Information Architecture Methods

Organization Schemes

Using organization schemes helps you categorize content and create relationships between each piece. Most content can be categorized in multiple ways and schemes can be broken down into Exact and Subjective. Depending on the content, it’s possible that the site may combine schemes as opposed to treating them independently.

Exact organization schemes objectively divide information into mutually exclusive sections. They are comparatively easy for information architects to create and categorize content within. However, they can be a challenge for users and require that the user understands what they are looking for. Examples of exact organizational structures include:

  • Alphabetical schemes
  • Geographical schemes

Subjective organization schemes categorize information in a way that may be specific to or defined by the organization or field. Although they are difficult to design, they are often more useful than exact organization schemes.

When information architects take the time to consider the user’s mental models and group the content in meaningful ways, these types of schemes can be quite effective in producing conversions. This type of categorization can also help facilitate learning by helping users understand and draw connections between pieces of content. Examples of subjective schemes include the following:

  • Topic schemes
  • Task Schemes
  • Audience Schemes
  • Metaphor schemes

Implementing schemes independently has its advantages because it keeps things simple for the user. They can identify the categorization and form a mental model that can be quickly understood. Mixing schemes by creating hybrids can cause confusion for users. This is often proposed as a solution when project teams cannot agree on a single scheme to categorize the content.

Organization Structures

An organizational structure is how you define the relationships between pieces of content. Successful structures allow users to predict where they will find information on the site. It’s important to take into account user expectations and implement consistent methods of organizing and displaying information so that users can extend their knowledge from familiar pages to unfamiliar ones. The three main organizational structures are:

  • Hierarchical
  • Sequential
  • Matrix

In Hierarchical Structures, also known as tree structures or hub-and-spoke structures, there is a top down approach or parent/child relationships between pieces of information. Users start with broader categories of information (parent) and then drill further down into the structure to find narrower, more detailed information (child).

Sequential Structures require users to go step-by-step, following a specific path through content. An example of this type of structure is when a user is attempting to purchase something or are taking a course online. Sequential structures assume that there is some optimal ordering of content that is associated with greater effectiveness or success.

A Matrix Structure allows users to determine their own path since content is linked in numerous ways. This type of structure takes full advantage of the principles behind hypertext, or HTML. For example, one user could choose to navigate through a set of content based on date while another navigates based on topic.

The Database Model takes a bottom-up approach. The content within this structure leans heavily on the linkages created through the content’s metadata. This type of model facilitates a more dynamic experience generally allowing for advanced filtering and search capabilities as well as providing links to related information in the system that has been properly tagged.

Site architecture has a long term impact on the site. It’s important to put thought into the structure and ensure that it takes into account content updates in the future.

Avoid structures that are too shallow or too deep. Striking a balance is never easy is an important goal of any architecture. Structures that are too shallow require massive menus. Users rely on information architects to create logical groupings to facilitate movement throughout the site.

In contrast, structures that are too deep bury information beneath too many layers. These structures burden the user to have to navigate through several levels to find the content that they desire.

Content Inventory

A content inventory is a list of all the content on your site. Your inventory will typically include text, images, documents, and applications. To gain insight from your inventory, you will need to assess each piece of content. Doing so will help you understand what is on the site, if it is located properly, and whether content is up-to-date.

What to Include in an Inventory

Prior to pulling an inventory, it’s important to note your:

  • Goals of audit and what you intend to do with the results can help focus this activity and make it less overwhelming
  • Scope and areas of the site or particular date ranges should be captured is important

Once determined, you’ll be able to note what information to include.  Although inventories vary in what they capture, most include the following raw data for each piece of site content:

  • Unique Content ID
  • Title
  • URL
  • File Format (HTML, PDF, DOC, TXT…)
  • Author or Provider
  • Physical location (in the content management system, on the server, etc)
  • Meta Description
  • Meta Keywords
  • Categories/ Tags
  • Dates (created, revised, accessed)

Often you can leverage your content management system or a crawler to pull this raw data.  This information can be dropped into a spreadsheet so that it can be sorted and edited more easily.

It’s also important to find out if there are any existing redirects in place.

Turning an Inventory into an Meaningful Audit

Turning the raw data in your inventory into something useful requires someone to actually go through each piece and perform an assessment.  The type of assessment you choose to conduct depends on what you are hoping to learn.

Once goals and scope are understood, you can choose which audit makes sense for you.  Often audits are used to track:

  • What pages should be removed
  • Whether content need to be revised
  • Which content needs to be written due to gaps
  • Where content should be mapped to if being moved or if it requires redirects

Depending on your goals related to the inventory, you may also choose to add columns related to your editorial process noting if something is being fact-checked, edited, approved, or sent for development.


As a two-dimensional illustration of a page’s interface, a wireframe specifically focuses on space allocation and prioritization of content, functionalities available, and intended behaviours. For these reasons, wireframes typically do not include any styling, color, or graphics. Wireframes also help establish relationships between a website’s various templates.

The Value of Wireframes

Wireframes serve multiple purposes by helping to:

  • Connect the site’s information architecture to its visual design by showing paths between pages
  • Clarify consistent ways for displaying particular types of information on the user interface
  • Determine intended functionality in the interface
  • Prioritize content through the determination of how much space to allocate to a given item and where that item is located

It’s important to keep in mind that wireframes are guides to where the major navigation and content elements of your site are going to appear on the page.  Since the goal of the illustrations is not to depict visual design, keep it simple.

  • Do not use colors. If you would typically use color to distinguish items, instead rely on various gray tones to communicate the differences.
  • Do not use images. Images distract from the task at hand.  To indicate where you intend to place an image and its size, you can instead use a rectangular box sized to dimension with an “x” through it.
  • Use only one generic font. Typography should not be a part of the wireframing discussion.  Within the wireframes, however, you may still resize the font to indicate various headers and changes in the hierarchy of the text information on the page.

Since wireframes are two-dimensional, it’s important to remember that they don’t do well with showing interactive features of the interface like drop-downs, hover states, accordions that implement show-hide functionality, or auto-rotating carousels.

Important Elements Illustrated in Wireframes

Although wireframes are different from site to site, the following elements often are included as standard elements on wireframes:

  • Logo
  • Search field
  • Breadcrumb
  • Headers, including page title as the H1 and subheads H2-Hx
  • Navigation systems, including global navigation and local navigation
  • Body content
  • Share buttons
  • Contact information
  • Footer

Types of Wireframes

Wireframes vary from paper sketches to computer-drawn images and the amount of detail that they convey. Low and high-fidelity are terms used to identify the level of wireframe production or functionality.

  • Low-fidelity wireframes help facilitate project team communication and are relatively quick to develop.  They tend to be more abstract because they often use simple images to block off space and implement mock content, or Latin (lorem ipsum) text as filler for content and labels.
  • High-fidelity wireframes are better for documentation because of their increased level of detail. These wireframes often include information about each particular item on the page, including dimensions, behavior, and/ or actions related to any interactive element.