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Website IA is often thought of as the high-level site structure, yet this is only one component of it. IA also exists within every single page and is most commonly affected, and broken, by:

  • content authors, especially when they write for print and not web
  • designers, especially when they get creative with design features
  • webmasters and developers, especially when they don't consider how their pages and products fit into the entire IA of the site
  • management, especially when they "just want it their way"
  • areas within the organization that want to raise the profile of their content and elevate it to a high IA level to maximize its exposure

From the list above, you can see that creating and maintaining a robust and sustainable IA is no easy task. That is why you must have a solid understanding of IA. Remember, without a proper IA, the user is the one who suffers, as findability and task completion are greatly compromised.

In order to ensure the site is usable and the content is findable, everyone must consider and do their best to implement and support the IA principles.

Rules can be broken sometimes, but don’t let that happen until you've considered the risks and the reward.

As originally defined by Dan Brown, there are 8 principles of information architecture. Dan later redefined them as perspectives or angles from which to consider your information systems; it’s a great analogy to keep in mind when implementing an IA.

IA principles

These principles ensure that content is organized, structured and labelled in an effective and sustainable way and they apply to all pages within the site, regardless of the page type.

  • Explanatory (What is it)
  • Instructive (How to do it under common circumstances)
  • Supportive (How to do it under uncommon circumstances)
  • Transactional (Do it now)
  • Assistive (How to get help)
  • Reference (Exhaustive information)
  • Foundational (Acts, policies)
  • Promotional (Audience-specific and time sensitive, and has a specific outcome)

Additional principles (design principles, interaction design principles, learning principles, color theory principles, etc.) can be layered on top of these core IA principles but shouldn't conflict with them, misuse them or ignore them.

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