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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web


By topic (e.g., bookstore, yellow pages). By task (e.g., buy, find, contact) ... Test your site by seeing if users can answer these questions for random pages. 22 ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
  • Thunder Lizards
  • Web Design World 99
  • Seattle, Washington
  • July 21, 1999
  • Louis Rosenfeld
  • Argus Associates, Inc.

Introduction Who am I?
  • Brief Bio
  • President of Argus Associates, an information
    architecture consulting firm (Ann Arbor,
  • Bias Librarianship and Information Science
    (LIS) background.
  • Bias Work on larger, heterogeneous corporate
    sites (primarily intranets) for Fortune 500
  • Columnist for Web Review, Internet World
  • Co-author of Information Architecture for the
    World Wide Web (OReilly Associates, 1998) and

When do you know you have problems? When you
hear these questions.
  • Users Why cant I find what Im looking for?
  • Content Owners Where should my new content go?
    And what should I do about all this ROT
    (Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial content)?
  • CIO Wheres my ROI? I want my ROI!!
  • VP How come that other VPs content is more
    prominent than mine?
  • The Web Team Whos in charge here anyway?
  • You Why cant I find what Im looking for?

Common Problem 1 Site development is organic,
  • Content lives in subsites or silos that are
    locally maintained and often reflect the org
  • The organization and users want an umbrella, a
    common interface to all content.
  • Individual subsites are poorly architected and
    have few or no policies or procedures to deal
    with maintenance issues.

umbrella site
Common Problem 2 Site structure is an abstract
  • New medium means that initial focus is on the
    tangible and sexy attention has been diverted by
    the lure of
  • Aesthetically charged visual design.
  • Hi-octane functionality.
  • Lucid text (and as much as possible).
  • Other Cool Stuff.
  • Analogous to building a house without a
  • Subsequent problems are all too apparent in later
    generation sites.

Common Problem 3 Information Retrieval is a
foreign phrase.
  • Information retrieval performance is reduced when
    addressing the diversity typical of most sites
  • Content (formats, types, subject domains).
  • Users.
  • Missions/goals/constraints.
  • Information retrieval is already difficult in
    narrower contexts.
  • Rarely one right answer (relevance is
  • Based on language, which is inherently ambiguous.
    Example homographs and synonyms of pitch.

What is Information Architecture? No single
definition is perfect...
  • Information architects organize content and
    design navigation systems to help users find the
    information they need.
  • In the context of the Web
  • Organize means to group and label content at the
    macro (e.g., collections, areas) and micro (e.g.,
    pages, fields) levels.
  • Navigation refers to the default organization of
    the site, the design of page components, and
    tools such as search engines, indexes, and site
  • Many definitions mine clearly biased by
    librarianship/information science background.

Why Is Information Architecture
Important? Users perspective.
  • Inability to find information is a major
  • Information needs vary (known item, exploratory,
    comprehensive research).
  • Preferences vary (searching, browsing precision,
  • Expertise varies (query languages, technology
  • Scary Fact 1 According to Zona Research, 20
    of Internet savvy users have given up at least 3
    times while shopping on the Web.

Why Is Information Architecture
Important? Producers perspective.
  • Cost of finding information.
  • Cost of not finding information.
  • Maintenance costs.
  • Political costs.
  • Scary Fact 2 According to Jakob Nielsen and
    many others, a poor navigation system in a large
    corporate intranet can cost the company millions
    in lost employee productivity.

Introduction to Information Architecture Where
it fits.
  • In the context of site development
  • Often leads the discovery/recommendations phase.
  • Highly collaborative during conceptual design
  • Minimal involvement in production/implementation

Introduction to Information Architecture What
the deliverables are.
  • Blueprints (from top level to chunk level).
  • Major page mockups/templates.
  • Navigation systems.
  • Labeling systems/controlled vocabularies/thesauri.
  • Policies and procedures.
  • Production work (e.g., classification and
  • Training (e.g., educating an indexing operation).

Introduction to Information Architecture
Top-down vs. bottom-up varieties.
  • Top-down Information Architecture
  • Tie together disparate pockets of content for
    improved searching and browsing.
  • Highly focused on users and information needs.
  • Bottom-up Information Architecture
  • Improve searching and browsing within a single,
    high-volume pocket of content.
  • Highly focused on content, content attributes.
  • Each approach informs the other (no mutual

Introduction to Information Architecture
Top-down vs. bottom-up varieties.
  • Top-down example Create a common information
    interface (umbrella site) for a corporate
    intranet with dozens of separate sub-sites.
  • Bottom-up example Re-architect a large
    collection of technical reports.

umbrella site
Top-Down Approach
Bottom-Up Approach
local subsites
Top-Down Components Organization
Systems Definitions.
  • Organization Structures
  • The shape of the information space.
  • The types of relationships between content areas
    or items.
  • e.g. hierarchies, databases, hypertext.
  • Organization Schemes
  • Pathways for intellectual access.
  • e.g. by author, by topic, by audience.

