SpoolCast: 5 Simple Principles for Improving Your Information Architecture – Q&A with Dan Brown

Sean Carmichael

February 25th, 2011

Duration: 20m | 11 MB
Recorded: February, 2011
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Information architecture exists in all levels of design, from the most abstract to the most concrete. Everything from thinking about the content of the site, right down to embedding a navigation strategy, determines the structure of a website. Once that structure is in place, it begins to shape and guide the design process.

Dan Brown is one of the Principals of EightShapes. Through his experience, he has developed a set of principles for information architecture. In this podcast, Dan joins Adam Churchill to address the questions he didn’t have time to answer during his virtual seminar, 5 Simple Principles for Improving Your Information Architecture.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…Back when information architecture was first forming, one of the things, I think we all pretty much agreed on is that, any given web page on a website should answer two questions, maybe three questions for users. “Where am I in the whole scheme of things?” “Where can I go from here?” and maybe, “What’s the overall range of things that are available to me?”

I think one of the reasons why I appreciated this question is I think the nature of that question is changing. It becomes less about “where am I,” in relation to the overall website. It may be too big to really get our arms around and maybe more about “where am I,” in the local neighborhood of content that we have. I’ve been thinking about the relationship between navigational structures and an urban environment.

What’s interesting to me about urban environments is that they have this fractal organization where, as you zoom in, you see the same patterns over and over and over again, but at a smaller and smaller scale.

And I think we can say the same thing about navigation, especially as websites become much, much bigger that it’s difficult to represent the full range of information that’s on a website. But at the same time, we can represent the range of information in this neighborhood, so to speak. I think it’s important to answer those questions at a neighborhood level.

Let’s say we’re on a high tech website like an IBM or an SAP. We’ve done work with very similar clients where they deal with lots, and lots, and lots of different kinds of high tech products and services. It’s really hard to represent the breadth of the things that they sell on their marketing websites on a single web page.

Again, this trend to streamline the amount of content, to try and limit the number of choices, really gets us to say, when someone lands on a page about a particular product, let’s give them a sense of, what other products are nearby. Use that product as a filter for the whole range of products and really zero in our neighborhood based on that.

My partner, Nathan, calls this a greater emphasis on local. So focusing more on what’s immediately relevant to me because I’m looking at this page. We shouldn’t deny the user escape hatches. We shouldn’t deny the user, in a sense, an airport or a train station that would take them to a whole other city if they wanted to.

So to be more concrete about that metaphor, I need to convey to users that there are other places to go on this website. But the bulk of my navigation is really going to focus on what’s immediately relevant to the content that I’m looking at right now…”

In the podcast, Dan answers these additional questions:

  • How does information architecture interact with content strategy?
  • What are some examples of real-time user driven navigation systems?
  • What are the key characteristics of a “fat footer”?
  • What are some examples of exemplars on an intranet?
  • As always, we welcome your thoughts and questions. Please share with us in our comments section.

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