Information Architecture for the WWW
Read this amazing whitepaper some time back. This introduces the concept of information architecture and and how important it is. Very Very Interesting!
IA: An Emerging Discipline In IT
In the good old days (a couple of years back in internet time), having a good website was all about hiring a good web designer, and a good content writer. The web designers ensured that the websites appeals to ones aesthetic senses and the content writers took care of writing suitable content. Things were simple, everything made sense.
But now, more than content, websites are expected to deliver a complete user experience, in terms of features, starting from simple searches, quiz, shopping, auctions, music, movies, live sports, to more advanced applications like messaging, discussion forum, calendaring and task managers.
All this added functionality, not only adds to the complexity of the website design and development process, but also tend to make the website a bit less user friendly. And sometimes the user tends to get lost among all the features, which a website unleashes on the unsuspecting soul.
To deliver a complete user experience, the website not only has to be features rich, but these features also have to be user friendly. This is where the Information Architect (IA) comes in the picture
You might think - what? - Yet another acronym? Ė When IT has already become a brimming acronym soup. The fact is, throwing up yet another acronym makes a difference to no one, neither the seasoned IT professional, nor the layperson.
Then, how is IA different? But, first things first: IA is an acronym for Information Architecture. And five minutes of googling will give you enough definitions and explanations to have you at your wits end, if you are not familiar with the ways of the information superhighway.
To help matters, here is a definition: Information Architecture (IA) is the art and science of structuring information (technically data), and defining user interactions. In the context of Web design, information architecture is the organization of information to aid in information retrieval, and to enhance the user experience. A common example of this is the categorization of similar information into sections of a website, with those sections displayed in pages.
In order to understand, let us dig a bit deeper. Surely, design and content are important ingredients of any website, but no longer the only ingredients: there is navigation, there are forms, there are page headers, and there are banners and buttons, big and small, which, if done right, can enhance the user experience, or if not done right, can mar the user experience.
Information Architecture may well be viewed as an umbrella phrase, given its close resemblance to Information Technology, and all the catch-phrases IT conjures up. However, the term information architecture describes specialized skill sets which relate to diverse job profiles like graphics designers, user interface experts, usability experts, and navigation and interaction designers.
The role of these professionals, in the website design and development process, it to ensure that the graphic user interfaces (GUI), navigation and other elements, are displayed to the user in a way, which not only enhances the look and feel of the website, but also delivers a memorable user experience.
Information Architects create a variety of project deliverables including Site Architecture Maps and Wireframes (also known as Page Schematics), which serve the same purpose as blueprints, which are used in traditional building architecture.
The modern practice of information architecture was first popularized by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, co-authors of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web Information architecture often has an emphasis on usability studies and testing for website compliance to community standards. The body that governs web compliance is the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). The W3C attempts to create standards for general use by web programmers and is headed by Tim Berners-Lee. Tim Berners-Lee is widely credited as one of the inventors of the World Wide Web.
Google.comís minimalist and user-friendly interface is a prime example of a good user experience. Recently, yahoo.com, taking inspiration from Google, redesigned their website(s) to make them less cluttered and more usable. MSN followed suit. So, even in its infancy, IA does seem to be making a difference.
*About the Author* - Abhay Vohra works as a Business Analyst with Net Solutions UK