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Eight Principles of Information Architecture Cheat Sheet by

information     architecture

Introd­uction

These principles make an assump­tion: inform­ation archit­ecture is the practice of designing struct­ures. These principles help guide the design of struct­ures, but they presume the following:
The inform­ation archit­ect’s primary focus is the structure itself and second­arily the user interface repres­enting the structure on screen (I make site maps and flow charts)
The inform­ation architect has a good unders­tanding of how people want to relate to the content and functi­onality contained in the structure (I’ve done my research)
The inform­ation architect has a good unders­tanding of the range of content and functi­onality to be supported by the structure (I’ve invent­oried the content)

The Principle of Objects

The Principle of Objects Treat content as a living, breathing thing with a lifecycle, behaviors and attrib­utes. Where it comes from. Thinking of content as objects comes from object oriented progra­mming, where a computer program is broken up into discrete, logical chunks. Each chunk has methods, behaviors that the chunk of code can perform, and proper­ties, pieces of inform­ation attached to the object. Objects are really templates, so the methods and properties provide a framework for thinking about all instances of a particular object. So, when I say “object,” I mean that website content has  a consistent and recogn­izable internal structure (such as the different ingred­ients of a recipe) and
 a discrete set of behaviors (such as how recipes can have variations or can become more or less important)

The Principle of Choices

Create pages that offer meaningful choices to users, keeping the range of choices available focused on a particular task. Where it comes from. The Paradox of Choice is a book by Barry Schwartz [1] that came out in 2005. In brief, the book’s message is that a greater number of options can make it more difficult for people to make a decision. More options means more cognitive effort, and more effort can sometimes mean more anxiety. People think they like having a lot of options, but they really do not.

The Principle of Disclosure

Show only enough inform­ation to help people understand what kinds of inform­ation they’ll find as they dig deeper. Where it comes from. Progre­ssive disclosure is a common design concept that builds on the ideas that we can only process so much inform­ation at once, but that we can use what we have to anticipate what’s to come. I like the explan­ation in Universal Principles of Design, a book byWilliam Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler [2, p. 154]: “Infor­mation presented to a person who is not interested or ready to process it is effect­ively noise.”
 

Inform­ation Archit­ecture

The Principle of Exemplars

Describe the contents of categories by showing examples of the contents. Where it comes from. Cognitive science has long studied how people categorize things. The field looks at what it means to hold a concept in your head. Ultima­tely, psycho­logists have discovered that our brains represent categories as networks of good examples.

The Principle of Front Doors

Assume at least half of the website’s visitors will come through some page other than the home page. Where it comes from. This notion has become common­place since even the larger sites find that most of their traffic comes through a side door, not the home page. These direct links are the power of search.

The Principle of Multiple Classi­fic­ation

Offer users several different classi­fic­ation schemes to browse the site’s content. Where it comes from. Good inform­ation archit­ecture acknow­ledges that people have different ways of looking for inform­ation. Even narrow audiences represent a diversity of motiva­tions and mental models (how we imagine inform­ation space).A classi­fic­ation scheme attempts to provide simple ways for finding inform­ation across this range.A classi­fic­ation scheme describes what labels you will use to categorize the website’s content.

The Principle of Focused Navigation

Don’t mix apples and oranges in your navigation scheme. Where it comes from. Lots of design teams use phrases like “global naviga­tion” or “right rail” or “left menu bar” to refer to a menu that lets users browse content, but do so with its location on the page.Where a menu appears should not constitute its defini­tion.
As for where it came from, it’s all me.Working with design teams in organi­zations that use phrases like “global nav,” I realized that the label makes it difficult for those teams to understand what the navigation menu is for.A navigation menu loses its purpose when its name comes from its location on the template.

The Principle of Growth

Assume the content you have today is a small fraction of the content you will have tomorrow. Where it comes from. Of all the principles on this list, this one is at once both the most self-e­vident and the most confou­ndi­ng.We all know where it comes from: the web today has more content than it did last year and the year before and the year before that. The conven­ience of publishing content combined with inexpe­nsive storage means people put stuff up, but don’t take stuff down. Designing for the expone­ntial prolif­eration of content is challe­nging. Designing a structure that can accomm­odate twice as much content as it can today is like building an armoire with twice as many drawers. The digital storage of inform­ation comes with (appar­ently) limitless space, but the presen­tation of and access to that inform­ation must conform, on some levels, with the limita­tions imposed by physical space.Why? The people who browse the stacks at a library are the same people looking for content online: we have the same cognitive and ergonomic requir­ements.

Universal Principles of Inform­ation

Archit­ecture As Lidwell, Holden and Butler say in the introd­uction to their book, “The use of well-e­sta­blished design principles increases the probab­ility that a design will be succes­sful.” [2, p.13] The key term here is “well-­est­abl­ished.” Inform­ation archit­ecture, though perhaps in its infancy compared too their design fields like building archit­ecture and graphic design, can still establish a set of self-e­vident truths derived from other fields of design­,ex­per­ience and testin­g.These principles can constitute the foundation of a theory of inform­ation archit­ecture, a framework for informing design decisions about the structures of websites (among other things). What separates these principles from, say, those described in the Lidwell, Holden and Butler book is that, for now, these are my princi­ples. I derived them from my work either organi­cally or as adapta­tions of principles from other fields validated through experi­ence. They’re the principles I bring with me to every new project, a psychic history of prior challe­nges, debates and lessons learned. They serve as the starting point for projec­t-s­pecific princi­ples, a fertile ground for growing guidelines geared especially for a particular client, set of design challenges or project objective.

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