Need help organizing your information product? To determine the best way to present information, consider how customers will use it.
Richard Saul Wurman created an information empire by answering questions he wanted the answers to, and by organizing information the way people use it. His Access travel guides organize information by location, rather than by category. So instead of traditional travel guides, which may have lists of restaurants, museums, stores, parks, etc., Wurman’s guides allow you to find your location in a city, and see what is around you.
Wurman says that information can be organized in five different ways, and each way is appropriate for different types of data, or different uses of data. He uses the acronym LATCH to describe the five ways:
- Location – the best method for atlases and travel guides;
- Alphabetical – for dictionaries, phone directories, etc.;
- Time – when sequence is important: instructions, jokes, history;
- Category – for encyclopedias, resource guides, etc.; and
- Hierarchy – to organize information from best to worst, biggest to smallest, most expensive to least expensive, etc.
Think about how LATCH applies to your information. What category would you use if you were going to publish a:
- Directory of Home-based Businesses
- How-To Book on Building a Deck
- Restaurant Guide
- Membership Directory
Were some of those a little tough? That’s because the subject alone isn’t enough information to determine how your data should be organized. You also have to know who your audience is, and how they will use the information. For example, your restaurant guide might be organized by category (type of food, e.g., Continental, French, Italian), location (e.g., city or neighborhood), or hierarchy (e.g., “star” ratings, cost, etc.). The membership directory might be strictly an alphabetical list of members, or it might organize them by location, by occupation, or by other criteria.
You will also see that different methods may be used at each level of organization. For example, cookbooks are typically arranged by category: appetizers, meats, vegetables, cakes, etc. But a recipe in the cookbook is arranged by time. Each recipe lists ingredients (usually in the order they will be used), then tells you what to do in sequence.
When organizing your information, always keep in mind how it will be used. Make it easy for the user to find what they need and to get the results they want. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and ask how you would like to see the information organized. Are there other uses for the information you have assembled? Who will want it and how will they use it? As you answer these questions, you may discover needs for new products which can be met by repackaging your information in another form.
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