Information is everywhere around us. The world runs by distributing and obtaining it. Companies strive to get it and we as members of the 21st century’s digital society are regularly consuming it. However, it was not until the last couple of decades that the true importance, potential and value of information was recognized.
Using information, we began extracting and analyzing data, which consequently led to the surfacing of patterns, especially when it came to the digital world. This incredibly powerful tool allowed companies to generate targeted advertisements and create personalized products.
But while beneficial and revolutionary at a first glance, this abundance of information set about the introduction of many additional problems all related to user privacy and data security. Because of this, companies now had the task to manage raw and processed user data as well as the generated results, while also ensuring that everything is safely stored and unexploitable.
In this 2-piece set of articles we are going to be focusing on the 2 processes, correlating to the aforementioned circumstances - information architecture and information management. The former, dealing with data structuring and user patterns and the latter - focusing on everything that goes into managing information in a given company or organization.
What is information architecture? Where is it used?
Simply put, information architecture, often abbreviated as IA, refers to the way in which information is generally structured or interlinked in any medium. Most commonly, said medium is usually a web page or a physical/digital record. However, IA can also be observed in every other medium surrounding us, from ads and brochures to user manuals and anything else that utilizes information to function.
As we already mentioned, IA is most commonly utilized in web design and development. It combines basic user expectation patterns with innovative ideas in order to add structure to a given web page while also taking the scope of the entire website or project into consideration as well.
Examples of full-scale IA
Some examples of information architecture include thinking about all of the pages that a given website will have and how they will be linked together. Consequently, this leads to ideating about the overall website navigation and what elements should go into the header, which in the main body and which ones should be situated in the footer. The process of creating a good IA report takes a lot of time and careful planning and consideration. The basics and the foundations must be laid down first, prior to any of the design process be it related to creating an user interface or catering about the user experience.
In general, information architecture takes into account the user and their needs in terms of content and context in which they are searching for said information. This trio of user, context and content is what forms a 3-way venn diagram, in the center of which lies information architecture.
A full IA report is usually in the form of a lengthy and descriptive tree diagram, which meticulously depicts the overall structure of the whole website or web page.
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Information architecture & UX/UI
User experience and user interface design is crucial in the online world. An average user takes about 2 seconds to determine whether the page has the information that they are looking for. Due to this, design, content and its structure and placement on a given page matter a lot more than you might initially think.
In older versions of the Web, content was structured in a bulky way, taking up the entirety of the page, meaning that users had to spend substantially longer to find anything. However, with the inception of text formatting, headings and the ability to stylize text, some user patterns started to appear such as the ‘F’-pattern, which is still widely used today, a prime example being its utilization in search engine results pages. The working principles behind it are that users tend to read the content on a set page in the formation of the symbol F, meaning that it is important to have any navigation on the top or on the left side of the screen in addition to placing your most important text in the beginning paragraphs of your page’s body while also using appropriate headers to allow the reader to navigate the page easier and faster.
Another pattern, known as the ‘Z’ pattern, refers to users scanning the page as the shape of the letter Z with two horizontal lines and a diagonal line in between. This also represents natural eye movements and is used in many websites and social media platforms today. Taking such patterns into consideration and the overall information on the page and its importance/overall value is crucial for implementing IA correctly in the grand scheme of the user interface, which will then result in better user experience.
Ultimately, to achieve good information architecture you need to:
- Keep things simple for navigation and content
- Keep design patterns in mind
- Be weary of your audience, users and their expectations
- Structure content based on priority
- Present you users with the most important information first
- Avoid using distracting or confusing elements (design should enhance the experience and not detract from it)
Information architecture in hosting
‘But you are a hosting provider, what does IA have to do with servers?’ As we mentioned previously, information architecture can be found in many other mediums, which you might not even consider. One such place is in the field of hosting. Information architecture helps cloud hosting providers like us to create a working model of how users are distributed amongst different servers. Virtual machine management is no easy task and having the correct structure and architecture in place is of the utmost importance as it makes overall system monitoring and managing substantially easier. Creating a working system and algorithm that can distribute and manage users correctly and appropriately is exactly what information architecture does when it comes to our field of work. Diagrams are carefully generated to enhance the algorithm using IA principles, the data of which is used to map users and servers accordingly.
Additionally, users also need to manage their service as well, meaning that we need to create an intuitive and informative client portal. Similarly to web-based IA, we have implemented core principles to guarantee that our customers will be able to navigate and operate the portal and that they will also be capable of finding anything and everything needed - features, options and general information.
Ultimately, information architecture is a concept and discipline that is widely implemented in many different mediums. Additionally, its popularity will only continue to grow in the upcoming years due to the fact that it will become even more prominent as new technology is constantly being developed.
That is all for information architecture, but our article series on the topic of information does not end here! Next up on our agenda is information management!