Organization of Content
The organizational arrangement of material available on any given site is only as effective as it is accessible. Facilitating an ease-of-use becomes understandable if one thinks of organizational systems as being composed of organizational schemes and organizational structures. (Rosenfeld & Morville)
There are basically three organizational schemes: Exact organizational schemes; Ambiguous organizational schemes; and Hybrid organizational schemes.
Exact organizational schemes are composed of well-defined, mutually-exclusive sections. Besides being easy to design and maintain because of the lack of guesswork involved, they are easy to use as well. They are constructed upon models that we are all well-accustomed to. We are all trained to use alphabetical files and lists. We also have experience with geographical models of information. And many of us are quite familiar with the chronological arrangement of lists and data. Each of these arrangements are best-suited for information that we are already at least partially aware of – something that we are simply looking up.
Ambiguous organizational schemes are useful when looking for information without quite knowing what it is one is looking for. Information is arranged according to relative content. The Dewey Decimal System is a good example of this. This is typically topical in arrangement. The similarity to library architecture can also be seen in the organization of areas according to audience-specific sections. Task-oriented schemes are possible given the interactive nature of the medium. And finally, designing around a metaphor can be helpful - or a hindrance (so be careful here). The issue of extensibility arises – will the metaphor be appropriate in all cases and forever?
Studies have shown that, as far as the structure of a site is concerned, most users don't form a mental image of it (Spool). This may be because of the all-to-common use of hybrid schemes of organization. If a number of schemes are desired, it is still possible to make them comprehensible to the user by way of good design. Instead of simply grouping everything together, a judicious layout, rendering the various sections in a clear and comprehensible fashion will satisfy all the parties involved while playing on the strengths of those orderings. Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability expands on some of these wayfinding and information interaction techniques.
The structure of a composition, whether it be a painting or a song, is what gives it some sort of coherence. Web site and intranet architectures also have patterns of arrangement. Any one or a combination of a hierarchical structure, a database orientation, or the use of hypertext can be used. Still other models of information design can include linear, web, parallel, matrix, overlay, or spatial zoom organizational models (R&M).
While the linear arrangement of information is the most basic way that material is often presented, the introduction of a hierarchy usually signals the beginning of qualitative assessment of content. An important consideration in a arranging a hierarchical site is to balance the breadth versus the depth of information. A narrow selection of routes with deep sets of pages becomes labor-intensive for the user (where the use of the so-called breadcrumbs interactive element becomes appropriate). On the other hand, an overwhelming number of choices on the main menu can cause clutter and confusion.
Less a compositional model than a content-enhancement tool, hypertext allows relational links to be established within the context of a database or hierarchy thereby allowing for the web, parallel, matrix, and overlay approaches.
There are times when using a database can give the best results. Content-management, search, and security are some of the advantages to designing around a database. On the other hand, a level of difficulty, cost and time are added to the process.
Additional information on the organization of information can be found at: