What does an information architect do?

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What is an Information Architect?

User experience (UX) design is the process of creating a valuable, enjoyable experience for users who interact with a product or service. Information architecture (IA) is a vital part of the UX process. It focuses on the organization of information, enabling users to find what they need and accomplish their goals. Effective IA is a foundation of efficient user experience. It is a blueprint of the design structure.

Architects plan and design highly complex physical structures. Information architects (IAs) do the same kind of work in the digital space. They develop intricate systems to organize, find, display, and use information.

IAs are concerned with four kinds of systems:

Organization systems help distribute the information in the form of distinguishable categories that make the website, app, or software easy to use.

Labeling systems help distinguish information with intuitive labels that depict the meaning or the intent of a button, an option, or a feature.

Navigation systems aim at making it intuitive and easy for users to jump from one page to the other while trying to complete the intended action.

Search systems help promote findability and discoverability; they make it easy for users to locate known as well as unknown features and functionalities.

When information architects do their job effectively, the results for a business are:

  • Superior brand impression
  • Increased visitor traffic
  • Better click-through rates (the ratio of users who click on a specific link to the number of total users who view a page, email, or advertisement)
  • More leads
  • Improved conversions (the process of increasing the percentage of users or website visitors to take a desired action), and thus revenues

What does an Information Architect do?

An information architect concentrating on his computer screen.

Information architects perform a variety of tasks, including:

Design sites for ease of use
This is the most fundamental job of an information architect.

Organize layouts to more effectively provide information
Think of a news website that has the day’s top stories right at the top of the homepage, refreshing as new stories emerge and develop.

Categorize products or items for more efficient discovery
On e-commerce sites, categories make finding the right type of item easier. Think men’s sweaters, size large, dark grey. This kind of categorization is an example of information architecture at work.

Create intuitive links between pages
Imagine you’re browsing an arts and culture website. First, you’re reading about the Eiffel Tower, and several clicks later you’re reading about French painter Claude Monet. Information architecture leads you to related topics as you come across them.

IA shares core concepts with other related disciplines, such as architecture, interior architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, and urban planning. The developmental processes in all of these disciplines include:

Programming – the process of collecting information for the project
Analysis – the organization and categorization of the data
Synthesis – the creation of a coherent model representing the intended project vision
Specification – the final deliverable of formal blueprints

In working through each of the above processes, the objective of the information architect is to keep their focus on structure (something that can be shown with maps and flowcharts), to understand the functionality of the site, and to have a complete inventory of the content. Once this multifaceted goal is met, they can begin to optimize the site’s information architecture using these principles of IA:

The Principle of Objects
Content should be treated as a living, breathing thing. It has lifecycles, behaviors, and attributes.

The Principle of Choices
Less is more. Keep the number of choices to a minimum.

The Principle of Disclosure
Show a preview of information that will help users understand what kind of information is hidden if they dig deeper.

The Principle of Exemplars
Show examples of content when describing the content of categories.

The Principle of Front Doors
Assume that at least 50% of users will use a different entry point than the home page.

The Principle of Multiple Classifications
Offer users several different classification schemes to browse the site’s content.

The Principle of Focused Navigation
Keep navigation simple and never mix different things.

The Principle of Growth
Assume that the content on the website will grow. Make sure the website is scalable.

In addition to their technical responsibilities, information architects take an active part in:

User interviews – the IA will join other team members to ask questions related to product design
Card sorting and tree testing sessions – observing how prospective users categorize information into groups helps the IA understand users’ mental models
Usability testing – IAs also need access to the results of usability tests to determine whether the structure they have created worked for their users
Contextual inquiries – IAs might also visit users in real-world (contextual) environments to see how they interact with a site or app

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What is the workplace of an Information Architect like?

The relatively new status of the information architect job makes it somewhat difficult to provide a definitive answer to this question. Ideally, the information architect should be responsible solely for the site’s architecture, and not for its other aspects. It can be distracting to be responsible for other, more tangible aspects of the site, such as its graphic identity. In this case, the site’s architecture can easily, if unintentionally, get relegated to secondary status because the architect is concentrating, naturally, on the tangible features.

In smaller organizations, however, limited resources mean that all or most aspects of the site’s development – design, editorial, technical, architecture, and production – are likely to be the responsibility of one person. Information architects who find themselves in this position need to make a point of looking at their site from different perspectives – the architect’s, the designer’s, the editor’s, etc. – each detached from the others.

Because so many businesses have or want to have a digital marketing presence, the workplaces of information architects are wide and varied. Here is just a sampling of the sectors where information architecture is pivotal to consumer engagement.

  • Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
  • Banking and Finance
  • Charity, Not-for-Profit, and NGOs
  • Culture, Music, and the Performing Arts
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Environment, Agriculture, and Conservation
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Management Consulting and Business
  • Manufacturing and Production
  • Media
  • Public Sector and Defense
  • Recruitment and Human Resources
  • Retails and Sales

Information Architects are also known as:
Interaction Designer Usability Engineer User Experience Architect