Understanding information architecture

Information Architecture (IA) plays a critical role in most major ICT projects.

While people tend to have different interpretations of what IA is or even means to their organisation, a few general principles govern it.

IA describes how information is stored, accessed and presented within a digital system, such as an intranet site or a website.


What is information architecture?

From a technical standpoint, IA is about how your organisation stores and displays its digital documents, information and other content.

In theory, the more logical and well thought out your IA is, the easier your users will find it to access, work on and share the content they need.

The larger an organisation is, the worse the problem can be. When there are just one or two users, they way data is stored doesn’t need communicating to anyone else because they already understand the IA logic used. But, when there are ten different views to how data is stored and no one communicates these different ways, the data can get lost or become inaccessible. Multiply this up to 1000 employees and it becomes totally unworkable without clear structure or organisation around how data is stored and controlled.

Content includes text, images, video, documents, spreadsheets or databases, forms, PowerPoint presentations and much more besides.

This content can be added into your organisation’s Microsoft 365 environment, where users can access it via applications like SharePoint, Teams, Word, Excel or Outlook.

However, the way your content is organised, stored, and laid out will significantly impact how user-friendly your system is. If you’re looking to achieve digital transformation by harnessing the power of cloud computing to improve communication, collaboration, efficiency and productivity across your organisation, then building the correct IA into your Microsoft 365 environment before you implement it is vital.

While the technology you use is essential, as this will facilitate how your IA works, focusing on what you want your IA to achieve and how it can be best designed to achieve your objectives is the key.

Some of the questions you should be asking yourself here include:


  • What type of content (documents, images, video, data lists) are you looking to store?
  • How do you intend users to find data they need?
  • What information about your content (such as author, owner or publication date) do you need to store?
  • Who needs access to the content?
  • How secure does it need to be?
  • Do you have any regulatory or compliance considerations, such as data protection or GDPR?


Once you have mapped all this out, you’ll have a better idea of what your IA design will need to look like to serve your organisation’s needs best.

When it comes to organising and managing content and designing good IA in Microsoft 365, SharePoint is an invaluable tool.

However, creating and sustaining a SharePoint environment that engages people and saves time requires proper IA.

A well-designed IA will provide the foundations for a system that optimises the way that content is presented to users, based on their previous behaviour and that of their colleagues, helping to unlock the benefits mentioned above.


Tips for creating good information architecture

When it comes to creating effective IA to streamline your organsation’s operations and help your users get the most out of your IT, there are several things to bear in mind, including:


✅ Your IA must be logical

Good IA design is all about enabling your users to store or find information quickly and easily. So, building a structure that’s logical and easy to understand by your users is essential. While you may need to provide training once your new IA is implemented, the endgame here is for all your users to be able to find what they are looking for without having to ask. To use an analogy, think about your favourite high street store. If it’s a big brand with multiple outlets, the chances are that all their units have a similar layout, so their regular customers know exactly where to find what they are looking for, without having to ask for help or assistance.


Your IA must be scalable and extensible

While it can be tricky at the start of an ICT project to determine every possible type of content your SharePoint will need to hold, your IA should be both scalable and extensible.

Creating IA that’s extensible will ensure that it can be added to as your requirements change. It also needs to be scalable, to help ensure that as your organisation grows and its content needs change, your system will still be able to cope.


Don’t over-complicate it

While using appropriate SharePoint sites, libraries, metadata, and content types forms an essential part of good IA design, and there’s an important balance to strike. Asking your users to input too much metadata can frustrate them and hamper your adoption efforts.


Limit user options

Linked to the above, the simpler you can keep things, the better. Making your users fill out 20  metadata fields or select from 20 different content types can lead to frustration and user error.

To reduce the risk, limit user options to between four and seven. This will make your system easier to manage for your users.


Optimise for search

Search is a crucial element of a successful IA solution, especially your number of users and the volume of data held increase. You can optimise your system by building in things like default metadata values for documents to support search functionality.


Limit folder use

Folders can create usability and searchability issues by ‘hiding’ content within a nested structure. Using metadata, libraries, views and web parts instead wherever possible can help alleviate these issues.


Ensure consistency

Your organisation’s site/information asset owners need to understand the defined IA so they can structure their data in accordance with your organisation’s IA. Similarly, your users to understand the plan rather than just guess it from what they see. In short, all users need to see the same, consistent structure everywhere.


To get the most out of SharePoint, its functions must be leveraged properly, with an overall strategy in mind. SharePoint allows a significant amount of data, information and content to be stored, shared and accessed, so it’s vital that it’s structured in the right way.

Planning what sites you will have and a common structure or template for sites that support how you work will help determine optimum accessibility and administration of your information and data, so your users can access it quickly and efficiently.

AMDH offers a wide range of implementation and support options to help your organisation optimise its IA to get the most out of SharePoint and your Microsoft 365 environment.

To find out how we can help, get in touch today.


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