Information architecture is about structuring information systems (such as websites and intranets) in a way that allows people to:
find information they need
find information they didn’t know they needed
make better decisions
complete information tasks faster and more accurately
Information architecture skills are most needed for projects that involve organizing and managing large amounts of content – providing structure, navigation and labeling.
IA skills are are also necessary for interactive applications – providing the structure, workflow, labeling and navigation for a system.
IA in a project
Information architecture activities are design activities, done toward the beginning of a project. Most IA-heavy projects will involve steps like:
Elicit or articulate the business goals and context in which the project occurs
Analyze the findings from the first three steps
Develop a structure and labeling scheme
Develop navigation and page layouts (this step may also require interaction design skills)
The most common deliverables for the information architecture portion of a project are a site map and set of wire frames.
A site map outlines the conceptual structure and detailed structure for the site. A site map may be represented as a diagram (for conceptual structures or small sites), or as a big spreadsheet that shows details for all content chunks.
Wire frames are page layouts without detailed visual treatment. They show what content should be included on a page and it’s basic positioning. Wire frames can be very conceptual, showing only rough content placement; or very detailed, with final page copy.
The IA step of a project will involve other deliverables as is needed to achieve your project goals.
When to get me involved
Information architecture parts of a project do not need to be done by someone who uses a title of ‘information architect’ – and in most cases a specialist information architect is not needed.
You may want to get me involved for:
large sites of any kind
sites with a wide range of content types and a range of topics
content that people will want to access in more than one way
sites that use more than a simple hierarchy
implementing of a content management system
implementing or improving a search facility
I rarely do IA work on small, simple sites, but am happy to provide mentoring you so you can improve your skills as you work.