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Eight Principles of Information Architecture

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

Does information architecture have a set of universal principles we can draw from to facilitate the design process? Beats me, but these are eight that I use. For more information, see my article in the ASIS&T August 2010 Bulletin: http://asis.org/Bulletin/Aug-10/AugSep10_Brown.pdf

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8
Principles of
Information
Architecture
Dan Brown
EightShapes, LLC
                   hashtag: #8principles
8
What do
                                           IAs design?



http://www.flickr.com/photos/inajeep/23647427/sizes/l/
IAs design
structures
1
Treat content
    as objects



    http://www.edenfoods.com/store/product_details.php?products_id=102950#nutrition
1
Treat content
    as objects



    http://www.edenfoods.com/store/product_details.php?products_id=102950#nutrition

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Eight Principles of Information Architecture

  • 2. 8
  • 3. What do IAs design? http://www.flickr.com/photos/inajeep/23647427/sizes/l/
  • 5. 1 Treat content as objects http://www.edenfoods.com/store/product_details.php?products_id=102950#nutrition
  • 6. 1 Treat content as objects http://www.edenfoods.com/store/product_details.php?products_id=102950#nutrition
  • 21. Subscriptions Search Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888 Learn More » HOME PHOTOGRAPHY ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL ADVENTURE NATGEOTV KIDS SHOP Daily News The Magazine Maps Video Science Education Games Music Blogs Movies In the Field Site Index Home Animals Ancient World Energy Environment Cultures Space/Tech Weird News Photos News Video News Blogs "Roaming" Magnetic Fields Found Weak "seed fields" may solve galaxy mystery Most Popular News "Terrifying Sea Beast" Hauled Up See photos of Bathynomus giganteus, a giant crustacean recently brought to the surface during a deep-sea survey. Facts Behind April Fool's Day Learn how this bizarre holiday got started, and how straight-faced scientific research can be sillier than the wackiest pranks. Sky Show: Venus, Mercury to Meet Normally elusive, Mercury will be shining brightly near Venus for most of this month— with a close conjunction on April 3 and 4.
  • 22. shortage of candidates. Save Earth If you've had a Coke, You've helped (Related: "Earliest Known Galaxies Spied in Deep Hubble Picture.") support global recycling services. LivePositively.com/JoinUs It's also unclear whether the roaming seed fields played a role in the subsequent formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters, since the fields' exact intensities have Image Earth yet to be measured. ClipArt - Pictures Image Earth www.Bing.com "In general, I tend to think that they do not play a significant role in the formation of the galaxies, because they are too weak" at the low levels the Fermi team observed, Neronov said. The new Fermi data on blazars are published in this week's issue of the journal Science. Latest News "Supertaskers" Can Frozen Fish Reel in New Blind Snakes Photos: Braving the Phone and Drive Wind Power Discovered Iceland Volcano More From National Geographic Water Pressure Life in Color: Purple Photo of the Day: Maya Rise and Fall Lost Tribes of the Wind Power Mountain Gorilla Best of May 2009 Green Sahara
  • 25. THE WHITEBOARD Search: PLAY BALL: President Obama tossed the first pitch at Nationals Park Monday afternoon, throwing high and wide to start the Washington team's opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. Obama drew cheers and boos from the crowd as he strolled onto the field wearing a Chicago White Sox cap, in a nod to his hometown team. Continue Reading All of today's posts Your afternoon speed-read Specter sport 'Room' for discussion on yuan Reuters | YAO & BUCKLEY Monday Apr. 5, 2010 All Times Eastern Pressure mounts on USDA claims The Hill | KEVIN BOGARDUS 7:00 AM Jobless benefits expire for thousands CNN | BRIANNA KEILAR 8:00 AM Do voters care about unemployment? Atlantic | DEREK THOMPSON 9:00 AM Service sector gauge grows faster AP | TALI ARBEL 9:30 AM Obama receives the
  • 26. In demand Celgarded 'Bloody triage' for WHCA dinner By KENDRA MARR | 04/02/10 2:13 PM Tight access at Obama's speech By GLENN THRUSH | 04/02/10 3:16 PM The WHCA is flooded with record-breaking demand for 300 tables, at $2,250 a pop, just The Charlotte company hosting Obama says one week after sending invites ... reporters can talk with employees only about how they "felt" after the speech ... Continue Reading Continue Reading Velvet carpet Overplayed Europe leaders dining with Obama
  • 31. 8 Navigation by function http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvjantzen/377111497/sizes/o/
  • 32. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture 10 Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) 4.0 Dynamic Navigation To respond to breaking news or to escalate crucial categories, the global navigation includes a space to highlight lower-level topics. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) 8 [MagazineTitle] Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View [CategoryName] [topic] [topic] [topic] 2.0 Magazine Navigation links toarea contains three [topic] The hot topics Search or four [topic] lower-level topics. [topic] Products & Reviews Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... These topics should be consistent The web site and the print version of the site, and should throughout the change: magazines are distinct entities but must reflect When there’s breaking news in a and support each other. new category At a predetermined interval CMS Information Architecture Hanley-Wood to Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) 9 reflect the topics with the latest Default View [MagazineTitle] stories Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Current [CategoryName] Search These links take users to a table of [topic] [topic] Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [topic] [topic] Service Navigation [topic] [topic] Products & Reviews 3.0 [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... contents for the current issue of the print magazine, a list of every issue, and a page of subscriptions options. Hanley Wood’s sites offer more than just article- based content. Services provide useful tools and data to the building industry. