Information architecture, often mentioned as “IA” is a very important subject.  It ties closely in with content strategy and has many different ways that it can be delivered.

What is it?

Information architecture (IA) is

  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 findability and usability.
  3. An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
  4. The combination of organization, labeling, search and navigation systems within websites and intranets.
  5. Extracting required parameters/data of Engineering Designs in the process of creating a knowledge-base linking different systems and standards.
  6. A subset of Data Architecture where usable data (a.k.a information) is constructed in and designed or arranged in a fashion most useful or empirically holistic to the users of this data.

(SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_architecture)

The goal is to make content easily consumable, very understandable, and for that information to be understandable in a minimal amount of time.

Eye tracking and comprehension

The human brain has been found to be able to process and remember up to 4 different types of information at a time (source).  The majority of humans being only capable at 2 at a time and when they increase that count, they become increasingly agitated.

What the brain will often do to compensate for this lack is to group things together.  This is why, for instance, the telephone number is broken out by context.

Example:

(919)123-4567

The above is 3 groupings of information.  The first part is the area code.  If the person is used to seeing that specific information, the person’s mind will categorize it as something different and will put a ‘I know this, I don’t need to think or remember it’ stamp on it – purposefully ‘tuning out’ that bit of information.

So then the mind is freed to only focus on the 2 other groupings of information.

In a similar way, the eyes are used to picking up and ‘tuning out’ peripheral information.  This is a very important thing to know when constructing good, solid, information architecture.

Example A

Example B

Above, there are 2 types of layouts.

  • Example A is a ‘left to right – top to bottom’ model.
  • Example B is a ‘top-to-bottom – left-to-right’ model

While these are both simple and easy to digest, example b is marginally easier to mentally digest because we are grouping two types of data into a single ‘group’ visually, where as in Example A, we are having to look at each one individually and to purposefully remember the relationships between the two.

Why?

Example A relies on peripheral information.  When you look at “Scheduled Start Date”, you tune out “Scheduled End Date”.  This causes mental separation.

Example B puts all of the information together in the same visual space, taking advantage of a human brain’s built desire to group information.


Summary

It is important to design and build around the strengths and limitations of the human mind.  Grouping information together which is related. Do not force the user to move their eyes if possible.

This way of laying out information will decrease “Time to comprehension”, which in-turn, increases read-to-work efficiencies.