) that are expected to be on a specific page (visual)

Bluntly put, Information Architecture is the planning and confirmation of the pages within your website and how they interact with other pages or portions of the website. For more information on why these elements are so important please read [link to article].

Why so fancy?

So basically it’s site planning, right? Yeah we know. So why do we still use the more ‘confusing’ term. Honestly it is a bit of two worlds. For starters it is an industry term and as such inherited into the vernacular of creatives and developers alike. So hoorah for nostalgia! Secondly, it actually does best explain what is going on during that phase of the project. More specifically in development terms. By planning something as seemingly simple as the flow, pages, layouts, features and functionality we are outlining the architecture of the website for developers. Often times designers and developers are involved in this process to make sure all linkage, logins and other interactions are flawlessly accounted for in design.

Designing a website may seem simple on the surface and planning unnecessary for even the most rudimentary of sites, but honestly it is crucial to the process of accounting for all information, doing it right the first and not having to go back and re-do structure. As some would say in web design….there is more than meets the eye (insert Transformers disclaimer here).

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