Here’s the scenario: You have some information and you want to communicate it to audiences in the best and most efficient way. How do you do that? Well, that is where the science of Information Architecture comes into play. Good use of Information Architecture is crucial to competent web design.
As the name implies, Information Architecture is a design-oriented approach to information delivery, just as traditional architecture is a design-oriented approach to creating buildings.
The most important consideration in Information Architecture is the needs of the user, and these take priority over other factors such as the needs of the server. This means taking a top-down approach, starting at the highest level (the user interface or “front end”) and working down to the lowest level (the information server or “back end”).
Designing the user interface (UI) is usually the first step in Information Architecture, and it is also the most important. When designing the UI, you will be giving thought to a number of different factors, the sum of which will add up to the total user experience (UX). The factors of interface design include:
The relative importance of each factor may vary depending on the nature of the information, the nature of the intended audience, and the types of devices that may be expected to be used to access the information.
All the benefit of having a great looking and functional UI will be completely undone if the navigation structure is poorly designed. Good navigation structure is planned, and appropriate technologies are used to implement the chosen navigation structure. The structure should never be more complicated than is necessary for the efficient delivery of the information, and it should also be adequate to meet the needs of the user.
Getting this part right involves being able to think like a librarian. You need to make sure that information is properly categorized and organized in a systematic way so that it will be easy for users to navigate between different items of content (both within a single page and between pages).
Ultimately the goal should be to create a system so intuitive that the user barely has to think about how to accomplish any task.
Not every site requires a database, but the larger the amount of information you provide, and the less static it is, the more likely it is that your site will include a database at some level. Planning how the data will be accessed and served is an important part of Information Architecture and one of the most complicated to get right.
It involves understanding the nature of the data that will be provided, understanding how to display that data in an appropriate way, and also understanding how database systems work in order to ensure that the data is accessed and provided in the most efficient way possible.
It is widely believed that the presentation of information is often more important than the information being presented. If that doesn’t seem quite logical, then consider this: when information is not set out in an attractive, accessible, and “easy to navigate and understand” way, users will not effectively engage with it unless they have no other choice.
You have to make sure your information is presented in a way that helps the user to engage with it. Failing to do this will ensure your website will eventually fail, as it will be superseded by sites with better Information Architecture than yours.
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