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Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is the combination of organization, labelling, and navigation schemes on websites to assist people to achieve their information needs.

IA is the foundation of good website and design. It is about planning where information and services will be located on the website in the most convenient and logical way for users.

Effective IA helps users to meet their business needs.


Identifying business goals, target audience...

Identify the business goals of the website

Before designing or redesigning a website, you have to consider the business goals of the website.


Identify the target audience and their needs

A good IA can address both business goals and user needs. User needs include both the activities users will want to undertake on the website and the information they want.

Different groups of users may have different needs or expectations of the website. Audience groups for a website may be farmers, students, researchers, citizens, business people, etc.

Consider listing what each user group may wish to achieve on the website - the information they may be looking for and the tasks they may like to undertake on the website.

A number of techniques can be used to assist in understanding users' needs. These include:

  • user surveys, focus groups
  • analysis of usage statistics
  • analysis of feedback

Determine what services, functionality or information will be provided via the website

Consider what services, functionality or information can be provided on the website to meet identified needs and goals.


Describe how users will interact with the website to meet their needs

For each of the user needs identified, consider an example of how a user may meet these needs on the website and what activities they may undertake on the website. Where the need is to find information, the example may include a list of information the user requires. Where the need is to conduct an activity on the website (for example completing a form), the example may include the steps in the process that the user would undertake.


Deciding on the type of website

There are a number of different website structures which may be appropriate for different target groups and purposes.


Defining the content

Identify the content required to support the services that will be provided on the website

Once the information needs of users and the required functions have been identified, you have to create a list of the content or content types that are needed on the website. Read more in the Content chapter.


Grouping and labelling the content

Determine how content will be grouped on the website

Once the content and services to be provided have been identified, they can be sorted into logical groups. Understanding the users' needs and identifying the content to meet their needs may provide some guidance regarding how to group the content.

It may also be useful to gain input from focus groups to help ensure that their needs are met.

A number of methods can be used to sort content. These include:

  • Card sorting

This involves writing each element of content or content type on a separate index card, sorting them into groups of related content and describing the groups. The results of the grouping can be analysed as another input to the IA of the website.

  • Written outlines 

Try to organize and number your content:

1 Category1
    1.1 SubCat1
    1.2 SubCat2
        1.2.1 SubSubCat1
        1.2.2 SubSubCat2
        1.2.3 SubSubCat3
    2 Category 2
        2.1 SubCat1
        2.2 SubCat2

For example for sorting "Books"


  • Mind mapping

When you mind map, you start with a blank piece of paper and several coloured pens. Draw a small circle in the centre and label it "Home". Each time a new subject comes up, take one of the pens and draw a line out from the circle using a new color for each subject. Give each branch an appropriate name. When a topic relates to one of these main subject branches, draw a smaller branch out of main branch and label it accordingly. The colours help you visualize information that is related, plus any links you need to add from one branch to another.


Determine a logical content hierarchy

Websites structured around a logical hierarchy can make it easier to decide on a navigation system and to design page layouts. Consider the hierarchy that will be most appropriate for the information and services to be provided on the website and that meets the needs of users.

Hierarchies can be narrow and deep, or broad and shallow:

  • Narrow hierarchies

In these there are few main menu choices and many lower levels of the hierarchy. The disadvantage is that the choices may be not be specific enough, so users may need to click through a number of levels to find the information they require. The advantage is that front pages may be simpler and users less confused about the most appropriate menu choice.

  • Broad hierarchies

In these there are a large number of main menu choices but fewer lower levels of the hierarchy. The disadvantage is that, if there are many main menu choices, the page may be cluttered and choices too specific. The advantage is that the information required by users may be only a few 'clicks' away.


Other grouping methods

Not all parts of the website may be hierarchical. Other ways of grouping information include:

  • task-based: ask for a grant, to register
  • audience: individuals, businesses
  • alphabetical: A-Z index
  • chronological:  by date released, date updated …

These methods may be used to group a particular part of the website or as an addition to the main hierarchy.


Create labels to represent information on the website

Once the hierarchy has been developed, all parts of it can be assigned labels, which will eventually be used in navigation and links.

Labels that are accurate and informative are more easily understood by users. Labels based on language used by users and not language used by the Directorates-General (jargon and acronyms).


Map content to the IA

When the grouping and labelling have been developed, the content that will be included in the website can be fitted into the structure of the website.


Reviewing and implementing the IA


Before developing the actual website, it may be useful to review the proposed structure. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the business goals of the website met by the structure?
  • Does the structure meet users' goals?
  • Do users understand the labels and language?
  • Is there a place for every piece of information?
  • Does content fit together logically?
  • Is the structure too wide - menus not specific enough?
  • Is the structure too narrow - menus too specific?
  • Does the structure easily allow for growth and change?

Test the proposed structure with users

At this point it is very useful to test a prototype with a group of users. Do usability testing.


Monitor and evaluate use of the website

Monitoring and evaluation of the use of the website (statistics) can help judge whether they are meeting their outputs and outcomes, whether the structure is meeting the needs of users and how the structure can be improved.

A structure is never really finished. Changes will continue to take place. Keep the structure of the website and sitemap up to date.

Changes give you opportunity to do things even better.


Documents I need

  • Project Description and planning instruments (calendar and detailed work breakdown plan, resources allocation, including costs list (figures), etc.)
  • Site specifications
  • Existing content, if available
  • Site "storyboard" , diagrams (site maps, outlines, tables of contents)
  • Content plan/schedule: detailed description of site contents
    (hierarchical list of all content (texts, picture material) by page; for each element identify who is responsible for supplying the content; deadlines)
  • Prototype(s)
  • Schedule for site design and construction

Who can help


Work Guidelines and References