Information Architecture Tutorial – Lesson 3
NOW THAT YOU know what your site is going to be about and who it is for, you are ready to pinpoint what it will contain. Everyone around you is starting to get ideas, and some of them may even have a mental image of what the site should look like. You need to harness this creative energy and channel it into a productive process. You already have an agreement on the goals and audience, and you will be using the process that everyone is familiar with by now.
The point of this part of the information-architecture process is to gather the pieces for creating the structure and organization of the site. You will need to answer two questions: What pieces of content does the site need? What sorts of functionality will be required? Think of it this way: If you want to build a spaceship out of Legos, you need to pick out all of the pieces you will be using. These pieces represent the content. If you want your Legos to do things, you need to choose which motors and processors you need (yes, Legos are computerized in this exercise). These pieces represent the functionality.
In order to harness all the ideas about how the site will work, create a list of the content and functional requirements. Then reach a consensus on how this content will be grouped and labeled. A side effect of this process is to create a content list or inventory, which is the basis for the site structure.
Identify Content and Functional Requirements
Use the list of goals, the needs of your audience, and your competitive analysis – all of which you’ve already collected – to start two new lists:one of content elements and one of the functional requirements for the site. Add any potential Web pages or types of content that you can think of to each list. Types of content include static, dynamic, functional, and transactional. Copyright notices, privacy statements, and membership rules are examples of static content. Member logon pages, signup pages for email newsletters, and other pages involving forms or transactions should be included on your list of functional requirements. Browse the sites of your competition, and add any pages that are not on these two lists.
While you are generating these two lists, have everyone create their own lists of desired content and incorporate them into your content list. Have everyone review this list in order to get a sense of how important each piece of content is. Revise your list if you need to. You now have what’s called a “content inventory.” Some people claim that gathering content is their number one bottleneck. The content inventory can be used to start this process early.
Using the content inventory, revise your list of functional requirements. If the content inventory has pages for canceling purchases, the system had better be able to cancel purchases. Work with the technology and production people to determine the feasibility of each requirement. Do you have the technology and the skills to meet each requirement? Do you have the time and money to buy or build the functionality? Rank the importance of each requirement. You may have to get rid of some in order to meet your deadlines. Other requirements might become overshadowed by more important ones and drop off your list.
Group and Label Content
Order out of chaos – that’s what this step is all about. Here you organize the content and define the basis for the site’s structure. Begin by writing each element of the content inventory on an index card. Take the cards and organize them into groups. (You will want a big table to do this.) Try organizing them in different ways. When you are satisfied with how you have grouped things, name each group; try to be as descriptive as possible, and avoid being verbose. Record the name of each group and the elements within it.
Repeat this process with everyone involved. It is important to record how each person organizes the information and names each group. Be sure to tell everyone that there is no right or wrong answer. All opinions are valid. Excellent ideas often come from the most unlikely sources.
After everyone has gone through the exercise, compare and contrast how each person organized the information. Depending on how you want to do this, you might call everyone together to discuss the pros and cons of each layout, work one-on-one with the most intriguing people and their ideas, or just organize all of the thoughts on your own.
When you decide on the final groupings and names, use them as the basis for defining the major sections of the site and the names of each section. This is the basis for your site structure. Be warned, though:Consider the major sections as transient – their names and content may change in the next stage of the IA process. Be sure to run the sections and their names by a few key players to make sure they are OK with them. Finally, revise the content inventory, if necessary, to reflect the new organization of the information.
Design Document – Content and Functions
Create a new chapter in your design document called Content and Functional Requirements. Include a summary of the content inventory. Add a section about how the content is grouped and named. Add the list of functional requirements with a summary, if you like. The content inventory should be included as an appendix to the design document. Remember to publish these results so that everyone can see them.
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