Content models and information architectureGetting the content structures right
Building a website, a content product or a digital tool is a little like building a house. You could go straight to some capable builders who would build you a standard structure. Or you could hire architects to design something beautiful; something truly suited to its use.
Getting the underlying content structures right is crucial. Our expertise in designing content models and information architectures enables your content to be effective, efficient and sustainable.
A content model defines what types of content you have, and what structure that content takes. It’s the underlying system blueprint for your content.
Your content model will also define the content elements that are needed for your website, app or content product. Some content models are purely technical; others are more high level and strategic. Ours are both: a Contentious content model covers what each content type should consist of, its strategic purpose, and what aspects, elements and relationships should be considered.
We create content models that are closely related to the information architecture, which defines how content is organised. Our content models also consider channels, formats, taxonomies and purposes. And they’re carefully designed to work for the current reality and also be flexible enough for the future.
We produce our content models in both tabular and diagrammatic formats. Tables are good at showing the different aspects and elements of each content type; diagrams are good at displaying relationships and hierarchies.
We wrap these outputs up with text that explains what’s what.
Content types, channels and formats
A content type is a sort of content which has a particular purpose and structure. Content types are often not bound by channel or format. A story, for example, may exist in different forms across different channels (such as a website and social media) and formats (such as digital and print).
Paddle, swim, dive
The paddle, swim, dive methodology means offering content at different, progressively deeper levels of detail. It rewards superficial browsing while also encouraging deeper exploration.
Dividing content by audience segment usually leads to problems. We make generalisations and assumptions about users’ needs and wants that aren’t always aligned to a nuanced reality. Experts in one area may have little background knowledge in another. University professors may also want to buy a mug.
By using the paddle, swim, dive approach to content, we create content models that can offer everyone what they need.
Headless content management systems
Headless content management systems separate the content from the presentation. This allows a single source of content to feed different formats and channels. It’s an approach that lends itself especially well to intelligent content models and an atomic approach to content.
Storyblok is our headless CMS of choice because of its superior content authoring and maintenance experience.
Wireframing and UI
Wireframes are where our content models come to life.
Our wireframes can either be low-fidelity or high fidelity. Low-fidelity wireframes communicate layouts without any UI design; high-fidelity wireframes layer precise graphic implementation onto layouts.
“The way you choose to organise your vegetables says something about what kind of store you are.”
Information architecture is the way that you organise and categorise your content, and one of the ways people navigate around your website.
It also communicates much about who you are, what you do, and how you do it. It tells people what sort of organisation you are.
Groupings, order and juxtapositions are important. As are labels.
- URL structure
- Taxonomy and tagging
Needs that IA responds to
There are four main types of behaviour or needs that information architecture responds to:
- Known-item seeking
Looking for something you know about already.
- Exploratory seeking
Looking for non-specific inspiration and interest. Browsing without a particular purpose
- Exhaustive research
Looking for as much information as possible.
Going back to something you found before.
In order to stress test information architecture and to guide decision- making, we use these 10 information architecture principles.
The structure and navigation must:
1. Use clear language
Labels, titles and descriptions are written in plain language using the simplest, most familiar terms possible. Jargon and internal language are banned.
A good label describes the contents, cues users about what they’ll find and contributes to the story told by the whole system.
Test: Can you express this in simpler terms?
2. Represent relationships consistently
The system for organising and relating items can be detected and understood, if only subconsciously. Similar content gets similar treatment.
Test: Based on the navigation alone, would internal users know where to put new content?
3. Group like items
People assume similarity between items in a group. Our structure and menus group items that are on the same level. We don’t mix apples with pears.
Test: Is there an odd one out?
4. Offer relevant topics
To engage people, we present topics that are broad enough to cover the domain and provide a home for our content, and specific enough to grab people’s attention and pique their interest.
Test: Are these topics graspable and meaningful? If you were a user, would you want to click on them?
5. Make topics visible
To encourage exploration, teach users about the domain and tell a coherent story about an organisation’s activities (campaigns, programmes, policy, fundraising) we put topics on top.
Test: Is it clear from the navigation what the domain is and what the organisation’s relationship to the domain is?
6. Help people find their way around
To orientate people within our structure, we make it clear where they are and where they’ve come from.
Test: If you end up in the middle of the structure, would you know how to get out?
7. Cater for different information-seeking behaviours
Our structure and navigation guide users who are: looking for something they already know about, exploring or browsing without a particular goal or destination, looking for as much information as possible about a subject, and going back to something they’ve seen before.
Test: Are there clear routes to particular destinations as well as options to follow an unexpected path and discover something interesting?
8. Take an external view
Our structure and navigation are not dictated by or a reflection of internal structures or language. They challenge internal assumptions and don’t centre the organisation or particular parts of the organisation. “The issues we face” not “about our work.”
Test: Would your family member/friend/neighbour care? How many times does the word “our” “us” “we” appear in the navigation?
9. Be clean and concise
Our navigation is as concise as possible. Too much is overwhelming and inefficient.
(As IA guru Dan Brown says, every item in a menu gives users one more thing to interpret and understand. Every embellishment or additional piece of of information burdens it with yet another chore.)
Test: Does this need to be here? Would users get lost or confused without it?
10. Work now and in the future
Topics, types, campaigns and geographies can be added over time. The structure can flex and evolve to cater for shifts in content, priorities and the domain. We have a process for maintaining tags and guarding against folksonomies.
Test: What happens if the structure needs to change? Can it evolve without breaking or ballooning?
What's your perfect structure?
Whatever project you have up your digital sleeve, we’re pretty sure that a brilliant content model and information architecture will improve your life, save you time and money, and make you more effective and generally happier.
We'd love to discuss how we can help architect your project.
Some website projects we’ve done
We needed to explain how Pack works and to get people to sign up. Clarity was vital, and we needed to hit exactly the right note.
We needed to kickstart debate and conversations about the future of the charity sector, without a lanyard in sight.