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					NSW Government Website Information Architecture

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Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture
Information architecture models
Information architecture refers to the organisation of a website’s content. It dictates the way in which information is organised, structured, and labelled. Site information needs to be structured to reflect user needs, expectations, and the site’s purpose i . Jesse James Garrett defines information architecture (IA) as the structural design of a site’s information space to facilitate intuitive access to information ii . There are different grouping models that can be used to structure information on your site.

Table 1: Types of grouping models
Grouping model Exact What When to use Types/Instances

Information is divided into well-defined, mutually exclusive categories

Users know the exact details of the content they are looking for, and there is no ambiguity involved Users may not know what they are looking for

Alphabetical Chronological Geographical


Information is divided into ambiguous categories that support iterative and interactive information seeking

Topical Task-oriented Audience-specific

Rosenfeld and Morville use the following terms to describe the organisation of information: • • ‘Schema’ and ‘Structure’

A schema is a way in which information can be framed. For example information can be sorted by something precise such as the alphabet or time. These are known as exact schema and are ideal for users who know what they are looking for. They are also good for indexing content. Information can also be organised around a topic, a task, or a type of user. These are known as ambiguous schema, because a piece of information can belong to more than one group. However they are useful for people who are looking for information without any clear idea of what they want. A good information architecture organises information using both ambiguous and exact schema. Structures explain how the information is related. Structures can be thought of as top down or bottom up. Top down structures group information according to an existing framework such as an organisational structure or classification system. A top down structure is a useful way to organise information but it can lead to information being buried deep within a site.

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Bottom up structures are developed by analysing the information itself, for example databases, and the tasks that people typically perform. A bottom up structure is a good way to bring important and frequently accessed information up to the top.

Interaction design
In many ways information architecture and interaction design are interrelated. Information architecture allows the user to navigate to the area of interest. Interaction design allows the user to complete a task. The diagram below demonstrates the overlap.

Information Architecture Home




Interaction Design





When users are at any stage in a multi-step process, clearly show: • • • • • What information the user will need ready in order to complete the process (e.g. passport or driver’s license number) How many steps are required to complete the process Approximately how long the process will take (average completion time) Which step the user is currently engaged in Which steps the user has successfully completed.

Allow the user to step back through the process without losing data. The back functionality should work regardless of whether the user clicks a link or uses their back button. If possible, save the user’s data at every step in the process. Multi-step processes can be complex, time consuming, and confusing to many users. This can be overcome by showing the user their current location within a process and giving them a sense of progress. Taking steps to prevent data loss if a user accidentally makes a mistake (like hitting their back button) will reduce user frustration and lead to a higher success rate.

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


The following section provides guidelines on methods of deriving an Information Architecture: Identify the purpose of the site Essentially, a site’s purpose refers to the way it is intended to provide value to the organisation by contributing toward organisational goals. In defining the purpose of a site, you should ask “What is this site intended to achieve? Why does it exist? What do you want your visitors to do?”. For example, the purpose of a site may be: • • • • • Informational Promotional Financial (for example, reduce in-coming calls) Educational Procedural (e.g., intranets).

Websites may have more than one purpose, in which case, you need to make sure that the primary purpose is not hidden by a site’s secondary purpose(s). For example, if a website is meant to be educational and entertaining, then it is important that the site educates people and not just entertain them. Gather requirements Having identified and defined your site’s purpose, you need to outline: • • The site’s target audience or user groups – both primary audience and secondary audience(s) The goals and tasks each user group is likely to perform.

From this information, you will be able to determine a set of user workflows (Goals, Decisions, Tasks Diagrams iii ). A user workflow describes the real-world activities performed by users to achieve their goals. Workflows document the various decisions that users must make, and the information needed for them to achieve their tasks and end-goals. It is important to determine these user workflows because they reveal the points at which specific information is needed in the site, and in which sequence. When determining user workflows it is important to get the sequence of tasks and decisions correct. Some tasks must be done first, since they will affect subsequent tasks. For example, when booking a flight people need to select the date first to find out what seats are available. Understanding the way in which your key users think about site content will enable you to create an information architecture that reflects this understanding. This improves the website’s usability by placing content and services where people expect them to be. Methods for determining user workflows and mental models:

User workshops
User workshops can be described as structured discussion groups. They are typically conducted with six to eight people who are representative of a site’s key user groups. User workshops are a useful way of determining user workflows and mental models common to key users.

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Workshops are most appropriate in the early stages of site development or where a site is being redeveloped. A skilled facilitator will be able to host and direct discussion around hard-to-define concepts that are too difficult to describe in questionnaires.

