Over the weekend I met with my friend Ren Pope to talk Information Architecture (as well as careers, korean food and the word progress). Ren promotes the idea of being an advocate for the information itself, and to do what he calls an “information archeology.” He shared with me some of his ideas on how to tackle a large IA project (ahem, Drupal Docs) from the standpoint of the information itself.
He advises 2 concurrent steps to start out with, and it sounded like these might best be done by different people. Part one is taking time to understand and model the architecture of the content management system (or whatever framework you’re using). Part two is to study and graphically model the content itself separately from whatever structure it lives within (for example, looking at patterns in language in formatting). Use this as a start to building a content inventory focusing on common denominators in structure, labeling and words.
Ren stressed starting with visual models of the information so that once both are completed, the models of both the framework and content architecture can be compared and analyzed. Once this is done, you use this information to create a spreadsheet of the architecture as you see fit, choosing where different themes or types of content go. The new structure can be tested and revised with cardsorting (which can also be used to explore additional topics like semantic mapping).