What is IA and Why did it Catch on in 2017?

There is no particular technology that has shaped the digital landscape of 2017 so much as this fairly recently applied process. Tools have been evolving incrementally but nothing has been as impactful or revolutionary since Photoshop first came out. Photoshop was the jumping off point for me, and since then every other tool has been a variant that is faster, or more accurate but always baring a similar resemblance. And I’m certainly grateful for that (it makes the learning curve less steep). Tools like Adobe XD, Zeplin, Sketch, UXPin, Principle, Axure and Invision have been morphing with our new needs in technology and our new processes such as information architecture (IA).

The term IA has been new to me since my recent education from BCIT and yet all this time I’ve been using it on the fly without knowing what to call it. We live in an increasingly more complex expression of web design and if successful design is about making important information palatable then IA is now fundamental to this end. IA is the process of organizing and structuring our information so it makes sense to our audience. And it should happen before any other process of User Experience (UX) design or User Interaction design (UI) because it can avoid problems that might otherwise occur later down the pipeline.

Abbey Covert has made a surprising career out of IA. Previously, Abbey had learned about IA at University studying graphic design. She never knew how much the web needed IA until she encountered it in her job as an icon designer. This is where she found herself having to explain that icons alone could not solve the problem of condensing information. In fact, icons in that context could have confused things even more. Today Abbey is one of our top thought leaders in design and if you didn’t catch her at the recent IA Summit which happened this year in Vancouver, maybe you’ll catch her at the next World IA day.

IA Before Design!

So before you jump into photoshop (or the next trendy UI tool) and you wondering why you’re not getting the results you wanted, let me ask you this: Are you making information architecture part of your design process? Because if you have not paid adequate attention to your use of language and properly structured your information, no matter how beautiful the UI of your website or how cool your icons – it will frustrate your users and possibly even lose their attention.