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Answering User Questions - Administration

If you've ever had trouble recognizing what an information architecture is, or building one for your web site, you've come to the right place. This article will set you on the right track. It is excerpted from chapter four of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Third Edition, written by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld (O'Reilly, ISBN: 0596527349). Copyright © 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

  1. The Anatomy of an Information Architecture
  2. Defining Information Architecture
  3. Answering User Questions
  4. Content and Information Architecture
  5. Invisible Information Architecture
By: O'Reilly Media
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May 29, 2008

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In effect, the Gustavus main page tries to anticipate users’ major information needs, such as “How do I find out about admissions?” or “What’s going on this week on campus?” The site’s information architects have worked hard to determine the most common questions, and have designed the site to meet those needs. We refer to this as top-down information architecture, and the Gustavus main page addresses many common “top-down” questions that users have when they land on a site, including:

  1. Where am I?
  2. I know what I’m looking for; how do I search for it?

  3. How do I get around this site?
  4. What’s important and unique about this organization?
  5. What’s available on this site?
  6. What’s happening there?
  7. Do they want my opinion about their site?
  8. How can I contact a human?
  9. What’s their address?

Figure 4-3.  A site's main page is crammed with answers to users to users' questions

Figure 4-4 shows a slightly different example—pages tagged by one of the authors as relevant to enterprise user experience in del.icio.us, a social bookmarking service.

Figure 4-4.  Bookmarks tagged as about “enterprise_UX” in del.icio.us, a social bookmarking service.

There is little to see here besides the information architecture and the content itself. In fact, as the content is just a collection of links to bookmarked pages from other web sites, the information architecture is the bulk of the page. It provides context for the content, and tells us what we can do while we’re here.

  1. The information architecture tells us where we are (in del.icio.us, on a page maintained by user “louisrosenfeld” that contains bookmarks he tagged as “enterprise_ux”).
  2. It helps us move to other, closely related pages (by, for example, scrolling through results (“<< earlier | later >>”) and to pages we’ve bookmarked using different tags (under “tags” and “related tags”).
  3. It helps us move through the site hierarchically (for example, we can navigate to the del.icio.us main page, or to recent or popular bookmarks) and contextually (for example, by clicking on “saved by 4 other people” or by seeing who else bookmarked pages using the same tag).
  4. It allows us to manipulate the content for better browsing (we can display tags in alphabetical order, as is shown, or as a “tag cloud”; a variety of other configuration choices are displayed in the “options”).
  5. It tells us where we can go for basic services, such as logging into our account or getting help (“contact us” and “help”).

In many respects, this page from del.icio.us is nothing but information architecture.

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