Card sorting
Card sorting involves asking a group of people (representative of key users) to sort a series of cards, each labelled with a piece of content or functionality, into groups that make sense to users or participants. It is used to reveal their mental models by showing the ways in which they group, sort and label tasks and content. There are two types of card sorts - open and closed. In an open card sort, users are given cards showing site content and asked to sort cards into groups that they feel are appropriate. They then describe each group and derive labels for the categories. In a closed card sort, users are given cards showing site content with an established set of primary groups, and asked to place cards into these groups. This technique is useful when adding new content to an existing structure, or to confirm findings from an open card sort. When to use: Card sorting is often used as a collaborative exercise within workshops. Card sorts are most effective when designing new sites, additional site areas, or when redesigning a site iv . This technique is not recommended for sites where the content is relatively simple.

Personas and scenarios
Personas and scenarios have a focus on how and why people do things, as well as what they do. Their purpose is to reflect the key qualities of user groups, in terms of their characteristics, attitudes, likely behaviour, and the implications these have for site design. Personas are a set of fictional descriptions of user types. They are not ‘average’ users but specific characters. They are a prototype for a unique group of people who share common goals while being representative of people in widely different demographic groups who may have similar goals. Personas reveal valuable information such as the motivations of users and their potential usage patterns of the site. Identifying these usage patterns can be an effective way to perform a task analysis and determine the sequence in which information is used and grouped into complete common tasks. Scenarios are stories that describe how personas achieve goals and satisfy needs. They outline the chain of events and the actions performed by the persona as they interact with the site. This might be similar to a workflow. Scenarios are written from the perspective of the persona, focusing on their experience rather than the technology or system functions. Using the personas, the scenario is a good way to predict and define how the user will interact with the system based on their thoughts, needs, and expectations. When to use: Personas and scenarios are tools that should be used during the design and development process. They are useful communication tools that help those designing a system to bear in mind the user, instead of just looking at a lifeless workflow. Information architecture checklist Use the following series of questions as a checklist for your site’s information architecture v :

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Main Page
• • • • Does it support multiple paths to content? Specifically, is there more than one way for users to find the information they need? Does it promote an effective workflow? For example, providing a search engine on the main page would be more effective than burying the search engine within the site. Is the purpose of the site evident from the main page? Does it allow both novice and expert users to navigate though the site at their own pace? For example, are there ‘quick links’ with links to popular pages visited by regular users?

Search Interface
• • • • Is it prominently featured and consistently placed? Is it consistent with other search interfaces? Does it support revision/refinement of results? Is there an error prevention system that includes query builders (including spell-checking, stemming, concept searching, and thesauri searching)?

Site-wide Navigation
• • Is it possible to move through the site without experiencing click fatigue? Are breadth and depth balanced? Breadth refers to the number of options at each level of the hierarchy, and depth refers to the number of levels in the hierarchy. If a hierarchy is too narrow and deep, users are required to click through numerous screens to reach their content. Too broad and shallow a hierarchy may overwhelm users with too many options on the main Are labels clear and meaningful? Is the IA scalable? Are the main category levels broad enough to accommodate site growth, or are they too specific and therefore narrow and limiting?

• •

Contextual Navigation
• • • Is it clear where users are, both in terms of the site and the page within the site? Do the navigation options reflect the key user’s workflows and mental model? Are navigation options clearly labelled?

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Exact Grouping Models

Alphabetical Model (NSW Health, )

Health topics listed alphabetically

Chronological organisation of records (Parliament of NSW, )

Users can select records according to their date.

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Geographical Model - Event information organised according to location (Events in NSW, )

Search engine categories organised according to geographic regions

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Ambiguous Grouping Models

Topical Model (NSW Government Portal, )

Information listed under topical categories

Task-oriented Model (New South Wales Government Portal,

Information is organised based on specific task or event.

Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


Audience-specific Model (Department of Environment and Conversation NSW, ,

Information is organised according to 4 key audience groups: Industry, State and Local government, teachers and students and community.


US Department of Health and Community Services, (2003). Research-based Web Design and Usability Guidelines, Garrett, J. J. (2000). The Elements of User Experience,,. Errey, C (2004). Experience and performance centred design (XPD™), PTG Global Maurer, D., & Warfel, T. (2004). Card sorting: A Definitive Guide in, Rosenfel,R. (2004). Information Architecture Heuristics in,, Rosenfeld, L., & Morville, P. (1998). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.

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Structuring information for interaction – Information Architecture


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