7 Essential Elements of Information Architecture

Posted on Jun 16, 2015 8:30 AM by:

Information ArchitectureInformation Architecture. Companies talk about it. Companies want it. But really, what is "it" and how do you get started developing it?

Information Architecture (IA) establishes how the information within a solution is organized and presented to users. This can be on a customer-facing website, an intranet site, or even a software solution.  IA encompasses information from within the organization whether it is content, relationships, functionality or events.  The purpose is to formulate the information in a manner that is easy to navigate, search, and comprehend.

Incorporating IA into a solution requires you to evaluate several key questions around seven essential components. These components are divided into two groups: Business and Technical. I’m going to talk through these in regards to a SharePoint portal but these principals could be applied in many other scenarios.

Business

    1. Users: A user can best be defined by creating persona. The best definition I found is from the book, A Field Guide To User Research: "A persona is a way to model, summarize and communicate research about people who have been observed or researched in some way. A persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world and enables the designer to focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters, instead of focusing on thousands of individuals. Personas aid designers to create different designs for different kinds of people and to design for a specific somebody, rather than a generic everybody."
      • Are the users: Internal, external, Business Group specific (HR, Finance, IT, Legal, etc.), Executive Assistants, or Social?
    2. Content: The content is defined by the type of information inventoried. A content strategy is the practice of designing the creation, delivery, and governance of useful content. Identify and plan for content that supports key business objectives and goals. 
      • What type of content will exist within the solution?  For a SharePoint site, the content could include: Employee Communication, Meeting Minutes, Forms, Policies, Procedures, Training Information, Calendar, Agendas, Featured News, Company Articles, Organizational Chart, Cafeteria Menu, Community Events, People Directory
    3. Context: The context can be defined by establishing the business goals and requirements. It’s not enough to just manage the content. For example, the ability to access the correct version of a document or record is critical. Content must align with business goals. An information architect's main concern is to build information structures that are easy to comprehend and use. To do this, he or she must align the goals of the business with the goals of the users. 
      • What are the organization's business goals? 
      • Is the organization committed to rolling out a new and engaging portal platform that will improve employees ability to find and manage information relevant to their daily life. This will allow employees/groups to securely create, customize, and support their own content with less dependence on IT and Help Desk staff.

Technical

    1. Taxonomy:
      • ​Can elements within the organization be organized into categories and hierarchical relationships? 
    2. Navigation 
      • How will the user navigate the application and access content?
        • Menus?
        • Hyperlinks?
        • Site Map?
        • Tree structure?
        • Search?
    3. Search
      • What are the user's search options?
      • How are the search results presented to the user?
      • How does the search engine work?
        • Can queries be optimized?
        • Can the results also display content that is a "best bet"?
        • Can the results also display content that "you might like"?
    4. Presentation
      • What are the elements of a consistent user experience (UX) within the solution?
        • Type/Font?
        • Color?
        • Layout?​​​​​

In my last post, I discussed the importance of investing in a SharePoint Strategy and developing your information architecture is a key step in the process.  Stay tuned for my next post where we’ll cover why IA is so important.   In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about improving user adoption through IA, contact us today.

Topics: SharePoint, Information Architecture