8 Principles of Information Architecture

8Dan Brown explains his 8 principles of information architecture, with occasional clandestine references to his 2009 IA Summit talks on Design Rules and Modelling Concepts.

Update: Brown has written this presentation up in the latest ASIS&T bulletin.

This presentation was given by Don Brown at the IA Summit 2010, in Phoenix, AZ. You can view the presentation on Slideshare and Listen to the Boxes and Arrows Podcast.




What is IA?

  • We design structures: a set of relationships between concepts.
    • Goal: to make those relationships explicit, meaningful, useful.
    • Decide which are most important concepts (prioritize).
    • Decide which relationships users are most interested in (prioritize)
    • Describe how those relationships grow and flex to accomodate variation.
  • Unified Theory of IA: to drive process - what makes a good principle?
    • Agreement (on underlying concept)
    • Interpretation (leave room for this)
    • Internalization (make sense, can take in)


The 8 Principles


1 Treat content as objects

  • Think about content model as a tangible object you can hold.
  • Content can be classified in a number of ways:
    • function
    • purpose
    • structure
  • Relationships to other types of content (internal and external properties/connections)
  • Content exhibits behaviors related to:
    • aging
    • prominence
    • popularity
  • Subject to rules.

2 Paradox of choice

  • We can't decide if there are too many choices.
  • Less is more.
  • Expose digestible groups.

3 Progressive disclosure

  • Gradual revealing of information as requested by the user.
  • Means of accessing additional information.
  • Consider the different ways that a single piece/type of content will be exposed (different disguises/representations it will wear)
  • Structure must be flexible enough to allow you to use those different representations where you need them.

4 Exemplars

  • Visual or list-like examples.
  • Category names don't necessarily speak for themselves.
  • Structures need to include a rule for how to choose these examples to represent a category.
  • iTunes = exemplars going horribly wrong!
  • Netflix = MUCH better at successfully segmenting categories.

5 Multiple front doors

  • Lots of access/entry points
  • Because users often START experience deep within your site, have powerful search engines rendered homepages useless? :)
  • Ergo: inside pages must be navigationally-useful without obscuring the content; regardless where you land.
    • What parts of structure do I need to expose?
    • Is there a meaningful bridge between current content and other parts of site?

6 Growth

  • Structures must accomodate new content and new concepts.
  • Danger of time-dependent snapshot of site architecture.
  • Can you easily add new boxes/types of content?

7 Multiple classification schemes

  • Buckets
  • Content doesn't live in a single taxonomy
  • Always think with multiple lenses

8 Navigation by function

  • Don't use header, left, footer, etc. to describe navigation
  • When designing navigation, label it meaningfully!
  • Think about navigation as a Tool that serves various PURPOSES, such as:
    • exploring related topics
    • digging deeper into current topic
    • escaping current topic
    • filtering collection