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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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Organization Structures

Organization structure plays an intangible yet very important role in the design of web sites. While we interact with organization structures every day, we rarely think about them. Movies are linear in their physical structure. We experience them frame by frame from beginning to end. However, the plots themselves may be nonlinear, employing flashbacks and parallel subplots. Maps have a spatial structure. Items are placed according to physical proximity, although the most useful maps cheat, sacrificing accuracy for clarity.

The structure of information defines the primary ways in which users can navigate. Major organization structures that apply to web site and intranet architectures include the hierarchy, the database-oriented model, and hypertext. Each organization structure possesses unique strengths and weaknesses. In some cases, it makes sense to use one or the other. In many cases, it makes sense to use all three in a complementary manner.

The Hierarchy: A Top-Down Approach

The foundation of almost all good information architectures is a well-designed hierarchy or taxonomy.[13] In this hypertextual world of nets and webs, such a statement may seem blasphemous, but it’s true. The mutually exclusive subdivisions and parent-child relationships of hierarchies are simple and familiar. We have organized information into hierarchies since the beginning of time. Family trees are hierarchical. Our division of life on earth into kingdoms and classes and species ...

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