Information Architecture components

June 5, 2008
  1. Browsing Aids
    These components present users with a predetermined set of paths to help them navigate the site. Users don’t articulate their queries, but instead find their way through menus and links. Types of browsing aids include:

    1. Organisation Systems – The main ways of categorizing a site’s content. Also known as taxonomies and hierarchies.
    2. Site-wide Navigation Systems – Primary navigation systems that help users understand where they are and where they can go within a site.
    3. Local Navigation Systems – Primary navigation systems that help users understand where they are and where they can go within a portion of a site (i.e., a subsite).
    4. Sitemaps/Tabies of Contents – Navigation systems that supplement primary navigation systems; provide a condensed overview of and links to major content areas and subsites within the site, usually in outline form.
    5. Site Indexes – Supplementary navigation systems that provide an alphabetized list of links to the contents of the site.
    6. Site Guides – Supplementary navigation systems that provide specialized information on a specific topic, as well as links to a related subset of the site’s content.
    7. Site Wizards – Supplementary navigation systems that lead users through a sequential set of steps; may also link to a related subset of the site’s content.
    8. Contextual Linking Systems – Consistently presented links to related content. Often embedded in text, and generally used to connect highly specialized content within a site.
  2. Search Aids
    These components allow the entry of a user-defined query (e.g., a search) and automatically present users With a customized set of results that match their query. of these as dynamic, automated counterparts to browsing aids. Types of search components include:

    1. Search Interface – !he means of entering a search query, typically with information on how to improve your query, as well as other ways to configure your search (e.g., selecting from specific search zones).
    2. Query Language – The grammar of a search query; query languages might include Boolean operators (e.g., AND, OR, NOT), proximity operators (e.g., ADJACENT, NEAR), or ways of specifying which field to search (e.g., AUTHOR=”Shakespeare”).
    3. Retrieval Algorithms – The part of a search engine that determines which content matches a user’s query.

    4. Search Zones – Subsets of site content that have been separately indexed to support narrower searching (e.g., searching the tech support area within a software vendor’s site).
    5. Search Results – Presentation of content that matches the user’s search query; involves decisions of what types of content should make up each individual result, how many .Its to display, and how results should be ranked, sorted, and clustered.
  3. Content and Tasks
    These are the users’ ultimate destinations, as opposed to separate components that users to their destinations. However, it’s difficult to separate content and tasks from an information architecture, as there are components embedded in content and ks that help us find our way. Examples of information architecture components embedded in content and tasks include:

    1. Headings – Labels for the content that follows them.
    2. Embedded Links – Links within text; these label (i.e., represent) the content they link to.
    3. Embedded Metadata – Information that can be used as metadata but must first be extracted (e.g., in a recipe, if an ingredient is mentioned, this information can be indexed to support searching by ingredient) .
    4. Chunks – Logical units of content; these can vary in granularity (e.g., books and chapters are both chunks) and can be nested (e.g., a chapter is part of a book).
    5. Lists – Groups of chunks or links to chunks; these are important because they’ve been grouped together (e.g., they share some trait in common) and have been presented in a particular order (e.g., chronologically).
    6. Sequential Aids – Clues that suggest where the user is in a process or task, and how far he has to go before completing it (e.g., “step 3 of 8”).
    7. Identifiers – Clues that suggest where the user is in an information system (e.g., a logo that specifies what site she is using, or a breadcrumb that explains where in the site she is at the moment).
  4. ‘Invisible’ Components
    Certain key architectural components run completely in the background; users rarely (if ever) interact with them. These components often “feed” other components, such as a controlled vocabulary that populates embedded metadata fields. Types of invisible information architecture components include:

    1. Controlled Vocabularies – Predetermined vocabularies of preferred terms that describe a specific domain (e.g., auto racing or orthopedic surgery); typically include variant terms (e.g., “brewskie” is variant term for “beer”).
    2. Thesauri – A controlled vocabulary that may also include links to broader and narrower terms, as well as descriptions of preferred terms (a.k.a. “scope notes”).
    3. Rule Sets – Groups of rules that can be used to guide information retrieval (e.g., if someone searches for “handheld,” present these three manually identified results).

From: Morville, Peter and Rosenfeld, Louis (2002), Information Architecture for the World Wide Web – 2nd edition, Sebastopol: O’Reilly, p. 46-49

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