Reading Notes of Information Architecture (Part I)

Information Architecture FOR THE WEB AND BEYOND

Siyu's Newsletter
6 min readNov 3, 2019

Part I

“Introducing Information Architecture”

Information architecture (IA) is a design discipline that is focused on making information findable and understandable.

IA allows us to think about problems through two important perspectives: that information products and services are perceived by people as places made of information, and that these information environments can be organized for optimum findability and understandability.

Chapter 1

The Problems That Information Architecture Addresses

Coherent Across Channels

…information architecture asks designers to define semantic structures that can be instantiated in multiple ways depending on the needs of different channels.

consistency as a critical component of what they call a pervasive information architecture

Consistency is the capability of a pervasive information architecture to serve the contexts it is designed for (internal consistency), and to preserve this logic across different media, environments, and uses (external consistency)…Consistency needs to be designed with the context it is addressing clear in mind, and in respect to the several media and environments that the service or process will span.

Systems Thinking

Effective information environments strike a balance between structural coherence (high-level invariance) and suppleness (low-level flexibility), so well-designed information architectures consider both.

Chapter 2

Defining Information Architecture

Definitions of Information Architecture:

1. The structural design of shared information environments

2. The synthesis of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems within digital, physical, and cross-channel ecosystems

3. The art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability, findability, and understanding

4. An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape

Basic concepts of information architecture:

  • Information
  • Structuring, organizing, and labeling
  • Finding and managing
  • Art and science

The concept of an “information ecology” composed of users, content, and context to address the complex dependencies that exist in these information environments.

Chapter 3

Design for Finding

This fishing metaphor illustrates four common information needs.

  1. The perfect catch — Know-item seeking (Sometimes users really are looking for the right answer.)
  2. Lobster trapping (a lobster trap — you hope that whatever ambles in will be useful, and if it is, that’s good enough.)
  3. Indiscriminate driftnetting (you want to catch every fish in the sea, so you cast your driftnets and drag up everything you can.)
  4. I’ve seen you before, Moby Dick… (toss a fish back in the sea with the expectation of finding it again.)

Know-item seeking

When you’re hoping to make the perfect catch, you usually know what you’re looking for, what to call it, and where you’ll find it — this is called known-item seeking.

Exploratory Seeking

…to learn something from the process of searching and browsing. Exploratory seeking is typically open ended; there is no clear expectation of a “right” answer.

Exhaustive Research

…there isn’t necessarily a “right” answer. And in this case, the user must be patient enough to wade through more results than are typical with other information needs.

Refinding & Read Later

Finally, our failing memories and busy schedules continually force us to engage in refinding pieces of useful information…refind it later instead, or use a “read later” service.

Information-Seeking Behaviors

Searching, browsing, and asking are all methods for finding, and these are the basic building blocks of information-seeking behavior.

There are two other major aspects to seeking behaviors: integration and iteration.

Users start with an information need, formulate an information request (a query), and then move iteratively through an information system along potentially complex paths, picking bits of information (“berries”) along the way. In the process, they modify their information requests as they learn more about what they need and what information is available from the system.

Another useful model is the “pearl-growing” approach. Users start with one or a few good documents that are exactly what they need. They want to get “more like this one.”

Corporate websites and intranets often utilize a “two-step” model. Confronted with a site consisting of links to perhaps hundreds of departmental subsites…until they find a good candidate or two, and then perform the second step: looking for information within those subsites.

Learning About Information Needs and Information-Seeking Behaviors

Search analytics and contextual inquiry. Search analytics involves reviewing the most common search queries on your site (usually stored in your search engine’s logfiles) as a way to diagnose problems with search performance, metadata, navigation, and content.

your goal is to do your best to learn about your users’ major information needs and likely information-seeking behaviors. A better understanding of what users actually want from your system will, naturally, help you determine and prioritize which architectural components to build, which makes your job much simpler

Chapter 4

Design for Understanding

…information architecture defines compositions of semantic elements such as navigation labels, section headings, and keywords, and produces the design principles, goals, and guidelines that capture the intended feeling of the place.

Organizing Principles

Navigation and structural elements such as section headers tend to use the same terminology in both cases.

Coherence between different instances of the architecture is achieved by consistent use of language, and by establishing a particular relationship, or order, between the linguistic elements that comprise it.

  • Hierarchies, rhythm


Having abstract, generalized types of information environments is useful for various reasons.

  • First, it serves as shorthand to communicate to users what type of place they are in.
  • Second, it makes it easier for users to understand and navigate the environment.
  • Finally, having a standard structure to work against makes it easier to differentiate an information environment from those of competitors.

Modularity and Extensibility

…a website’s visual design may change considerably over a span of five years, while its underlying information structures remain relatively stable

The ideal is somewhere in the middle, where the environment can accommodate change but is also clear and crisp in its objectives and affordances.

When the right balance is struck, the result is coherence and understandability in products and services across the organization, from websites to the way finding systems of physical environments.

The “lands” also introduced structural narrative to the whole. The semantic structures that define the Disneyland experience go beyond setting the context for the place itself: they also extend to the people who participate in it…the park is organized around distinct “lands,” guests can more easily accept and understand these (sometimes jarring) changes: there is an overall method to the madness.

  • The structure of information environments influences more than how we find stuff: it also changes how we understand it.
  • We experience information environments as places where we go to transact, learn, and connect with other people, among many other activities.
  • When designing information environments, we can learn from the design of physical environments.
  • Some organizing principles that carry over to information environments from physical environments include structure and order, rhythm, typologies, and modularity and extensibility.



Siyu's Newsletter

I go by 思玉Siyu. UX Designer/Consultant at Thoughtworks. Former HCI student at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Blog: