Information Architecture and Design - Information Architecture

The term information architecture has been around for many years and is now a term that many people use with ease; however, I'm sure that if you asked ten people their definition of information architecture, you'd get ten different answers. Not wanting to add an eleventh definition, this is simply an overview of what information architecture is about. For a detailed explanation, read the polar bear book—Information Architecture by Rosenfeld and Morville.

In its simplest terms, information architecture is how a site is structured. It is most commonly represented by a site map. There are two main approaches that can be taken in structuring a site—content oriented or task oriented. Although it's not always that simple, more often than not, sites end up a combination of the two.

Task Orientated

A task-oriented site is focused on making it clear and simple for a user to perform a task on the site, for example, book tickets, search, buy a product, submit an application, etc. The following screenshot shows the homepage of an airline. The main purpose of this site is to allow people to book a ticket; therefore the main part of the screen is made up of a form that lets users find out when flights are leaving for a particular origin and destination.Note that the main navigation is used for the content-oriented part of the site.

Content Orientated

In the early days of the Web, sites were mainly content orientated. Many still are, and the art of structuring content in a meaningful way is still a challenge where many sites go wrong. The most common mistake is to structure content the way the business sees it as apposed to the way the user sees it. Structures should be organized by subject or topic from the user's perspective. For example, a business that manages waste removal may structure its departments according to the type of equipment that is used, ranging from hand held through to industrial sized. From the user's perspective, they are more interested in the type of waste they have to deal with—not the type of equipment involved. In this case, it would make more sense to present the services offered in terms of the type of waste, such as paper, chemical, liquid, etc. rather than organize the site according to the different equipment used. It often happens that the internal departments of a business don't mean anything to the public, they care about the product or service that they are interested in.

The following screenshot is of The Age newspaper website. It is a content-rich site with the major stories noted by headlines and links to more details. Other stories are accessible by the main navigation, which is topic based.