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Intro to Information Architecture: Understanding IA Fundamentals

When designing a website, you should always consider the user. How will they navigate your site to find the information they're looking for?

A user-centered design allows designers, developers, and content strategists to work together to create websites that are easy to use and simple to navigate.

One of the most important aspects of any website is how you organize information-- a process called information architecture.

Information architecture (AI) influences web design by providing designers and developers with an order of information that can enhance or detract from the overall user experience. But what is information architecture?

Venn diagram with three overlapping circles labeled content, context, and users. The circles intersect in the center where the label 'Information Architecture' is located.

Simply put, it's how you organize content in a way that makes it easy to understand.

Information architecture is essential for digital products, including websites and apps, because it can help users easily find the information they're looking for. Your website's user experience directly results from information architecture and how well you've organized various content to improve your navigation system and content structure.

The process of information architecture

Information architects are usually website designers, developers, content strategists, and other digital marketers who spend time creating a well-structured site with content that makes it easy for your audience to find the information they're looking for on your website.

Of course, an information architect could be anyone on your team who understands which information and content is most important to help improve web design and capture your audience.

Luckily, while information architecture takes time, it's fairly easy to build. Follow this process to create information architecture:

Research & analysis

Before an information architect can begin planning a website, they must conduct user research. They can collect various types of information, including geographic, behavioral, and psychographic data, to learn more about their customers.

In any case, information architects must learn about the user's needs. You can use customer profiles, stakeholder or user interviews, and data collected through marketing efforts to create customer personas with proper segmentation.

Then, armed with this information, you can start brainstorming a user flow to determine how someone might interact with a digital product.

Organizing and labeling content

Once you understand your target audience, you can start reviewing your existing site content inventory by looking at headings, subheadings, body content, and media files.

After compiling a working list of your existing content, you can begin labeling it by categories or sections, putting everything into groups depending on how they're related and which information is most important.

Is information architecture the same as site navigation? Navigation is part of the user interface, whereas information architecture is a revised site map showing the relationships among content.

Navigation design

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

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.

Tree testing

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.

A graphic of a basic sitemap. Homepage at the top that maps to three Main sections and their respective Subsection(s).

Site mapping

Site map creation often takes place before prototyping and wireframing because it gives you a high-level overview of the site's navigation.

These information architecture diagrams show you the content and categories organized on the site and will define the navigation menu. The main goal of a site map is to help designers and developers understand how users will navigate the site and which pages and types of content are part of the same categories.


Wireframing is a type of prototyping that allows designers to build out designs for pages of the website while creating user flows.

Wireframes show a website's pages and screens with headlines, labels, and placeholders for content to help visualize the product and how it will look to users. These prototypes can be used during usability testing to determine if the structure is clear or to share information with stakeholders and ensure everyone understands how the final product will look.

Best practices for information architecture

Information architecture takes time, but it's worth it if you want to design a website with great usability and a better user experience.

Ultimately, your information architecture defines how helpful users will find your website, which is crucial for lead generation and conversions regardless of your industry.

Here are a few information architecture best practices to follow to ensure you can design a high-performance website:

Avoid biases

Everyone has an opinion about how a website should look and function. However, a business owner may expect visitors to use their website one way only to find out they use it differently. This is why testing and user data are so important in information architecture.

Even though you may want the site to work one way, you must always consider how your audience will use it, so taking personal bias out of the equation is crucial.

Keep it simple and intuitive

Everyone has seen websites with overly large and complicated menus. However, this isn't necessary.

While you might want to include every page in your navigation, there's no reason to, especially if it creates a poor or confusing user experience. Instead, always include your most important content categories and subcategories for better usability.

Create clear, consistent labeling and organization

Your website should be consistent in how content is labeled and organized. Appropriately categorizing pages helps users find them and improve their experiences. Consistent, clear labeling is crucial to help users understand and navigate websites to find the content they're looking for.

Make it easy for users to find what they're looking for

As we've mentioned, your website users should be able to find the content they're looking for easily. If they can find it quickly, they'll stay on your site for longer, increasing the likelihood of converting visitors into customers.

Luckily, after organizing content, you know which pages are the most important to users and can ensure they're in your navigation menu.

Continuously test and improve

Your website and analytics software are valuable information architecture tools that allow you to track everything from the number of visitors to user behavior. You can use this data tracking to learn about the pages your audience visits most and improve your content hierarchy based on data from real users.

Additionally, you can implement A/B testing to test variations of your information architecture to determine if one version yields better results.

Implement IA into your business initiatives

Information architecture is an essential part of the UX and web design process and plays a crucial role in creating a positive user experience for digital products. By following best practices and using techniques like card sorting and wireframing, designers can create intuitive and easy-to-use websites and apps.

After building your IA foundation, you can create professional websites with Mailchimp based on wireframes and prototypes to improve your user experience and overall website performance. Try Mailchimp today.

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