A central aspect to structure, and perhaps what people associate the word ”structure” with the most, is sorting something in some kind of order. Well, the word ”sort” itself means ”to organize according to sort”. We have a great amount of information, for example digital documents, that we do not want just jumbled up in a mess somewhere, but categorized according to some kind of systematic structure so that we can find them easily, and just as easily save away the new documents we create and save. We have grown tired of the piles of paper and want to have a clear desk once again, but still want to keep all of the papers — just organized somehow.
So how do you organize?
Richard Saul Wurman, who amongst other things founded the tremendously popular TED-conference in 1984, has been interested in how one can organize great amounts of information in a comprehensive and efficient way his whole life. He also coined the expression ”information architecture” and in coincidence with this concept he has defined five principles for organizing information. The five ways to organize information in are:
- Alphabetically — simply, in alphabetical order
- Chronologically — by time; for instance by when the document was created or what year the report concerns
- Location — by geographic or spacial position; for instance by what sales-district the spreadsheets with the statistics for revenue concern, or by what country the marketing material is to be used in
- Magnitude — some kind of ranking; for example from the lowest price to the highest, from the shortest nails to the longest
- Category — by type or quality; for instance everything related to sales in one place and everything related to purchases in another, or contracts in one folder and protocols in another
Order, I say!
According to Wurman, we should primarily strive to have just one level to our structure, sorted according to one of these five ways to organize in. But many times, especially when we are building folder structures and the likes, we still need several levels. When so, we ensure that we sort every level according to just one of the five principles. If we use several ways to organize on the same level, it will undoubtedly get messy, ambiguous and confusing.
If you want to get a bit more organized, then do the following:
- Decide on where or what you want to sort and organize. If you are unsure where to begin, choose whatever came to mind first and do not second-guess yourself. You will have plenty of time to choose differently if need be.
- Decide on which of the five ways that is most appropriate and feels natural to sort according to for this particular information. You can probably think of more than one way that would fit, so don’t worry too much if you hesitate on which one to choose.
- Make a preliminary sketch of how the structure would look using this new way of organizing.
- Build and sort. If you should need to, fine-tune and make adjustments.
Everything in its rightful place
If you sort by any one of Wurman’s five principles of order and be careful to just apply one principle per level in your structure, your information structure will be off to a good start. You will of course need to refine and perhaps re-sort some things, but if you adhere to Wurman’s model when you sort, you will definitely find what you look for much faster and feel rest assured when saving something new that it will be easy to find later as well.
What method do you use?
Are you a fan of some completely different method or organizing principle than what Wurman suggests we use? Share in a comment below.