Once you organize and label your content, you know which web pages are grouped and should be in the same categories. This process is called data modeling, and it's how you'll create an effective navigation system for any digital product.
Data mapping will lead your content hierarchy creation efforts. Content hierarchy defines the structure of the digital content, determining which pages are most important to the user.
Proper data modeling means considering the most important topics and outlining how the website will function when you add new content later.
For example, an e-commerce website for a clothing brand might categorize products by type, such as shoes, pants, and tops. Meanwhile, they'll have subcategories, such as the different types of shoes available for purchase.
The information architect will then determine what the users expect to see based on user research and determine how they want to display the information. Ultimately, they must choose the most likely scenario of how users will navigate the website.
Usability testing and iteration
Information architects can create a prototype of the navigation, showing the flow of information and how users will move through the digital product. The prototype will show page and content arrangement based on how users will most likely navigate the website.
Before your website goes live, you can test it to ensure the IA is useful and effective. User research testing is usually the best way to determine if real people can easily navigate the website, but you can also use analytics if you don't have the resources for usability testing.
If you use analytics, you can let your website go live and make real-time changes based on visitor data and feedback.
Is information architecture the same as UX?
Information architecture is part of user experience (UX) design, but they're not the same. UX refers to how users interact with a product to create a positive overall experience.
Meanwhile, information architecture refers to how well you organize and label content to help users navigate a website.
That said, being able to easily access and navigate a website to find what you're looking for is an essential part of UX; you can't have an efficient user experience without a good information architecture.
Techniques used in information architecture
Now that you have a basic understanding of information architecture, why it's essential, and how to organize your content, you can learn a few tips and tricks to improve your process.
Information architects use a variety of techniques to label, sort, organize, and visualize information to create an effective content hierarchy that enhances usability. A few techniques to include in your process include the following:
Card sorting is a technique used for user research and information organization.
Understanding how users behave on your website can help categorize information and content to create better navigation. To quickly and effectively sort website information, you can create cards with various pieces of information and ask users to sort them into categories.
Once they've finished, review how users have categorized seemingly unrelated pieces of information to determine the overall informational structure of your site.
While card sorting helps you understand how users interact with websites, tree testing can show how they respond to labels, ultimately telling you if users can find the information they're looking for.
To perform tree testing, you should create a tree with a list of your main content categories and subcategories. Next, let users sort them under labels to determine how they perceive different types of content and how they're related.
Depending on your resources, you can use tree testing alongside or in place of card sorting.