Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Importance of Information Architecture in Websites and Web Applications

Information architecture is the "unseen" portion of a website or web application. It's essentially the structuring of information for a dedicated purpose. Often it is in the context of user interactions, navigation or usability.

There's a great book on information architecture called Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. In some circles it is affectionately called "the polar bear book".

To most end-users, information architecture is irrelevant to them. In fact, end-users are more concerned with finding the information they want or completing the tasks they wish to accomplish when they encounter an interface to a website or a web application. Remember, as far end-users are concerned the interface they encounter IS the application. As developers and usability specialists it is up to us to provide this unseen structure, much like the foundation or frame to a house, that will enable our end-users to find information or complete tasks they wish to accomplish.

Administrators behind websites and web applications currently in use that are discovering their end-users are having difficulty finding information or completing tasks may want to look to their information architecture. If links or navigation buttons are labeled in a way that could cause confusion or if content is categorized incorrectly for example, some changes may be in order.

Jakob Nielsen is a well-known usability expert and offers his suggestions for fixing an information architecture. Mind you, information architecture isn't necessarily an exact science. It is largely based on user-centered design, which many in this field will tell you that no two end-users are exactly alike. You must do your best to find common lines and similarities among your audience so you can build a conceptual model from.

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