The difference between Information Architecture (IA) and Navigation

Information Architecture (IA) and navigation designs are concepts that are collaborated by the practitioners. It is a fact that website information architecture does inform the website navigation design and so they are related but they are not the same. However, information architecture lives more than navigation design. It is said by Nathaniel Davis in an article that web navigation is like the tip of an iceberg that sits over the information architecture of the site.

What is Website Information Architecture?

Website information architecture comprises of two major components:

  • Identifying and defining the site content and functionality.
  • Defining the relationships between a site’s content/functionality as the underlying organization, structure, and nomenclature.

It is wrong to say that information architecture is a part of an on-screen user interface (UI); rather it is the information architecture (IA) which informs the user interface (UI). The IA gets inscribed in spreadsheets and diagrams; and not wireframes (comprehensive layouts which are known as comps or prototypes).

The IA has an impact on User Experience (UX). The user experience is everything the user encounters on the website. The users cannot see the structure of the website but get the feeling that the content is divided and connected in ways that match your expectations. But frequently, they experience difficulty in browsing the website due to the poor organization, nomenclature or structure of the site content.

Therefore the contexts that define an information architecture are as follows:

  • Content invention: examining a website to locate and identify the existing site content.
  • Content audit: evaluating content usefulness, accuracy, tone of voice and overall effects.
  • Information group: defining user-centered relationships between content.
  • Taxonomy development: defining standardized vocabulary that applies to all site content.
  • Descriptive information creation: defining useful metadata to generate “related links” list and other components to help discovery.

What is website navigation?

Website navigation is all about collecting user interface components. Primarily, navigation help users to find information and functionality for their desirable actions. Navigation comprises of global navigation, local navigation, utility navigation, breadcrumbs, facets, footers and so on.

For each navigation component, there are some decision-making contexts. They are:

  • Usage priority: what would you rely on? which component would you rely upon? Are you looking to navigate sites using local navigation? Or are you looking for related links to help you with?
  • Placement: which page it is to be present? where should it be placed in the page layout grid?
  • Pattern: which navigation design would suit your search? and discover- tabs, mega menus, carousels, etc.?


Relationship between IA and Navigation

It is never possible that you can ignore one and try to design your site with the other. It is not only inefficient but also disastrous to do so. Even navigation that does not afford the full scope of a site content becomes very costly. When users start reporting issues, you need to restart designing by redefining the IA. It is a necessity to start with it at the beginning to handle the volume and complexity of the content. Therefore IA and navigation are an inter-related process but never the same.

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