Site Planning & Information Design

Basic Information Structures

In this stage of the web design process we've considered the client's content and looked at different information architecture approaches to ensure usability by providing sufficient "scents of information" to guide the user. To aid us in the process of organizing content and move us towards the web site mapping step let's look at different types of web site structures.

While we may be inclined to use a "web page" as the most basic unit of a web site's information architecture, Jesse James Garrett recommends referring to these units as nodes:

By dealing with nodes rather than with pages, documents, or components, we can apply a common language and a common set of structural concepts to a diverse range of problems. The abstraction of nodes also allows us to explicitly set the level of detail we will be concerned with. Most Web site architecture projects are only concerned with the arrangement of pages on the site; by identifying the page as our base-level node, we make it explicit that we won't be dealing with anything smaller. If the page itself is too small for the project at hand, we can have each node correspond to an entire section of the site.

(Jesse James Garrett, Elements of User Experience, "The Structure Plane")

A web site's nodes can be arranged in a number of different ways, but we can generalize the structures and find examples on the web. A thorough understanding of these structures is extremely useful for planning the structure of a site, and how navigation will work between pages. Lynch and Horton identify three information structures in their book Web Style Guide 2.0: sequences, hierarchies, and webs. Garrett describes sequential and hierarchical structures as well, but he breaks "web" down into matrix and organic.

Based on your content outline begin to consider what information structures will be used in your Web site. You will represent the relationships between pages in these structures as you create a web site map.