Website Information Structures

6 years ago by
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When designing the navigation systems for your site, it's crucial to determine what kinds of information structures you'll employ in your navigation. Below are seven basic examples of structures to keep in mind when designing your navigation.

Bear in mind, too, that some of these structures are often used simultaneously throughout a site.

Linear Information Structures

In a simple linear structure, a site visitor can't get to one page without first having gone through the previous page. Examples of linear structures include step-by-step guides, online tests and site searches.

Hub-and-Spoke Structures

A hub-and-spoke structure is similar to a linear structure, except that here the visitor will start on a key page and then navigate to other pages individually. Reasons that you might want to create a central page without linking the "spokes" to each other might be to eliminate clutter or to ensure the completion of a certain task on each spoke before being able to return to the main page.

Web Structures

In this type of site structure, a multitude of "node" pages are linked together without sequence or levels. With no real start and end points of the site, each page has the potential to be the center page in a hub-and-spoke structure. Social media commonly has this type of structure. In Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, users create links between their pages and the pages of others such that information is cross referenced site-wide.

Hierarchical Structures

Most websites have some kind of hierarchy. In the example illustrated, the nodes are arranged in a parent-child relationship, where below levels (children) inherit the level designation from the above levels (parents).

Polyhierarchical Structures

In a polyhierarchical structure, a page can have more than one parent. This is useful because it allows pages and content to be reused. In the illustrated example, the tertiary page has two parents, though in a polyhierarchy there is no limit to the parent number.

Facet Structure

In a hierarchical structure, the location of a page is determined by its parent/sibling/child relationships. In a facet hierarchy, a page's location is determined by the category it belongs to, such that a page can have multiple points of access.

Consider, for example, how a book is found on amazon.com. In a hierarchical structure, a book could be found by browsing through Fiction > Historical Fiction > James Clavell > Shogun. But in a faceted hierarchy, Shoguncan be found based on its value in multiple categories:

  • Author
  • Price
  • Title
  • Genre

Facets are also great because they are very scalable. If you change the price on Shogun, or you add another author with a last name that starts with "Cl" it won't affect the positioning of other pages. This scalability is not necessarily true of hierarchies.

Emergent Structures

The key quality of emergent structures is that they aren't planned in advance, but are instead created organically and spontaneously by users. This bottom-up approach is most notable in Wikipedia's site structure, which hasn't been planned by a site architect but is instead self-organizing. This does not mean there is no structure--and in the case of Wikipedia it is a hybrid of a Web Structure and a Hierarchical Structure--it just means that there was no preconceived structure by site owners and architects.

Now that you have some of the basics under your belt, take a gander at Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience. It's a seminal text for an online marketer or information architect looking to build a website from the ground up.

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