Do you Need to Prep for Information Architecture Design?

So, you are all set. You’ve talked with the client (or yourself), and you have a good sense of what you are going to do. Now is the time to start organizing and diagramming your sitemap and IA, right? Not so fast – before you begin, there are a few things to keep in mind.

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The Reality of It

When it comes to website design, many people don’t recognize the amount of work that goes into it before you have a finished product. It’s almost like reality television. Sure you are watching it as it unfolds, but did you consider what may have happened before the show aired?

My favorite example is Iron Chef. Through the power of television, it seems as though the chefs are given an ingredient and then magically make a five-course meal appear. That is not what happens. In reality, they get to plan their ingredient lists (for one of 3 possibilities) up front. Now, sure they are probably talented enough to do it without prep, by why take that risk?

Information architecture design should be approached the same way. You have the opportunity to make a better end product when you prep ahead of time. Why wouldn’t you do that?

Getting Started

Now that you can appreciate the value of good prep let’s talk about how to do it. You’ll need to begin by first addressing three things: context, users, and content. Peter Morville calls them the “information ecology” and it looks like this:

IA Planning Venn Diagram -

Now you might be thinking, this seems like a hell of a lot of work, but it is worth it. All of this prepping will serve you well – not only with your IA but with every aspect under your UX umbrella including your content strategy, and design.

UX Umbrella Screenshot

Understanding the Ecology

Each component of the information ecology can be explored to maximize your prep time. That is why, in addition to this post, we’ll be listing a series of articles devoted to preparing for your IA.


Context helps align the business goals to the design and is an important part of IA. While, aligning product design to the business goals might feel a little bit sleazy, designing without it can be detrimental to everyone. You need to understand what your product stands for so that you can help both the users and the bottom line (which, can ultimately help the user too).


Your Information Architecture needs to support your User Experience – and the key word here is “user.” When you are planning, you’ll need to narrow in on a target audience as well as clearly define who your users are.


Content gathering is perhaps the most “tangible” part of planning your IA. It is useful for discovering inspiration for new IA, or for taking stock of your current content for redesigns.

Jenn Marie

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