A blog series focused on crafting meaningful structure in your Digital Workplace
Let’s start with defining information architecture (IA). What is it? Simply put, IA is the structure of shared information. It’s the practice – the art and science – of organizing and labelling information so it’s understandable and easy to navigate, whether that information is meant for websites, intranets, online communities, or software.
In a digital workplace, information architecture is critical, because your top priority is ensuring users can find the information they need quickly, easily, and intuitively.
Good IA walks users through a system logically, helping them feel confident that they will always find their target information with minimal effort. Poor IA leaves users feeling frustrated and helpless, unable to find the information they are looking for.
“We want to make the world a clearer place to live and work.” - The Information Architecture Institute
Information architecture helps people connect to content
One of the main goals of having well-defined IA is “findability”, structuring information for intuitive navigation, making it easy for users to find what they’re looking for.
This is different from “usability” which is one of several attributes of a usable system and is closely related to IA. IA forms a foundation for user experience design. Other factors of usability include visual design, functionality, and interactivity.
In a digital workplace, the primary focus of IA is the structure itself, and a secondary focus is the user interface that represents that structure on the screen.
Deciding how to structure information is a complex process involving a number of steps. Following these recommended steps will often determine the success or failure of your IA:
1. Assess your business goals, content, and user behaviour/needs
2. Create a formal organizational scheme for your content (top-down)
3. Make the information usable and findable (bottom-up)
4. Provide clear, consistent navigation
The benefits of doing it right
Good IA creates a better user experience. In a digital workplace, your users are your employees. They shouldn’t have to think about where to look for content. It should be obvious, searchable, and clearly signposted.
Done well, IA can:
- Save time by signposting content effectively and making sure your digital workplace is easy to use and navigate.
- Improve productivity by connecting related content and surfacing it to the right users at the right time, allowing them to get on with more important tasks.
- Integrate systems by making information easily available to everyone regardless of their department, area of expertise, or geographic location, breaking down silos to streamline processes and enhance collaboration across your organization.
The downside of getting it wrong
“If you’ve ever tried to use something and thought, ‘where am I supposed to go next?’ or ‘this doesn’t make any sense,’ you are encountering an issue with an information architecture.” - Information Architecture Institute
We’ve all been there – trying every possible navigation path, every search term, and still never finding what you’re looking for. It’s not just frustrating, it’s a waste of valuable time and can have serious repercussions for organizations trying to implement digital workplaces, resulting in low adoption rates and employees reverting to unsanctioned tools or legacy systems.
Your digital workplace can have stellar content and superior functionality, but unless it’s organized into a structure that employees can navigate intuitively, they’ll never find that great content or experience the functionality. Most of us only notice IA when it’s deficient and stops us from doing what we want to do.
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to defining the IA of a digital workplace is to mimic company structure. Most users don’t think in terms of organizational structure when they’re trying to find information, so this is often an ineffective approach to IA.