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Setting Up Web Site Categories

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The information architecture of your site is a process upon which many other processes hinge. At its most simple form, information architecture outlines the structure of your site - it's the process of developing categories and labels, and deciding where all the pieces of your web site belong. In this article, New Riders author Lynda Weinman excerpts a chapter from her new book Designing Web Graphics.4 to overview the first step in the information architecture process: setting up your categories.
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Setting Up Site Categories

The first step to determining your site's architecture is to decide what the category names will be for each section, as well as the number of sections that you want. It's good to think about what areas will need to be persistent, versus what areas will change.

For example, many sites that use ecommerce will have persistent links for the shopping cart, tracking, shipping, and/or billing information. Many people use index cards or sticky notes to write down category ideas. This is a great technique because it allows you to move subjects around easily and change your mind. Plan to spend at least a day or two on a small site—or weeks on a larger site—to make sure you've tried every possibility and scenario. This is a case when it's really great to encourage others to contribute their ideas.

Just as you would conduct user testing of a finished web site, it's a good idea to test your information architecture ideas on a few trusted colleagues or potential end users. There are many tools like Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand that help you organize ideas. Here are some other alternatives:

Figure 1figure 1 Scribbles do fine as well. Most of the time people map ideas out on paper before they make a more formal site map.

Figure 2figure 2 Index cards or sticky notes work well because you can change your mind and rearrange topics easily.

Figure 3figure 3 This site map was laid out in Adobe Illustrator and was wider than a single screen to map out.

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