information architecture, woman in tech

Article provided by Marc Woodhead, Founder of Holograph

Information Architecture (IA) is all around us in the real world as well as the virtual world.

Websites, apps, software, printed materials and physical places all rely on the development of sophisticated IA to help their customers. Peter Morville was one of the pioneers of IA, he believes its purpose is to help users understand where they are, what they’ve found, what’s around, and what to expect. Bad IA can be like leading the user into a maze and then abandoning them, if this is the case with any website or app the customer won’t stay for long.

In the virtual world IA is about organising the online information in a clear and logical way so that any user will be able to find what they are looking for quickly. Websites and apps contain large amounts of complex information spread over a number of pages, in order for all of this to be accessed easily it has to be structured. Everyone’s used an app or website that has no continuity between each page, these platforms provide information and it is vital that designers make it easy to get from one piece of information to the next. All fluid IA follows similar design, there is a list of folders, you choose one and another comes up in alphabetical order and so on. Think of the iPhone music app, you choose between ‘Artist/Albums/Songs/Playlists’, if you select ‘Artists’ you will then see a list of your artists in alphabetical order, this continues until you reach a song. The majority of apps follow this setup, while they may look different the foundation is the same.

The method of IA for each website or app depends on the company that is making it, what product they are selling and the target audience. These parameters provide the basis of the websites IA, a blog may look very different to a retail website. As user satisfaction is central to IA it is important that designers know who their target audience is, often referred to as the target demographic. A young audience may be more technologically sophisticated, meaning that a website which is less intuitive but offers exciting reward may still be broadly acceptable. However, a website selling or delivering information to those with visual impairment is advised to have a simple format, with all useful information clearly linked from the home page.

Government websites are used by the widest range of individuals, the target audience is every person in the country. Therefore, when searching GOV.uk you are met with one of the simplest IAs possible. A white background with columns of blue and black writing, below a search bar are headings in alphabetical order, these headings cover broad subjects so that users can find whatever they are looking for. While not the most aesthetically pleasing or revolutionary in design, GOV.uk does exactly what it needs to, provide us with one location for all the governments information and support.

A website or app IA can be linked directly to the company’s success or failure, proving an attractive and easy to use platform for your product or portal is vital. If a customer wastes time trying to find what they want because of the design of the website, they will quickly be put off – and worse may share that feeling. It is much harder to bring someone back to your platform than attract them in the first place. The importance of IA can be seen every time a major app updates its design, the Snapchat redesign at the start of this year lead to a petition to revert the changes receiving more than 800,000 signatures!

Many of these redesigns disappoint users when they place aesthetics over usability, the principle of IA is not to create a beautiful website that customers love to look at but have no idea how to use. IA centres around making an app or website that is easy to navigate, then on top of that the design can be perfected. As a final example it is widely agree that Apple have one of the best balances of beautiful design working alongside clear IA.

About the author

Marc Woodhead is founder and CEO of cutting-edge software development business Holograph. With 25 years’ experience in graphic design, computer system design, human-computer interaction and psychology, he is recognised as one of the UK’s most inventive creatives.

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