Information architecture is the process of organising and structuring information to create a coherent and intuitive system that enables users to find and navigate content easily.
Organising by topic
Topics are the most common way of structuring website navigation, especially on websites with large amounts of content, such as e-commerce or content-led websites like blogs or news sites.
When naming your topics, it is important to consider your audience and what terms they associate with your categories. Techniques such as card sorting can be beneficial here.
Organising by format
When a website is about a singular topic, content can be organised by its format.
For example, the Microsoft Office website is about a single topic – the Microsoft Office product. A format-led approach was chosen to easily direct the user to their products, resources, templates and support. Examples below from Microsoft Office, Indeed and the Hubspot blog.
This can also be used in the secondary navigation of a website which is primarily organised by topic. This approach is often used to organise resources.
Organising by user type
Consider organising your content by user type if the website offering largely differs based on who it’s aimed at. Leading with this, you can ensure you show your user relevant options and you set them on the right path to completing their goal on your website.
Websites of banks, schools and universities often use this model as they have multiple types of users who come to the website with different tasks and goals in mind.
Websites offering a service or product, with options differing by user type also often use this way of organising their website.
Organising by hierarchy
Hierarchy is used to complement other types of organising. All websites should be organised with hierarchy in mind, so the categories on the top are most broad, and get more specific with each increment.
For example, on a news website, this could be: News -> World -> Asia -> Japan. ‘News’ here is the broadest topic, and ‘Japan’ is the most specific. On a shopping website, this could be ‘Tiling & Flooring’ -> ‘Tiling tools’ -> ‘Adhesive’. Or ‘Home & Garden’ -> ‘Bedding’ -> ‘Pillows’.
Additional hierarchy in the top-level navigation can be conveyed by the order in which menu items are presented.
On the BBC website, the primary and most important topics are placed first – News, Sport and Weather. This is followed by topics which are not BBC’s primary offerings such as Sounds and Bitesize.
The first item or two can also be used to highlight seasonal offerings. On the John Lewis and Argos websites, this is currently Black Friday (which is further highlighted in colour), and Christmas. This is then followed by their usual topic-based offering.
In summary, effective information architecture is essential for a user-friendly online experience. Whether organising content by topic, format, user type, hierarchy, or sequentially, each approach guides users efficiently.
Topic-based organisation is crucial for content-rich sites, while format-led approaches, like Microsoft Office’s, simplify navigation. Tailoring content by user type benefits diverse websites, from institutions to businesses. Hierarchical organisation forms the foundation, guiding users from broad to specific categories. Sequential organisation prioritises key topics, as seen on the BBC, enhancing user focus.
In essence, a thoughtful blend of these principles ensures users easily find desired information and enjoy a seamless digital journey, highlighting the pivotal role of well-crafted information architecture.