Organizing Web sites and intranets

A poorly organized Web site may have few repeat customers. Don't let it happen to you.

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The power of a pure organization scheme derives from its ability to suggest a simple mental model that users can quickly understand. Users easily recognize an audience-specific or topical organization. And fairly small, pure organization schemes can be applied to large amounts of content without sacrificing their integrity or diminishing their usability.

However, when you start blending elements of multiple schemes, confusion often follows, and solutions are rarely scalable. Consider the example in Figure 5-9. This hybrid scheme includes elements of audience-specific, topical, metaphor-based, task-oriented, and alphabetical organization schemes. Because they are all mixed together, we can’t form a mental model. Instead, we need to skim through each menu item to find the option we’re looking for.

A hybrid organization scheme

Figure5-9.A hybrid organization scheme

The exception to these cautions against hybrid schemes exists within the surface layer of navigation. As illustrated by eBay (see Figure 5-6), many web sites successfully combine topics and tasks on their main page and within their global navigation. This reflects the reality that both the organization and its users typically identify finding content and completing key tasks at the top of their priority lists. Because this includes only the highest-priority tasks, the solution does not need to be scalable. It’s only when such schemes are used to organize a large volume of content and tasks that the problems arise. In other words, shallow hybrid schemes are fine, but deep hybrid schemes are not.

Unfortunately, deep hybrid schemes are still fairly common. This is because it is often difficult to agree upon any one scheme, so people throw the elements of multiple schemes together in a confusing mix. There is a better alternative. In cases where multiple schemes must be presented on one page, you should communicate to designers the importance of preserving the integrity of each scheme. As long as the schemes are presented separately on the page, they will retain the powerful ability to suggest a mental model for users. For example, a look at the Stanford University home page in Figure 5-10 reveals a topical scheme, an audience-oriented scheme, an alphabetical index, and a search function. By presenting them separately, Stanford provides flexibility without causing confusion.

Stanford provides multiple organization schemes

Figure5-10.Stanford provides multiple organization schemes

About the Authors

Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld are founding fathers of information architecture and co-founders of the Information Architecture Institute. Peter is president of Semantic Studios and a faculty member at the University of Michigan. He blogs at Louis is an information architecture consultant, founder of Rosenfeld Media, a user experience publishing house, and co-founder of UXnet, the User Experience Network. He blogs regularly at

Listen to a interview with the authors, Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld.

Duration: 13 minutes.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3rd Edition

By Louis Rosenfeld & Peter Morville

ISBN 0-596-52734-9

More information is available at the O'Reilly Catalog

Copyright 2007, 2002, 1998 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media ( )

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