How Information Architecture Works

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Components Used in Information Architecture

Now that you understand the more abstract concepts behind information architecture, let's examine the IA components and techniques that architects use to capture those concepts. The polar bear book, mentioned earlier, presents four components within an information architecture system:

  • Organization systems are the categories in which we place information, such as author names and titles or shoe size, fabric and color.
  • Labeling systems are the ways we represent information, such as the level of terminology considered appropriate for the target audience. For example, should articles use the terms "optometrist" and "ophthalmologist," or is "eye doctor" more appropriate?
  • Navigation systems are the way we move from one piece of information to another when that information is presented to us. On this page, for instance, you could use the Next button to get to the next page, or you could begin exploring something new at any time using the tabs like Adventure and Tech at the top of the page.
  • Searching systems are the way we search for information, such as entering words in a search engine or scanning for terms in a numbered list. For example, in the search box on this page, you could type multiple words to narrow the results and get closer to the topics you want to read about.

Other components related to information architecture come from the technology used to make the model into a live information system. For example, if you're storing information in a database, the architecture must incorporate a querying component to retrieve some specific piece of information. If you're building a Web site, accessing information employs components like browsing, scrolling and clicking.

Because of the magnitude of the job, the information architect needs to be a jack-of-all-trades. When designing a house, a regular architect must know about established architectural standards and government regulations so that builders can understand the blueprint, so the building will pass legal inspections and so the finished house will be a safe and desirable place to live. An information architect needs a similarly diverse understanding of industry standards for creating, storing, accessing and presenting digital information. Such standards might include Unified Modeling language (UML), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript. Common industry practices are also important for the architect to know, such as controlled vocabularies and metadata used to ensure each category label means only one precise thing each time it is used.