The poor Information Architects. They’re so misunderstood. You see, even though their profession wasn’t far behind the development of the World Wide Web, people still don’t seem to know what IAs do. Or, if they do know about Information Architects, people still don’t seem to understand why IAs are needed.
Today, we’ll try to clear up any confusion about IA professionals so that you’ll understand not only what they do, but also why they’re needed.
What do Information Architects do?
When explaining an Information Architect’s role, the most commonly used analogy is of an IA to a building architect. Before you can jump into building a house, you need logical floor plans that meet your needs. The building architect is responsible for coming up with these comprehensive, logical plans before the foundation is laid. It’s the same thing with an Information Architect.
An Information Architect builds the floor plans for the client’s website. S/he listens to the stakeholders, interprets their needs, and then organizes the web development process. This planning is focused on improving user experience. Information Architects concentrate on increasing the website’s function, so that users can find what they need to, when they need to.
So in short? Information Architects organize websites and software in order to improve function and users’ access to information.
How do they improve function and access to information?
In order for Information Architects to be successful in increasing a site’s function and users’ access to information, IAs need to be involved throughout the whole website development process.
They should be present at initial client meetings in order to understand a client’s current issues and concerns as well as to help define scope. When IAs aren’t involved in this aspect, projects often fail to meet the client’s criteria. This is a result of IAs not knowing their clients’ wishes, only the manager’s understanding of a client’s criteria. In order to produce a functional website for the client and their users, Information Architects need to be present in early meetings to get firsthand accounts of issues and project vision.
After these meetings, Information Architects start their research. They determine who their audience is, and what website functionality will help these users most. This information is combined with client requirements and past website data, all of which aid IAs’ development plans.
After this research phase, Information Architects produce deliverables, all of which will serve as the road map for web developers and graphic designers. We’ve listed a few of these deliverables below, but please note that this list is not complete.
- Wireframe – Much like a house’s floor plans, a wireframe is the website’s blueprint. When the wireframe is complete, you’ll have a good idea of how the website will behave upon completion.
- Site maps – A sitemap lists all of the website’s accessible pages, and illustrates how they link to one another.
- User Flow – Establishes how users will navigate through the site, and what needs to be done when a user takes a specific action.
Although these deliverables are the main focus of an Information Architect’s job, there’s still more to be done. IAs must work with designers and technologists to ensure that their plans are being put into action in a way that combines form and function. If they drop out of the process here, the former may overtake the latter, ultimately making the website less accessible and the end product weaker.
Why Information Architects Are Necessary
Many companies don’t understand why they need an Information Architect. While there are numerous advantages, a few of the most often cited are:
One. People can find information on the website
How often have you gone to a website, been unable to find what you’re looking for, given up in frustration, and left the site? Quite often, right? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if that site has the best products or information; if it isn’t accessible people aren’t going to stick around.
Now if your site is the site that we just described, that’s a lot of lost revenue for your organization. Having an Information Architect who can develop an intuitive navigation allows for a more useable site, more revenue, and happier customers.
Two. The site doesn’t have to be redeveloped anytime soon
While developers and graphics people are great at what they do, most don’t have the experience or the know-how to increase site usability. If you rely on them completely, there’s a chance that the site’s function will remain the same, or worse, decrease. You may just have to re-work the site 6 months down the line, and that’s just more money lost, no?
With an Information Architect, someone who will keep his or her eyes on the functionality of the site, you’re more likely to get the sort of functionality you need the first time around. And that, my friend, makes everyone happy.
Information Architects are a bit of an unsung hero. They take both the clients’ and users’ needs into account, and build a site that improves upon its current function and usability. When users find what they’re looking for quicker, time is saved and company popularity increases. So really, Information Architects are good for business.
Are you an Information Architect? How do you explain the importance of your role? Let us know in the comment section, or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.
Thanks to wonderyort for the use of their respective photographs.