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Information Architecture

Information Architecture is a field of study dedicated to structuring information for one or more purposes. This term is used most often with web development and technical writing.

The Information Architecture Institute defines the characteristics of Information Architecture as:

1. The structural design of shared information environments.
2. The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
3. An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

The origins of cataloging information in an organized manner dates back to the Library of Alexandia which was created by Callimacchus in the third century BC. Richard Sul Wurman coined the term “information architect” in the year 1976. Information Architecture took on a new meaning when the former creative director of Apple Clement Mok launched Studio Archetype. This firm was described by Mok as “identity and information architects”. This became an entire field of practice which is what led Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville to write “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” in 1998.

User centered design principles form the basis of information architecture. The intended user audience’s capabilities and necessities are important to IA. One of the features of developing content for the web and documenting them is given by The Information Architecture Institute as:

When a web site or help system lacks definition and structure, readers can get lost in the content. Information Architecture is the practice of organizing and interrelating content so the reader remains oriented and gets answers. By defining formal design patterns for information architecture, content providers can apply tested architectures to improve the user’s experience.

There are various project tools that are tested by the institute. The Usability Toolkit is used to develop usability tests and user interviews. The toolkit contains a collection of checklists, forms and some other documents. Many other tools are available like Business Briefings, Prioritization Exercises, Mental Model Visualizations, Persona Charts, Scenarios, Interaction Flow Diagrams, etc… There are also various design icons available.

One of the first questions that must be asked when content for any website is developed is “ What is the goal of the site?” Some other questions that are to be asked are:

• What is the purpose of the organization?
• Who is the intended audience?
• Why should people visit the website?

All the answers must be filtered and the goals must be prioritized. This will give a direction to the document that has to be designed. The next steps that must be flollowed are:

1. Definition of User Experience
2. Creation of Scenarios
3. Analysis of Competition
4. Identification of Site Contents as well as Functional Requirements
5. Group Identical Content

While all this has to do with content, the layout of the site must also be designed. Visualization of the layout must be coupled with designing the layout grid. Mock sketches are made before the template is finalized.

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