Week 5: Information Architecture

We had some general feedback from our goal setting homework presented to us.  A classmate had completed the task really well; she had lots of well structured goals that were specific in a positive way.  The task lists were quite short, which gave me some pause for thought as the task lists for my meet up service are quite long, but perhaps that is ok.  I think perhaps I have automatically grouped minor goals in to major ones where as she had a big list of minor goals which could be grouped together later.  She also gave her goals priorities of importance, this was not a task given to us, however it was commented on that it will be helpful later.

Right, so what is information architecture?  It certainly seems like an enormous and important area.  We watched this video which gave us a starting point about the different components of IA. In essence when someone is talking about the information architecture of a site it is to do with the structural design of information environments, such that the information is usable and findable.  It is about making sure that information spaces can be understood by everyone.  Information architecture helps organise web sites, intranets, online communities and software.  It is both an art and a science!

Some examples of real life information architecture can often be found while travelling (look at the London tube map) or while shopping in supermarkets.


Information architecture can be split up in to three more easily digestible components, ontology, taxonomy and  choreography (we will be looking at the third component in more detail next lesson).


This first component of IA can be understood by the explanation of meaning.  Often a big idea needs to be split up in to more digestible chunks, (something big and abstract needs definition to be understood).  By mapping an understanding of these chunks surface relationships will begin to appear.  Below you can see my attempt at mapping out a concept model for The Olympic Games, which was a class task! I started out by just writing down what I associate with the games and then drew lines between relevant ‘things’.  In a group discussion afterwords we shared our approaches.  We concluded that looking at the games as a whole is extremely broad, in the real world you may be mapping something more specific.  We had all written down different things, I realised that I had completely forgotten about the money side of the games, I had focused on the athletes and the audience.  My addition of Draughts drew some attention!  Our Tutor Harjit  said that all of our approaches were correct, it would be likely that you would be focusing on a specific part of the games in the real world, there would also be more of a focus/ problem area which would help define what to put in the concept map.

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The second principle of information architecture takes the elements from a concept model and organises them in to different categories. Often creating hierarchies of information i.e. different categories will often have rules in terms of how they relate to each other.  (On a side note infographics order information in a visual way.)

A card sorting exercise can help with this process, so… we had a go!  In groups of 5 we wrote down 80 different types of fruit on to separate cards and then tried to split them up in to different categories within a time limit.  We came up with: Tropical, citrus, melon, berry, WTF berries, WTF, dried and everyday (some cards sat in more than one category).  When we were done, Harjit analysed the categories we had come up with.  He mentioned that some of the categories we had chosen only related to specific cultural groups.  Someone who lived somewhere tropical for example would consider the fruits in our tropical list to be everyday.  There are almost limitless categories in any taxonomy exercise, the ones you choose define the group who you are making them for.  The exercise makes you think about what meanings matter to your user groups. Getting users to perform the card sort the selves will help hi-light the most common patterns, after all it is about heir perception of where things live, social norms often dictate this rather than what may seem the most logical to a designer.

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We briefly touched on the third information architecture component, choreography.  It is concerned with how data maps on to each other, i.e. the journeys between ‘things’, it tries to work out the most logical path that a user will follow.  It can also be understood as a users flow.  In the diagram below I have made a copy of the model Matt drew out in class for as an example of the type of exercises they performed at onefinestay.  The pink is the ontology, i.e. what stuff, the purple is the taxonomy, stuff in categories and the black is a potential user flow:

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There are 10 IA Heuristics to consider (yes its my new favourite word again!).  These heuristics can act as guidelines and principles for good IA.  The poster below sums this up quite well, however it is really hard to read (even if you click on the image to see a bigger version).  I will also outline below the points raised in class.


Findable:  Able to be located Can users easily find what they are looking for? Does this findability change across channels and devices? Are there multiple ways available to access things? How do external and internal search engines “see” what is provided, does it have the right attributes in the right places, is the information formatted with results in mind. If someone was looking for a lawnmower for example would they look in electrical or in garden?

Accessible: Easily approached or entered:  Needs to still function as planned across all expected channels and devices? How resilient and consistent is it when used via “other” channels (unexpected ones)?  Will people who are colour blind (have clear contrast) or people who have reading difficulties (screen reader) be able to access content.

Clear: Easily perceptible:  The target demographics’ grade and reading level needs to be considered so that the service/ product is understood and therefore useable.  Is the path to task completion obvious and free of distraction, does the user understand what is being asked of them?  Would a user find it easy to describe?

Communicative; talkative, informing: Is it telling the user everything they need to know? Is the status, location and permissions of the user obvious? Is something described the same way throughout? Is messaging effective for the tasks and contexts being supported? Does the navigation and messaging help establish a sense of place that is consistent and orienting across channels, contexts and tasks?

Useful: Capable of producing a desired result: Is it usable? Are users able to complete the tasks that they set out to without massive frustration or abandon? Does it serve new users as well as loyal users in ways that satisfy their needs uniquely? Are there a few navigation options that lead where users may want to go next? Are they clearly labeled?

Credible: Worthy of confidence: Is the design appropriate to the context of use and audience? Is your content updated in a timely manner? Do you use restraint with promotional content? Is it easy to contact a real person? Is it easy to verify your credentials?

Controllable: Able to adjust: Are tasks and information a user would reasonably want to accomplish available? How well are errors anticipated and eliminated? When errors do occur, how easily can a user recover? Are features offered to allow the user to tailor information or functionality to their context?

Valuable:  Of great use service and importance: Is it desirable to the target user? Does it maintain conformity with expectations throughout the interaction across channels? Can a user easily describe the value? How is success being measured? Does it contribute to the bottom line? Does it improve customer satisfaction?

Learnable: Able to be fixed in the mind: Can it be grasped quickly? What is offered to ease the more complicated processes? Is it memorable? Is it easy to recount? Does it behave consistently enough to be predictable?

Delightful: Greatly pleasing: What are your differentiators from other similar experiences or competitors?  What cross channel ties can be explored that delight? How are user expectations not just met but exceeded? What are you providing that is unexpected? What can you take that is now ordinary and make extraordinary?


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