Why information architecture matters to you, even if you’re not a user experience designer

woman holding up a photo frame at a valley

To the average person, information architecture is a term that sounds pretty terrifying.

Information implies a feeling of vast open-endedness, while architecture brings to mind complex blueprints and the need for a strong understanding of structural engineering.

Yet looking at the basics of information architecture, it’s all about simplicity – and not nearly as intimidating as it sounds.

Information is the oldest language out there. Even a simple point or to be seen running away from danger are forms of communicating information. Today, technology leads the way in shaping the products we make at a rate we can’t fully measure. But when it really comes down to it, there aren’t too many causes for having confusing information.

  1. Too much information
  2. Not enough information
  3. Not the right information
  4. A combination of these (eek!)

Take a magazine, for example, with its contents page that directs readers to a desired article using a number. You can also have callouts within the article to direct the reader to a website or social media channel to continue their journey if they choose to.

If a magazine was missing all these factors, it wouldn’t necessarily be bad or broken, but it could be confusing to the reader in terms of executing a quick and seamless experience – to find the exact content they want.

Simple indications we take for granted are what make a product’s journey clear and successful. Successful products are designed to be self-explanatory and intuitive.

Content, data or information?

Defining a strong journey for a user/customer doesn’t necessarily just come from good content or data alone, you need to consider the information element too.


Images from How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert

For instance, if we ask two people why there is an empty spot on this store shelf (above), one person might interpret the spot to mean a product is sold-out, while the other could interpret it as being popular.

The jars, jam, jelly, price tags and shelf are the content. The detailed observations each person makes about these things is data. What each person encountering the shelf believes to be true about the empty spot is the information.

To define a full picture of why there is a missing product, if there was a sign informing the customers the product is ‘sold out due to popular demand’, the information regarding the missing product would then be clear and factual.

Although information architecture is a term thrown around a lot with user experience designers and product managers, it’s a concept that all designers, writers and managers – or anyone involved in the making of a product, whether digital or not – should be considering. Taking a modern user experience approach to everyday products will help to define and clear a user’s (or customer’s) journey.

References and images from How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert. Copyright 2014 by Abby Covert — All rights reserved. 

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