Describe what role an Information Architect plays in the development of a web site.
Many users consider a website to be a product of the combined efforts of the client it’s designed for, the web programmers responsible for the coding and the graphic designers responsible for the design phase but often overlook one of the most crucial elements in the process; the information architect.
BusinessDictionary.com defines an information architecture as a “Set of rules that determine what, and how and where, information will be collected, stored, processed, transmitted, presented, and used. On the internet, information architecture means how a website’s content is organized and presented to its users to facilitate navigation and search functions” (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/information-architecture.html)
In the same way an architect is responsible for organisation and planning of a building (most often a building), an information architect is the person responsible for the organisation and planning of the information on a website.
Their primary task it to ensure that the information displayed on designated web site is structured in such a way that the user is able to easily navigate and meet their needs.
It’s their job to decide certain key aspects of the site including (but not limited to):
- The functionality the site will possess
- The mission and purpose of the website
- The labelling and indexing/site searching aspects of the site
- Navigation (both the primary and secondary and information organization aspects
- The top end and bottom end designs
These aspects may seem relatively trivial or irrelevant to a front end user at first glance, but once understood the meaning and depth behind each task that the IA performs, it is clear how crucial the role they play truly is. They possess a unique skill set (follow this link for an interview regarding an IA’s skill set http://www.uie.com/articles/ia_essential/) that is indispensable to the companies that they work within.
The role of information architect is primarily invisible to the standard web site user and they are often overlooked as a result of this.
The fact they are often overlooked due to the behind-the-scenes nature of their job, however, in no way diminishes the impact of the job that they perform as if their role was non-existent very few websites would be as effective or as popular as they currently are.
If an IA has performed his job exceptionally well then the user will not even be aware of their existence because they are preoccupied with the information being accessed, not how it got there or the structure of it.
However, this also goes the opposite way as it can be easily apparent when an IA has done a poor job based on the user’s interactions with the website. The potential outcomes of a website with poor information architecture design shows how crucial the role of an information architect truly is. If a user can navigate to a website and in the smallest amount of time obtain the information they seek with minimal effort, this reduces the time wasted for the user and they are satisfied with the website and more likely to visit again.
For example, if a site has too much information or the information is not well presented, the site is likely to become cluttered, confusing and generally an inconvenience to use which will limit its impact, use and profitability.
The information architect must be aware of certain things at all times both during the development process and after, such as the volume of data/content and whether or not that will increase or decrease, understanding the purpose of the sites, the target audience demographic and the needs of the consumers accessing it, the appropriate terminology for those users, the business’ resources available and the goals and objectives that they have in place for the website.
Due to the nature of their job they are often interacting with various members and elements of website development including but not limited to: clients, site programmers, database staff, graphic designers, department managers, project managers and of course the users they are structuring the content around.