Information architecture isn’t quite as static as the brick and mortar architecture that progresses at a comparative snail’s pace. The online world continues to swerve, shift and change at breakneck speeds, with new information architecture trends constantly emerging to bring order, functionality and improved user experience to the digital spaces we’re spending ever-increasing time in.
Welcome to the future of information architecture
From apps to e-commerce sites to the metaverse, information architects are the ones spinning disparate info into easily navigable digital products and systems that meet user needs. In fact, it’s part and parcel of user interface and user experience design.
The future of IA use cases is as intriguing as the emerging tech, content and information systems being developed in tandem.
4 predictions on new information architecture trends in 2022
We’ve pinpointed a number of trends that are primed to shape how we interact with everything with just about everything.
1. Remote collaboration on IA
Less a new trend here and more a continuation of an ongoing trend. It’s nonetheless worth discussing because while people are starting to return to offices, remote teams are here to stay. Not necessarily a surprise for the already distributed world of tech and web development. But it does have implications for IA.
With SaaS providers like Slickplan, Adobe, Figma, Hotjar and more being invested in increasingly more collaborative software for UI/UX designers for product design, wireframing, usability testing and the like, the same goes for website information architecture.
Tools for content management, creating navigation systems and perfecting IA will continue to get more robust as we move forward. Our own tools, like Sitemap Builder, are a perfect example of that with recent improvements meant to make collaboration (and more) even easier.
No doubt you remember complaining about how all those in-person meetings could’ve easily been emails. Well, that’s the reality now and with better tools and access to a global pool of talent, you can transform from a team working in one time zone to a team that works around the clock – and kiss in-persons goodbye.
With budgets remaining tight and talented information architects located all over the States – and the world – remote collaboration is a means to improve usability, level up your team’s skill set and keep business stakeholders happy in the process.
2. AI optimized IA
Turns out artificial intelligence requires crisp information architecture. Put another way, artificial intelligence is only as good as the information architecture that underpins it.
Structured content and well-organized information are the lifeblood of an effective artificial intelligence or machine learning (ML) deployment. Without order, there’s chaos. Without optimized information architecture, there’s faulty AI/ML.
Before getting further into it, let’s define both.
As per Microsoft:
Artificial intelligence is the capability of a computer system to mimic human cognitive functions such as learning and problem-solving. Through AI, a computer system uses math and logic to simulate the reasoning that people use to learn from new information and make decisions.
That capacity to learn is a crucial ability that’s housed under artificial intelligence:
Machine learning is an application of AI. It’s the process of using mathematical models of data to help a computer learn without direct instruction. This enables a computer system to continue learning and improving on its own, based on experience.
As both become more and more intertwined with our daily lives, this year and beyond, the way your information is organized becomes more and more relevant.
ZDNet puts it this way:
considering the quantity and quality of data is not quite enough to take full advantage of machine learning. The structures built around your data — and the way your data is structured — influences the extent to which you can effectively use machine learning.
AI and ML without order is like trying to think while hungover. Sure, the information is there but it’s disorganized, inaccessible and hazy.
Therefore, any venture into artificial intelligence and machine learning necessarily has not only information architecture ramifications associated with it but also data architecture and enterprise architecture too.
3. Metaverse organization and navigation
As augmented reality (AR) gives way to virtual reality (VR) and VR slowly mutates into the fully immersive metaverse, information architecture will continue to have an outsized role in how all those experiences are had.
If how information is organized directly affects how we interact with 2D environments, it’s no less important when interacting with all-encompassing digital environments.
As we mentioned in 2020 when talking about IA trends and augmented reality:
designing for augmented reality involves spatial thinking and the prioritization of location-based data. Designers must also be prepared to use movement to better understand the user experience.
The metaverse is spatial thinking on steroids.
Information is at the nexus of the space and there may very well be a fundamentally different way in which it needs to be structured because the idea is to interact with it, and all types of content, in a fundamentally different way. How does that in turn affect organization, navigation and search systems?
That dovetails into web3 with decentralization at its core, will it require a shift in IA to accommodate?
As we move further and further into the “new internet”, IA architects will have their work cut out for them in organizing new spaces necessitating a digital transformation for some.
4. Zero UI
The future of interfaces is no interfaces.
Sounds counterintuitive but we’ve been trending towards a more seamless, interface-less integration with tech for years – and that’s only going to increase.
In practice, that means using technology without the barrier of a screen. It also means interacting with devices and the internet in increasingly more natural ways.
You’re already used to saying “Hey Siri (or Alexa or Google, etc.)” and rifling off your question or request. That’s an instance of zero UI we’re already used to. Taking it further though, Amazon is making things even more natural by giving you the option to do away with the wake word altogether and move into a continuous conversation with their Conversation Mode.
Here’s how Amazon describes it:
Natural interaction with another person might be commonplace for us, but it can be hard for AI. Our scientists and engineers had to devise various ways for Alexa to understand when people were speaking to the device and not to each other, and to determine when and how to respond. When Conversation Mode is enabled, Alexa is able to use visual and acoustic cues to know when to respond to requests.
That mention of visual cues is important because as zero UI becomes more prevalent it will extend past the voice commands we already know and include movements, gestures, glances and more. You can already take a selfie on a Samsung by showing your palm to the camera, for example.
For information architecture, that entails adapting search systems to a host of new inputs.
Recap of important 2020 and 2021 architecture trends
Let’s take a look back at the past couple of years and see what came to pass.
Jumping off from the zero UI concept we just discussed, of course voice-command designs played a big role in the IA world. They’re so commonplace nowadays that we get frustrated when they mishear us in even the slightest way, which we pointed out; “users will need ways to cut short any wrong paths, vocal mistakes, or misunderstandings.”
Seems new tech becomes tech we take for granted fast!
Optimized discovery patterns
Better, easier and quicker discovery is always on-trend, including for information architecture. As we noted in 2020 with respect to discoverability, “using big data to statistically analyze user flow and content discovery paths, you can make predictive decisions around how users find and consume information.”
Designs for augmented reality
AR has become more ubiquitous and as such so have the changes to IA in recent years. The use of movement, spatial thinking and location-based data has permeated the IA space.
Long story short; as the digital landscape shifts, the ways in which information is organized and structured need to keep up. Whether the trends we mentioned take hold today, tomorrow, in 5 years or not at all, having your eyes and ears peeled to the possibilities keeps you ahead of the curve. We’re always moving forward and architects are at the forefront of keeping it logical.