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture 7 Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) [MagazineTitle] Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View Why No Categories? [CategoryName] Search Every site has a set of 3-4 primary Leaving services uncategorized Products services, drawn by the editors from affords Hanley Wood several [topic] [topic] Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] Topical Navigation [topic] & Reviews 1.0[Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... the master list of services. By varying the exposed services by site, editors advantages: Scalability: When it comes time can meet the needs of individual The primary navigation element across all Hanley to addbe hamstrung Hanleyexisting won’t new services, Wood audiences. The “more...” link provides by an Wood sites is topical navigation, which allows set of categories. access to a comprehensive list of services. Junk-Drawer Syndrome: quick access to specific topics. Awards Inevitably, some services will be orphaned, forcing the need for a Books catch-all group. [MagazineTitle] Building Code Information Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View Top-Level Topics [CategoryName] Quick Access: Without an Cost vs. Value Search additional layer of navigation, appears Primary topical navigation To balance user needs with the Courses [topic] Products as a horizontal row in the global operational issues surrounding [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] & Reviews users can quickly access these Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] Events navigation area. The current topic [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... useful tools. content management, every Hanley is highlighted, if relevant. Every Wood site should draw top-level Forms story should appear in one of the topics from this list: House Plans top-level topics. If a story appears in Jobs more than one topic, and there is no Operations and Finance Products pre-determined context, the story’s Construction and Installation primary topic is highlighted. Materials Project Galleries Sales and Marketing Research Reports Technology Subcontractors Trends Top Companies Design and Planning [MagazineTitle] Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Expanded View Videos Economics and Business [CategoryName] Search As users roll over each topic, an Weather By using the same top-level topics [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] Products expanded menu appears to show Yellow Pages & Reviews across all sites, Hanley Wood also sub-topics. Given the flat hierarchy of Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] • • [subtopic001] [subtopic002] • [subtopic005] • [subtopic006] [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... Hanley Wood’s contolled vocabulary, facilitated content syndication and • [subtopic003] • [subtopic007] these subtopics should be chosen by sharing between them. • [subtopic004] • [subtopic008] an editor.
  • 33. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture 10 Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) 4.0 Dynamic Navigation To respond to breaking news or to escalate crucial categories, the global navigation includes a space to highlight lower-level topics. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) 8 [MagazineTitle] Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View [CategoryName] [topic] [topic] [topic] 2.0 Magazine Navigation links toarea contains three [topic] The hot topics Search or four [topic] lower-level topics. [topic] Products & Reviews Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... These topics should be consistent The web site and the print version of the throughout the site, and should change: magazines are distinct entities but must breaking news in a When there’s reflect and support each other. new category At a predetermined interval CMS Information Architecture Hanley-Wood to Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) reflect the topics with the latest [MagazineTitle] stories Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View [CategoryName] Search These links take users to a table of contents for the current issue of the [topic] [topic] Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [topic] [topic] Service Navigation [topic] [topic] Products & Reviews 3.0 [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... print magazine, a list of every issue, and a page of subscriptions options. Hanley Wood’s sites offer more than just article- based content. Services provide useful tools and data to the building industry. Hanley-Wood CMS Information Architecture Version 1.2 published October 22, 2007 by Dan Brown (dan@eightshapes.com) [MagazineTitle] Current Issue • Archive • Subscriptions Default View [CategoryName] Search Every site has a set of 3-4 primary Products services, drawn by the editors from [topic] [topic] Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] [topic] [topic] [topic] Topical Navigation [topic] & Reviews 1.0[Service] • [Service] • [Service] • [Service] • more... the master list of services. By varyi the exposed services by site, editor can meet the needs of individual The primary navigation element across all H audiences. The “more...” link prov Wood sites is topical navigation, which al access to a comprehensive list of services. quick access to specific topics. Awards Books [MagazineTitle] Building Code InformationArchive Current Issue • [CategoryName] Cost vs. Value Search [topic] [topic] [topic] Courses [topic] [topic] [topic] Hot Topics: [topic], [topic], [topic] Events [Service] • [Service] • [Service] Forms
  • 34. A eory of IA?
  • 37. Agreement Interpretation http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcarpentier/4378016700/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • 38. Agreement Interpretation Internalization http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcarpentier/4378016700/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Editor's Notes

