It doesn’t matter how nice your website looks; if users can’t find the information they want, they won’t have a good experience. UX Designers look at how information appears on the site and how that affects the user experience. That is where information architecture comes in.

What Is Information Architecture?

Information architecture (IA) refers to the way information is structured and organized on a website or mobile app. When users come to a website, they want to find what they are looking for quickly and easily without a lot of looking around. Good IA helps them do that. If users have trouble finding information, they will become frustrated and leave, and they aren’t likely to come back, so a well-structured website can make a big difference.

Emotion is an important component of user experience (UX) design, and IA is the intersection between the user’s emotional response and the qualitative data gathered during the research phase. The goal of UX design is to create a user experience that is both enjoyable and successful, so IA focuses on making information easy to find and simple to use.

User Satisfaction

User satisfaction is the underlying principle of IA but it can be a complicated undertaking because all users are not the same. People look for information in different ways and how they do it also depends on what kind of information they want. How they look for information is also affected by the type of website or app they are using. For example, people use different strategies when looking for an item on a retail site compared to a news site.

Mental Models

Users are products of their past experiences and how they see the world. This collection of experience and outlook is called a mental model. When a user comes to a website, they bring a collection of past experiences, some good and some bad, and this colors their present experience. User expectations are influenced by the memories of working with other websites. When planning for information architecture, you need to look at the user’s experience, requirements, knowledge, heuristics, and feelings.


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The way users interact with your website or app is affected by how successful their interactions have been in the past. You can’t control for this, but you can see to it that their current experience is as pleasant as possible.


What does the user need and want from your website? Do they even know what they need? Some users will have a clear plan of what they are looking for and others are “window shopping.”


This area varies widely. Some users are very knowledgeable about what they are looking for and others are not. The site should make it obvious how to find what they need.


Heuristics are strategies people develop for making decisions quickly. They are short-cuts that help speed up the process, or snap judgments if you will. These strategies can work for you or against you when it comes to users interacting with a website.


This is pretty straightforward. How do users feel when they interact with an app or website? These emotions can range from happy, pleased, or delighted, to frustrated, angry, or enraged.


Content is why users visit the site and it should be organized in such a way that users find it relevant and not overwhelming. Cognitive load is a term used to describe the amount of brainpower the user invests in interacting with the app or website. Too much information or too many options leads to cognitive overload, confusion, and frustrations. It also leads to users going elsewhere. So the key is to give users an obvious way to find what they are looking for instead of throwing it all on the page at the same time. This is where navigation comes in.

There are many ways to look for information on a web page. There are search bars with the well-recognized magnifying glass icon, horizontal bars across the top of the page listing different categories, and menus of different types. All of these are ways of limiting information to avoid cognitive overload. Having different options or content strategies lets users choose the method they are most comfortable with. Some common strategies are filters, sorting, search bars, and reviews.


Content does not exist in a vacuum, and context has an influence on user experience. One contextual question is how do people find the web page? Did they use a search engine or click a link from another site? Another contextual question is how do users enter the site? Some will come through the homepage but not all, and the design needs to take that into consideration. What SEO keywords are users likely to use in their search that will lead them to your site?

Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is the way items are grouped in order to form patterns. An easy-to-recognize visual hierarchy helps users find what they are looking for on a website. This is because human brains are wired to look for patterns. Cognitive psychology refers to these as gestalt patterns. People look for various attributes such as similarity, proximity, continuity, symmetry, and closure.

When determining a visual hierarchy, start with the most important information first. On an ecommerce site that would include a photo of the product, color, price, size, and other important information. Actual dimensions or the material content would not be included on the first page but would be accessible somewhere else.

User Research

While the quality of the experience on an emotional level is important in information architecture, so is user research. There are many types of research tools that designers use to get the information they need, including the following:

  • Interviews - This is where UX Designers often start when they want to find out about a user’s experience. Interviews and surveys can be very helpful, but keep in mind that what people SAY they do is not always what they actually DO.
  • Card sorting and tree testing - These tests look at how users categorize information and will often give clues as to users’ mental models.
  • Usability testing - This looks at whether or not the structure works.
  • Contextual inquiries - In this test, the designer watches users interacting with the product in a real-world setting.

Information Research

In addition to studying users’ attitudes and behavior, designers also look at the content on the website or app. Some of the tasks are as follows:

  • Content inventory - This is a description of what content the team has and where it lives.
  • Content grouping - This identifies relationships within the information. This is helpful down the road when the designer is working on information hierarchies.
  • Content audits - Audits look at the usefulness, accuracy, and effectiveness of information.

After designers study the content, they make sitemaps and wireframes to figure out what should be included, how it will look, and what it will do. Then a prototype is constructed to test the design with users. This allows designers to see what users do with the proposed site and then make changes before the design is finished.


Information architecture is a part of user experience design. IA determines the best way to structure the information using observations and user research. If this interests you, it’s easy to learn UX design and start a new career. Check out Noble Desktop’s UX design classes. Choose between in-person sessions in NYC at Noble’s location or sign up for live online UX design courses and attend from anywhere. Use Noble Desktop’s Classes Near Me to find other UX design bootcamps in your area.