How do we go about making sure the interfaces we design meets the requirements of a good user experience? Let’s kick off by reviewing a few of those requirements:
- An interface is the communicator between two different mediums of information; these mediums can be seen as senders and receivers, and may change from one to the other. Without the necessary interface, the information could not otherwise be transferred between the two mediums.
- Interface design is based primarily on function and purpose.
- Interface design should consider the economics of decision-making (people will take the shortest route to achieve a goal unless there is some kind of profit in taking a longer route).
Creativity is secondary to functionality.
So how do we meet these goals?
This is a term that hasn’t necessarily been around for a long time. However, the practice of information architecture has been around for thousands of years. Information architecture, at its core, is the structuring of information. Surprised? Neither are we. But what a lot of people don’t know is that information architecture is the derivative of every decision made in the process of interface creation/design.
Information architecture is the very beginning and core of any project. It helps define the who, what, where, how, and why of any endeavor. Some tangible pieces of information architecture include the wireframe/map of a website, library categorization/organization systems, and tables of contents. Why is this important to interface designers?
For the interface to be effective, it needs to have a strong sense of centrality. This again is alluding to the functionality of the design. For centrality to be possible, there must be a system set up for structured creation so that content (meaning the actual design or execution of the interface) remains pointed towards the final goal. The backbone of a purposed design is the information architecture.
Things to note
- “Architecture” in terms of information architecture is dynamically expandable
- Information architecture is not limited to categorization. It can also include anything that steers the direction of the information (such as a mission statement, branding strategy, or goal set)
- Information architecture is the setup of a system, not the content of the system itself.
With these things in mind, information architecture can be viewed as a conceptual or physical framework in which to build your interface. Information architecture, when practiced correctly, will allow for more functionality and expandability.
Get a little more practical, please.
Okay, so this all is a little conceptual so far. How about the practice of information architecture? How can you as an interface designer use these concepts to better your profession? Let’s look at the metaphor of the building of a house to understand a bit more about information architecture.
First and foremost, define the goals and the purpose of the design. This is a very important starting point for your architecture. Consider it your concrete foundation.
Next, consider all possibilities of the user experience. (This is particular to interface design, as not all architectures will require the consideration of “users.”) Put yourself in the position of the user, and ask yourself what all you need to achieve upon interaction with the interface. This will help define the rules of the interface, which is the structure of the house itself. The two-by-fours, if you will. As the rules are placed, you will begin to see how these different rules interact with each other, narrowing the decision-making process for you as the designer.
Finally, once you have placed the rules, you will now have a framework by which to create your design. Consider this the sheetrock. The design itself will adhere to the rules and will never leave the goals and purpose (foundation).
Once the design has been created functionally, you now have the option of decorating it. You would never put a table blocking a hallway, would you? No, of course not. You still want the hallway to function as a hallway, and the kitchen to look like a kitchen. In the same way, you shouldn’t allow your artistic addition to a design stand in the way of its functionality. (For more on this, check out this post).
This post is not an attempt to give a full definition of information architecture, nor to go into detail of every facet of its applications. It is instead meant to shed light on the importance of information architecture systems when approaching the design of any user interface. What have you found through your use of information architecture systems? What are some creative applications for information architecture that have proven to substantially increase your productivity?