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Organization Schemes

Organization schemes have to do with how you are going to categorize your content and the various ways you'll create relationships between each piece. Most content can be categorized in multiple ways. Schemes can be broken down into Exact and Subjective.  Depending on the content, it’s conceivable that the site may combine schemes as opposed to treating them independently.

Exact Organization Schemes

Exact organization schemes objectively divide information into mutually exclusive sections.  These systems comparatively are easy for information architects to create and categorize content within.  However, they can be a challenge at times for users. It requires that the user understands how what they are looking for fits within the model. Examples of exact organizational structures include:

  • Alphabetical schemes make use of our 26-letter alphabet for organizing their contents. For this type of scheme to be successful, it is important that the content labeling matches the words that users are looking for. Sometimes, alphabetical schemes in the form of an A-Z index serve as secondary navigational components to supplement content’s findability that is otherwise organized.
  • Chronological schemes organize content by date. For these schemes to be successful there must be agreement about when the subject of the content took place.
  • Geographical schemes organize content based on place. Unless there are border disputes, this type of scheme is fairly straightforward to design and use.

Often these types of schemes serve as a good supplemental way to navigate a site that that is otherwise organized.  For example, you may choose to provide a map to display information or an A-Z index to get to topics grouped primarily by one of the following subjective schemes.

Subjective Organization Schemes

Subjective organization schemes categorize information in a way that may be specific to or defined by the organization or field. Although they are difficult to design, they are often more useful than exact organization schemes. When information architects take the time to consider the user’s mental models and group the content in meaningful ways, these types of schemes can be quite effective in producing conversions. This type of categorization can also help facilitate learning by helping users understand and draw connections between pieces of content.  Examples of subjective schemes include the following:

  • Topic schemes organize content based on the specific subject matter.
  • Task schemes organize content by considering the needs, actions, questions, or processes that users bring to that specific content.
  • Audience schemes organize content for separate segments of users.  Audience schemes can be closed or open, meaning that users are able to navigate from one audience to another.  This type of scheme does present challenges unless the content lends itself to users very easily self-identifying to which audience they belong and perhaps not fitting multiple audience profiles.
  • Metaphor schemes help users by relating content to familiar concepts.  This is used in interface design (folders, trash, etc) but can pose challenges when used as the site’s primary organization scheme.

Challenges of Creating Hybrids

Implementing schemes independently has its advantages because it keeps things simple for the user. They can identify the categorization and form a mental model that can be quickly understood. Mixing schemes by creating hybrids can cause confusion for users. This is often proposed as a solution when project teams cannot agree on a single scheme to categorize the content.


  • Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond (2nd Edition)
  • Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites
  • Classification Schemes and When to Use Them Site exit disclaimer