  1. Slot To be clear: Stephen and I are each doing a separate but coincidentally related talk. How many of you have been practicing IA or something like it for more than 3 years? How many of you have been practicing IA or something like it for 3 years or less? This is for everyone raising their hand right now. I’m Dan. I work at EightShapes. On a project a couple years ago, a client asked me, “What did you base these design decisions on?” I provided a rationale that referenced user research, objectives, and the requirements analysis process we had just been through. “But how do you know these decisions are right?” I understood that she was asking for some underlying theory, some cohesive set of guidelines. So I rattled a few off the top of my head. “I need you to put that in your document.” Which I did, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Beyond design themes that we extract at the project level, are there more universal notions of IA. These are those principles and a couple more.
  2. Let’s set up our principles by providing a bit of context. WHAT we design can help us figure out what guidelines would be useful. You're at a conference full of IAs, so it would be interesting to ask this question of other people.
  3. 2IAs create structures. •Structures are the set of relationships between concepts. 3Our role is to make those structures meaningful, useful, explicit. •We need to make decisions about which concepts are most important and which relationships users would be most interested in. •We need to decide how to express those relationships. •We need to decide how those relationships grow and flex to accommodate new variations of the concepts. •These guiding principles provide a sense of what makes structures work. No particular order, but this first one is pretty abstract.
  4. Content... •May be classified in terms of its function, purpose or structure •Exhibits behaviors related to aging, popularity, prominence •Is subject to rules •Whenever people talk about a content type, they have expectations on: •kinds of information it will include •the way it relates to other content of the same or different types •the ways in which it can be classified CLICK •Describe it in terms of properties that it has in common with other content.
  5. Implication: Objects are structured in and of themselves. Those structures face inward and outward. We must design the structures of content objects as well as the structures in which they thrive. From Epicurious Elements that structure the recipe Elements that allow me to make connections to other recipes
  6. With more options, it can be harder for people to make a choice. Based on the book CLICK
  7. •To be clear: big menus of options will be challenging for users to find what they want. •Exception: known item searches by experts •Implication: structures should provide digestible groups without losing coherence or meaning
  8. Gradually revealing information, as requested by the user Providing a means for accessing additional information
  9. Netflix was the original, the canonical example for AJAX technology, too Hulu provides a reasonable facsimile Roll over an episode and get more details of the episode
  10. Corollary: A piece of content should come in multiple configurations to allow different ways of providing access Hulu episodes can be represented in a single line of a table, an entry in a gallery, or in a hover balloon. Implication: structures should compartmentalize content types, giving a single piece of content multiple "guises" or views, such that it has flexibility to be displayed in a variety of contexts
  11. Category names don't necessarily speak for themselves Providing an example of what appears in the category can help users triangulate its content
  12. Was having a hard time finding a good example on the web, but then I found this in the App store for iPad. Point to GAMES Implication: Structures should include a rule for selecting and highlighting exemplars in the absence of other human-supplied direction. Structures should permit pieces of content to be escalated to provide good examples. They might be chosen by a human or by rule.
  13. Went to iTunes since they tend to be light on explicit categorization. Wanted to see what they came up with and I see exemplars going horribly wrong.
  14. When good exemplars go bad. Do these exemplars help me distinguish the categories? Do I have confidence that I’m going to see successfully segmented categories?
  15. Perhaps the best example online. Look at these categories! Categories we know you like. Here are some examples. Also implied: hierarchy of video-watching decision-making in the Brown house.
  16. In recent years, this principle is becoming more self-evident. Could I say: Powerful search has rendered home pages useless. Perhaps that’s taking it too far. In short: users don’t always start their experience on your home page. From a UI perspective, the challenge here is to make the inside pages navigationally useful without obscuring the content Structures must be flexible enough such that they don’t depend on a single starting point. When designing interior pages, the use of exemplars is crucial: pick examples of categories to expose them, but choose them in such a way to make them plausibly relevant to the content. Implication: Structures should de-emphasize a particular starting point (though marketing might say otherwise) and should provide mechanisms for exposing a range of content using the current context as a starting point