Top-Down Components Organization Structures How
should a sites content be structured?
  • Types of Organization Structures
  • Hierarchies useful for the top levels of a
  • Databases organize large bodies of homogeneous
  • Hypertext complement other structural types.
  • Hybrids often make most sense within a site.

Top-Down Components Organization Schemes How
should my sites content be organized?
  • Exact Organization Schemes.
  • By name, alphabetically (e.g., white pages).
  • By geography (e.g., atlas).
  • By chronology (e.g., timeline).
  • Characteristics.
  • Neat and easy to maintain.
  • Everything has a place (one right answer).
  • Extremely useful for users who know exactly what
    theyre looking for.

Top-Down Components Organization Schemes How
should my sites content be organized?
  • Ambiguous organization schemes.
  • By topic (e.g., bookstore, yellow pages).
  • By task (e.g., buy, find, contact).
  • By audience (e.g., home, small business,
  • Characteristics.
  • Messy and full of overlap.
  • Hard to implement and maintain.
  • Extremely useful for users who dont know exactly
    what theyre looking for (subject searching,
    associative learning).

Top-Down Components Labeling Systems The
  • Symbols that represent concepts.
  • Types
  • Labels within navigation systems.
  • Titles and headings.
  • Links.
  • Index terms (keywords).
  • Icons (visual representations of information).
  • Strive for systems of labels which are
  • Specific and clear (for intended audiences)
  • Predictable
  • Consistent

Top-Down Components Labeling Systems Where
should I get my labels?
  • Existing Site/Other Content
  • Dont throw out the baby with the bath water.
  • Other Sites
  • Check out the competition.
  • Controlled Vocabularies (CVs) and Thesauri
  • Standardized sets of terms which describe a
    specific domain (thesauri contain CVs,
    relationships between terms (e.g., broader,
    narrower, see also), and scope notes).
  • Users and Subject Experts
  • Focus groups, query analysis, user testing.

Top-Down Components Navigation Systems Types
of navigation systems.
  • Global (site-wide) navigation systems
  • Local (sub-site) navigation systems rule-based.
  • Contextual navigation systems hand-crafted.
  • Supplementary navigation systems.
  • Tables of contents/site maps.
  • Site indexes.
  • Guides and guided tours.

Top-Down Components Navigation Systems What
makes a navigation system succeed?
  • Navigation systems need to
  • Provide context. (Where am I?)
  • Provide flexibility (Where can I go?)
  • Provide guidance (How can I get there? And get
    back to here?)
  • Make sense (Separate global and local systems)
  • Avoid competing with content.
  • Test your site by seeing if users can answer
    these questions for random pages.

Top-Down Components Navigation Systems What
supplementary navigation type is best?
  • Table of Contents/Site Map
  • Reflects sites organization system (mental
  • Good for subject searching.
  • Site Index
  • Flattens organization system (greater
  • Supports known-item searching.
  • May provide multiple browsable indexes.
  • Guide
  • Highlights a few of the sites resources for a
    specific audience, topic, or task.
  • Good for introducing users to an aspect of the
    sites content.

Top-Down Components Searching
Systems Searching really sucks...
  • Using an on-site search engine actually reduced
    the chances of success. (1998 Usability Study by
    User Interface Engineering)
  • http//

Top-Down Components Searching Systems …but
users demand it.
  • Search is one of the most important user
    interface elements in any large web site...Our
    usability studies show that more than half of all
    users are search-dominant. (Jakob Nielsen,
    Alertbox, 1997)
  • http//

Top-Down Components Searching Systems Finding
involves more than searching...
Top-Down Components Searching Systems …and
searching involves more than an engine.
Query Language
Search Interface
Search Engine
Query Builders
Top-Down Components Searching Systems How can
searching be improved?
  • Utilize multiple search interfaces.
  • Expert vs. simple. Distinguish by user
  • Support common information needs (known item vs.
    exploratory vs. research).
  • Utilize search zones and leverage document
  • Support iterative, integrated searching and
    browsing (including a no-dead ends policy).
  • Explain what is being searched and how it can be
  • Avoid default engine configurations, especially
    default relevance rankings.

Top-Down Illustrated Typical scenario.
umbrella site
local subsites
Top-Down Case Study Background and challenges.
  • Began with unclear goals for site.
  • Tension between central administration and
    subsidiaries (political divisions, rogue Web
    sites, look and feel issues).
  • No in-house process for developing a large,
    distributed, cross-departmental information
  • Many different purposes for site.
  • Multiple audiences for site.

