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7.5. Grouping Content

As we explained in Chapter 3, "Organizing Information", grouping content into the top-level categories of an information hierarchy is typically the most important and challenging process you will face. How should the content be organized? By audience or format or function? How do users currently navigate this information? How do the clients want users to navigate? Which content items should be included in which major categories?

The design of information architectures should be determined by research involving members of the team and representatives from each of the major audiences. Fortunately, you don't need the latest technology to conduct this research. Index cards, the 3 x 5-inch kind you can fit in your pocket and find in any stationery store, will help you get the job done. For lack of a better name, we call this index card-based approach content chunking. To try content chunking, buy a few packages of index cards and follow these steps:

  1. Invite the team to generate a content wish list for the web site on a set of index cards.

  2. Instruct them to write down one content item per card.

  3. Ask each member of the group or the group as a whole to organize the cards into piles of related content items and assign labels to each pile.

  4. Record the results of each, and then move on to the next.

  5. Repeat this exercise with representative members and groups of the organization and intended audiences.

  6. Compare and contrast the results of each.

  7. Analysis of the results should influence the information architecture of the web site.

This card-based content chunking process can be performed collaboratively where people must reach consensus on the organization of information. Alternatively, individuals can sort the cards alone and record the results.

The biggest problem with shuffling index cards is that it can be time consuming. Involving clients, colleagues, and future users in the exercise and analyzing the sometimes confusing results takes time. Some of this content chunking can be accomplished through the wish list process as noted earlier. However, the major burden of content chunking responsibility often falls to the information architect in the conceptual design phase.

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