  17. Suppose you arrived at this Nat Geo news story through some syndicated source. The question we need to ask ourselves as designers is what parts of the structure do I need to expose? How can I use the current content here as a bridge to get from this to other parts of the site? So, can they use this news story as a mechanism for reasonably exposing other areas of the site? Should they?
  18. Structures must accommodate new content and new concepts Navigation mechanisms that allow for an expanding middle: interface elements
  19. Personalized content categories. Structure of Netflix expands to accommodate new ways of classifying videos. BUT does the navigation? Not really. Netflix elegantly includes new (seemingly customized) categories. Because of this content area, they can recede the other navigation mechanisms of the site.
  20. Politico 44, a subsection of Politico.com doesn’t have any discernible sub-categories, another way of dealing with scale. CLICK Instead, they offer some catchy box headers that help users understand content by scanning.
  21. This is something I did for a large content site designed a couple years ago. Ripped off from an old version of CNN.com CLICK Here, Builder Magazine’s navigation includes a mechanism for escalating key sub-topics.
  22. This is something I did for a large content site designed a couple years ago. Ripped off from an old version of CNN.com CLICK Here, Builder Magazine’s navigation includes a mechanism for escalating key sub-topics.
  23. Content doesn’t live in one taxonomy of categories. Any site must have more than one way to categorize content.
  24. EA exposes their polyhierarchy through this faceted navigation scheme: I can add “filters” by clicking on the terms that help find the game I want. In this context, however, I suspect people may use one or two facets to narrow the list to answer simple questions like “What’s coming out for XBox?”
  25. Perhaps my most controversial principle. Navigation mechanisms should be defined by what they do, not where they are. Say good-bye to the following terms: left nav, global nav, header nav, footer nav Purposes: exploring related topics, digging deeper into the current topic, escaping from the current topic, filtering a collection
  26. This was the documentation for the project we saw earlier... CLICK
  27. Implication: Give your navigation a purpose, treat it like a toolbar Navigation tools with a purpose have a unifying theme and provide a structure for moderating growth and scaling appropriately
  28. 1IAs create structures 2Is there a single unified theory to drive that process? I have no idea. 3There are, however, at least eight principles we can consider in designing our structures Break? Ignore? Sure. But they provide a useful starting point. Besides these universal principles, I often rely on project-specific principles. Guidelines that drive the design efforts that are derived during the project itself. Stephen’s going to talk about that next. Before we go there, though, let me leave you a thought about what makes a good principle. And maybe something a little more.
  29. What makes the principles meaningful? Agreement: We all agree with the principle’s underlying concept. CLICK Interpretation: We understand that the principle leaves room for interpretation, but that our design decisions should be traceable to it. CLICK Internalization: Principles are most useful when we’ve internalized them, when our design work is driven by the principle ALMOST on an unconscious level. We can internalize something when it makes sense to us inherently. As a field, we are creating a language to talk about novel problems and old problems in a new way. Every person in this room contributes to that language. Don’t let grumpy old men tell you that your contributions aren’t worthwhile. Or are only worthwhile if they happen at a certain level. If you have a tool that works for the job at hand, use it. If it doesn’t work, design a better one.
  30. What makes the principles meaningful? Agreement: We all agree with the principle’s underlying concept. CLICK Interpretation: We understand that the principle leaves room for interpretation, but that our design decisions should be traceable to it. CLICK Internalization: Principles are most useful when we’ve internalized them, when our design work is driven by the principle ALMOST on an unconscious level. We can internalize something when it makes sense to us inherently. As a field, we are creating a language to talk about novel problems and old problems in a new way. Every person in this room contributes to that language. Don’t let grumpy old men tell you that your contributions aren’t worthwhile. Or are only worthwhile if they happen at a certain level. If you have a tool that works for the job at hand, use it. If it doesn’t work, design a better one.
  31. What makes the principles meaningful? Agreement: We all agree with the principle’s underlying concept. CLICK Interpretation: We understand that the principle leaves room for interpretation, but that our design decisions should be traceable to it. CLICK Internalization: Principles are most useful when we’ve internalized them, when our design work is driven by the principle ALMOST on an unconscious level. We can internalize something when it makes sense to us inherently. As a field, we are creating a language to talk about novel problems and old problems in a new way. Every person in this room contributes to that language. Don’t let grumpy old men tell you that your contributions aren’t worthwhile. Or are only worthwhile if they happen at a certain level. If you have a tool that works for the job at hand, use it. If it doesn’t work, design a better one.