Top-Down Case Study Solutions.
  • Created umbrella architecture that draws
    appropriate borders between centrally-maintained
    site and autonomous departmental sub-sites.
  • Multiple ways of navigating content.
  • Search.
  • Browse by topic, task, audience, political unit.
  • Table of contents, site index.
  • Clear divisions between central and autonomous
    content embodied in the architecture and related
    procedures and policies for maintaining content.

Bottom-Up Components Content Analysis Look for
order in the chaos of your content.
  • Analogous to user surveys.
  • Requires review (generally iterative) of content
  • Looking for
  • Logical patterns within messy content (e.g.,
    press releases vs. product descriptions).
  • Ways to group content (leads to bottom-up
    organization systems design).
  • Meta-information opportunities (e.g., existing
    meta-information, approaches and sources for
    adding new meta-information).
  • Relationships between document types (e.g.,
    parent-child, related, sequential).

Bottom-Up Components Content Modeling and
Mapping Getting control of content.
  • Concentrate on meaning and value rather than
    physical formats (e.g., MS Word vs. Lotus Notes).
  • Develop document types (logical).
  • Use grouping exercises.
  • Enlist content specialist and expert user input.
  • Develop templates (physical).
  • Delineate required vs. optional content
  • Determine prominence, grouping, and sequence of
  • Strive for consistency in presentation across as
    well as within templates (usability gains).

Bottom-Up Components Content Modeling and
Mapping Matching the model with reality.
  • ROT (Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial content)
  • Policy based.
  • Impacts all aspects of content creation,
    maintenance, deletion.
  • Identify missing content.
  • Determine granularity for content chunking
  • Break up longer mixed-concept content.
  • Join together fragments.
  • Consider contexts usability, display,
    retrieval, reuse, authoring.

Bottom-Up Components Meta-Information Informati
on about information.
  • If stored as a record, meta-information
    constitutes a document surrogate if stored
    within document, acts as a representation or
    labeling of document.
  • Provides context (e.g., date, publisher).
  • Facilitates retrieval (e.g., author, title,
    subject index).
  • Serves as alternative to major organization
  • An effective alternative to full-text searching.
  • Can be leveraged for creation of browsable
  • Consider value of controlled vocabularies for
    descriptive indices.

Bottom-Up Components Meta-Information Indexing
to automate or not?
  • Automated Approach
  • Software identifies keywords, eliminates stop
    words, assembles inverted index.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Poor performance, especially with heterogeneous
    content domains and document richness.
  • Manual Approach
  • Human reviews content, identifies key concepts,
    and selects keywords from controlled vocabulary.
  • Expensive Forrester Report, v2, n8, October 1997
    says 960,000 for average corporate intranet.
  • Better performance (context sensitive).

Bottom-Up Components Relationships How should
content types be linked?
  • Ad-Hoc Links
  • Handcrafted expensive to create and maintain.
  • Capable of making powerful associations, but
    often subject to interpretation therefore, hit
    or miss in cognitive value.
  • Rule-Based Links
  • Simple If a process document and a rate table
    document both deal with Product X, then they
    should always be linked to each other.
  • Rules allow for easy human link creation or
    automated linking (useful with huge collections
    of content).

Bottom-Up Design Content modeling
Messy Content
logical meta-information Name Content
Owner Process Owner Geographic Eligibility
presentational meta-information
Format/Style Color Platform
Bottom-Up Case Study Background and challenges.
  • Distributed inbound call centers (8,000 customer
    care associates).
  • Intranet-based work support application (6,000
    unstructured documents).
  • Users were memorizing, not navigating.
  • Erroneous information was being provided to
  • Negative impact on training and churn.
  • Single semi-topical hierarchy… hand-maintained.
  • Content management nightmare.

Bottom-Up Case Study Solutions.
  • Structured content model.
  • Suite of document templates.
  • Linking relationships.
  • Indexing system with multiple controlled
  • Functional specifications (auto-generated
    browsable indexes).
  • Development and production indexing.
  • Training and documentation.

Conclusion A convergence of perspectives,
  • Traditional Top-Down Perspective
  • User-centric work is what we (the Web
    community) have been doing.
  • Goals presentation and usability.
  • Traditional Bottom-Up Perspective
  • What mark-up and data modeling communities
    traditionally have been up to.
  • Goals content reuse and maintenance.
  • Another Kind of Convergence
  • Web community increasingly content-centric.
  • Mark-up/database communities increasingly

Information Architecture Design Process A phased
Argus Associates Contact information.
  • Louis Rosenfeld (
  • Argus Associates, Inc.
  • 221 North Main Street, Suite 200
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
  • 734.913.0010 voice
  • 734.213.8082 fax
  • http//
  • This presentation available from
  • http//