Information Architecture (IA) is the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability. Information Architecture for mobile apps is not just about data and backend systems far removed from the presentation layer, it has direct bearing on how usable your application becomes and on frontend activities including wire-frames and overall visual design. As the software world becomes increasingly data and analytics-centric with information being consumed on mobile devices of various forms and capabilities. It has become clear that software vendors need to manage information much more efficiently than before.
Following are some of the key considerations for a good IA for mobile applications:
Due to the limited space on mobile devices, information has to be broken down into smaller units. For example, details of a product that you are retailing through a mobile phone can run into dozens of fields. It is important to break down and prioritize this information into smaller units in order to optimize calls to the server as well as effectively manage screen real estate usage. As you design your API and screens for such information, atomicity is a key consideration.
Different pieces of information on mobile apps have a different ‘life’. Similar to master and transaction data in databases, there is more permanent master information and more transient transaction information for mobile devices. A typical requirement for all mobile apps is the client-side caching of information for faster access and reducing data plan bills for users. As you build out your IA, understanding the life of different pieces of information determines the final user experience.
Most mobile applications are very content-centric. , and content today comes in very diverse forms. Text, images, audio and video are basic forms of content, but if you add layer upon layer of information categorizations like animations, user-generated content, qualitative vs. quantitative content, graphs, maps, statistics and numerous others, the diversity of information is truly huge. Building for information diversity is expensive because each type of information requires different handling. Good IA for mobile devices manages this diversity behind the scenes to provide easier consumption for the user.
Mobile devices are the end-points in a usually complex maze of information systems that span to faraway places including factory floors, supply chains or customer meetings. End-point security is a key consideration for any product manager building a mobile strategy for his or her application. Information Architects need to be able to separate information according to their differentiating levels of sensitivity and confidentiality, and understand its implication on things like caching, encryption and building contingency features.
One of the most interesting characteristics of mobile applications is that they are highly contextual. No two users see a mobile app the same way on their devices. Context for a traditional web application comes from a series of server-side parameters like user identity, friends circle, past usage behavior and other application-specific parameters. Additionally, for mobile applications there are client-side parameters like device orientation, location, and device type. As the variety and capabilities of devices increase, managing information context will become a key challenge for app developers.
What strategies do you employ to align your Information Architecture with usability goals?