Information architecture defined\nInformation architecture is a discipline focused on structuring, organizing, and categorizing content and data in an effective and usable way, largely for websites and applications.\nApplication front ends are becoming increasingly complex, spanning multiple platforms, covering multiple use cases, and drawing data from an ever-growing collection of information sources. Information architecture is the art of putting all the pieces together into a coherent whole.\n\n[ Beware the 9 warning signs of bad IT architecture and see why these 10 old-school IT principles still rule. | Sign up for CIO newsletters. ]\n\nInformation architecture framework\nWithout solid information architecture, companies don\u2019t get the maximum value out of the data collected in warehouses, says Daniel Wallance, associate partner at McKinsey & Co.\n\u201cThe volumes of data have significantly increased over the past several years,\u201d he says. That has forced organizations to pay attention to developing their information architecture frameworks based on enterprise-level decisions about choice of data platforms, tracking metadata across systems, and having single pane of glass visibility of data.\nCreating an information architecture framework requires cooperation between infrastructure teams, data experts, business unit leaders, and risk managers, and often occurs over a multi-year period, Wallance says. \u201cEstablishing a clear information architecture vision and enabling strategy that has organizational-wide buy-in is essential.\u201d\nThe payoff is that a contemporary information architecture will not only help a company extract maximum value from its data today, but also position it for future business needs and resiliency. The danger of not modernizing the information architecture framework is increased technology debt, which renders organizations incapable of making use of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.\nThe work of an information architect\nInformation architects can work at multiple levels in an enterprise. Some build information architecture platforms, weaving together all the threads \u2014 infrastructure, governance, business requirements, and the needs of the applications and systems that consume company data. Others play a smaller, more focused role, working on individual use cases.\nFor example, an information architect can play a key role in designing an employee information portal or an e-commerce site. To do this, they need to understand business needs and user requirements, work with data engineers to identify and organize data sources, and collaborate with user experience (UX) developers to create front ends that enable users to quickly get the information they need, when they need it, in the form most useful to them.\nSitting at the intersection of three disciplines, information architects can start out as data engineers, as business analysts, or as UX designers, and then learn the other aspects of the job.\nInformation architecture design\nAt this more focused level, information architecture is the process of arranging information so that it is usable to the user, says Sridhar Vasudeven, practice director at Insight, a Tempe-based technology consulting firm.\nThat includes understanding the structural design of the information environment. \u201cHow do you synthesize and organize that information? How do you label it? How do you make it searchable? How do you build your navigation so users can get the information?\u201d he says.\nInformation architecture design requires an understanding of what the user wants to find, and the establishment of navigation paths that get them there. \u201cAnd in today\u2019s world, you also have to make it coherent across different channels,\u201d Vasudeven adds. \u201cToday you may look for information on a website; tomorrow you may be looking on a phone or asking Alexa.\u201d\nFor users, good information architecture design will help them find what they are looking for, but that\u2019s just one of its functions. It can also help users explore and find things they might want, but don\u2019t yet know that they do. For example, a website customer searching for oranges could be recommended other fruits they might want to try, or be offered juicers.\nWhen users do find what they want, good information architecture design can help them find additional context and information that they need to make a choice, such as nutritional information or user reviews.\nFinally, good information architecture design should also ensure that, if a user previously found something on the site, they can easily find it again.\nData architecture vs. information architecture\nAlthough some companies use the terms interchangeably, data architecture is more concerned about the technical side of managing data, dealing with the raw data and the sources that provide the data, as well as data lifecycle management and the infrastructure required, says Vasudeven.\nInformation architecture, by comparison, focuses more on the meaning and usability of the data. As a result, Vasudeven says, information architects often come from the business analyst side, or from user experience design, as a key component of information architecture is understanding how to visually present data using sitemaps, tree structures, or graphic design.\nInformation architecture principles\nThere are no formalized rules or systems for information architecture, but some experts have created some general guidelines. For example, Dan Brown, an information architect, author, and co-founder of design firm EightShapes, has developed the often-cited eight principles of information architecture:\n\n Principle of objects: Treat content as a living, breathing thing with a lifecycle, behaviors, and attributes.\n\n\n Principle of choices: Create pages that offer meaningful choices to users, keeping the range of choices available focused on a particular task.\n\n\n Principle of disclosure: Show only enough information to help people understand what kinds of information they\u2019ll find as they dig deeper.\n\n\n Principle of exemplars: Describe the contents of categories by showing examples of the contents.\n\n\n Principle of front doors: Assume at least half of the website\u2019s visitors will come through some page other than the home page.\n\n\n Principle of multiple classification: Offer users several different classification schemes to browse the site\u2019s content.\n\n\n Principle of focused navigation: Don\u2019t mix apples and oranges in your navigation scheme.\n\n\n Principle of growth: Assume the content you have today is a small fraction of the content you will have tomorrow.\n\nInformation architecture jobs and career paths\nVery small companies often use off-the-shelf tools and applications for their information architecture needs, but midsize and larger companies often rely on the work of information architects, especially if the organization does any business on the web.\nBecause of this, information architecture skills are in high demand across a wide range of industries. ZipRecruiter, for example, currently lists more than 200,000 information architect jobs.\nSince information architects sit at the intersection of several disciplines, career paths can vary greatly. According to career resources site Zippia, the most common major for information architects is computer science, but English, business, and graphic design are all close behind, as there is no specific degree for information architects nor a standard career progression. Practitioners often learn as they go along.\n\u201cWe often see information architects gain skills on the job as managers for specific systems or infrastructure capabilities,\u201d says McKinsey\u2019s Wallance. They then get a broader portfolio over time. \u201cRotational programs for information architects across business functions is also a great way to gain visibility of different business units,\u201d he says.\nWallance recommends information architects who want to position themselves for the future should stay on top of the latest trends, platforms, and technologies \u2014 and those who come from a technology background should look for opportunities to engage with business executives, and vice versa.\nInformation architecture salaries\nDemand for information architecture talent will only increase, Wallance adds, as companies work with even larger data sets and need to deploy new capabilities. \u201cThe need for talent will increase in parallel especially for individuals with a dual technology and business skill set,\u201d he says.\nThis demand is reflected in information architecture salaries, which are high.\nAccording to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of an information architect is $126,000 per year, with most jobs ranging from $100,000 to $162,000 per year.\nMost information architects have bachelor\u2019s degrees, but salaries increase with higher degrees. Certifications can also increase earning power, including those in usability or project management.