Information Architecture and Design - Five Facets of Design

In content management projects, design doesn't just refer to the look and feel of the site but goes much deeper into the entire design of the site from the content through to the presentation. Understanding that design goes much deeper than the surface and how to bring the different elements of design together will have a significant impact on the success of the end product.

Content Modeling

Rarely do people think about the design of content. Database designs are common, information design is becoming better understood, visual design is well known; but content design is almost unheard of. Information design relates to how the content is to be presented on the web page. Content design refers to the structure of the content itself and is not related to how the content is to be presented. It involves the naming of each type of content, the definition of each attribute, and the type of data that it will contain, as well as how the content type relates to other content types.

Given the number of projects delivered using a CMS, it seems to be a massive oversight. The design of content plays a huge role in every project.

In particular, content design defines how the content will be structured and stored within the site. It's a cross between a database table and object class, and is referred to as a content class.

Content Class

One of the most important parts of every CMS project is to gather all the content, analyze it, and then come up with a collection of content classes that will meet the needs of the end solution. This is often where people new to CMS will get stuck—using too many classes creates development overhead, using too few restricts flexibility. Knowing what's "just right" is a matter of skill and experience.

The key to deciding when a content class is required is when the content has a repeatable structure that is different from other content on the site. A lot of content can be presented with a generic content class, e.g. web page.

There are two clear cases that will dictate if a content class is required.

The first case is when the content has an existing, repeatable structure, e.g. a product has a number of fields that contain product information. These collections of fields are unique to that type of content, just like a database table has a number of fields of a particular type.

The following table is an example of a product content class. You'll see that it has a set of fields and also the type of data that is to be stored.

Attribute

Datatype

Product Name

Text

Product Category

Rich Text

Description

Rich Text

Image

FIle

Cost

Numeric

The second case where a content class is required is when the display of that content is specified in a set and repeated manner. For instance, a news article is to be displayed in a particular way: As a list of news items and then each individual news item.

The list of news items is to show the title, author, publication, and date only. In this case, the system needs to be able extract those fields only. If the author, date, and publication were all stored in a single field, it would be difficult for the system to extract ONLY those fields to be presented on the page. Also, unless the date was an individual field, it would be difficult to extract news items based on date or sort and filter on that field. In this situation, a content class would be created that had each of these elements as individual fields. It provides clarity for the content creator, consistency in display, and makes it easy for the system to deal with.

Attribute

Datatype

Title

Text

Author

Text

Date

Date

Publication

Text

Description

Rich Text

However, it should be noted that having too many different content classes can be as bad as having too few content classes. The number of content classes required is dependent entirely on the nature of the content itself. This will dictate when you need to create a content class.