What I learned about Information Architecture

Photo of five people looking at post-its on windows in a conference room

I didn’t know the first thing about Information Architecture when I started working at Logic Department. I knew that it involved talking to people to understand how they use a website, and that part sounded fascinating to me. But I read a lot of books, asked a lot of questions, and I’ve become a true believer in the value of a solid website IA strategy.

As I move on from my post on the Logic Department team, I’d like to leave you with my most important takeaways. Here’s what I think anyone who manages web & digital for their organization should know about IA.

Most people don’t really know what it is.

More often than not, when you say “Information Architecture” to people, they will nod knowingly, but you can see that blank look behind their eyes. Rightfully so–it’s complicated stuff. When I talk about it, I learned to focus not on what it is but what it can accomplish, like:

  • Helping people find what they’re looking for
  • Creating a product that intuitively makes sense to the people who use it
  • Eliminating wasted time spent on trying to figure out where content goes
  • Organizing messy websites
  • Consolidating too many websites into just enough websites

As soon as people hear what IA can accomplish, they often immediately say “WE NEED THAT.”

Cluttered, confusing websites are so common, they are basically the status quo. But people don’t always connect the dots between the issues they’re having and IA as a solution.

People often misdiagnose Information Architecture problems.

When people get frequent questions from their users that should be easy to answer from the website when the internal team complains about how much time it takes them to maintain the website, when lots of content is duplicated or out-of-date… it’s common for people to fast forward to a website redesign as the solution. Spending all that cash and doing all that work isn’t necessarily the answer.

You can’t do IA without talking to users.

Unless you got feedback from your organization’s team, know who your target audience is, and engage with them, your IA strategy is based on guesses and assumptions. User input is the critical piece that will make your IA work and a mandatory part of any IA strategy development process.

IA strategy often gets cut out of the web development process.

Digital agencies and website developers should have at least a basic understanding of IA and how to do it right. But not necessarily. Because of that and in order to cut costs from the website redesign process, this really important step is often trimmed down or skipped altogether. While this may make an initial web redesign project a little cheaper & faster in the short run, it will come back to bite you in the long run. But the good news is an IA strategy can happen at any time, whether you’re doing a redesign or not. And it can help fix a lot of the problems that will inevitably start to creep up over time.