Information Architecture #2: Everybody Line Up!

Aligning ContentLast week we discussed gathering any and all information for your Web site redesign and its overall benefits to your organization and workflow processes. This was one of the first steps in the discipline of Information Architecture (IA). This week we will take the next step and discuss aligning your information.

It should become evident, as you have been gathering, digitizing, and formatting your information that your organization is on the right course or in need of a course correction. As you look over the material that has defined your organization in the past and the services you’ve provided, compare it with the current strengths, mission, goals of your staff, and business model. More often than not, you will find there are some disparaging differences – a gulf between what you thought your company did and what reality shows to be true.

Refine and Align
As a result of this gulf, you may decide to get back to the founding ideals of the organization or you may recognize that a whole new corporate structure and brand is needed–and, it is okay. This information review period alone can be a very rewarding part of the Alignment Phase of IA. As you revisit your business purpose ask:
– Do we need to refine our goals?
– Do we need to set new business goals?
– Who is our intended audience and what do we want them to do online?
– Who are our current constituents and what do they do online?

Before we move on, it should be mentioned that there is a methodology wrapped up in what we’ve been discussing to this point: Information Inventory. The complexity of this inventory depends on the depth and breadth of your content and information.

Take some time to refine the information you’ve gathered based upon the questions above. As you audit and refine your information keep a list of the following for the phases yet to come:
– Number of pages and give them each a unique identification
– Page URL’s
– Content and Document types
– Information owners/producers

Nuts and Bolts/Parts and Patterns
Now it’s time for the heavy lifting—categorizing and aligning your information.
In broad categories look at the kinds of trade you provide: Service, Teaching/Training, Inspiration, Facts, etc. Next categorize your media types: Audio, Video, PDF, Text, Flash, etc.

Based upon your revised business goals and the audience you’re after, start scrutinizing your information (pages and media). Look for patterns that appear. Some patterns will be readily evident, while others may naturally align but not have been on your “radar”. Do not ignore any patterns at this time—as we move into the Editing Phase we’ll take care any unnecessary information. Don’t try to jam content together that does not fit. In an effort to “make it fit” you’ll do yourself and this process more harm than good.

Start looking at the relationships of these information “chunks” to each other. See which ones stand apart and which ones are subservient to others. You may start to see a natural hierarchy appear. This is the beauty of the Alignment Phase.

But, don’t quit now we still have more to go. Next week we’ll discuss the Editing and Labeling Phases. They may seem simple up front but both of these phases can yield their own set of surprising returns.

Until next week.

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