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A critical element within the selected domain.

When considering a new domain listing the key aspects is clearly an important first step.


Key Elements of a Music Chart

When starting to work in a new domain it is common to have a small group of stakeholders that will confidently assert that they know what the key aspects are. Usually they are wrong, for two different reasons:

  • First their experience has led them to a common view of the topic that is not shared by the majority of potential users
  • Second their idea of the aspects has not been tested against the rigour of real implementation, if it had then Information Architecture would already have been defined


Extracting a precise and agreed set of the key topics for a given domain is surprisingly hard. Luckily we don't have to get the list exactly right first time. Once we have a first pass list the next process is to classify the valid values in each aspect, this process will often help to clarify the exact scope of each aspect and reveal key aspects that have not been included.

The following activities are valuable in the process of documenting the key aspects:

If you have a list of more than, say about 10, key topics you need to think carefully about what you are trying to achieve.


Usually there are two different ways to present the selected list of aspects. One is to just list the topics and descriptions, since there are few domains that have more than 20 key topics this is often sufficient to engage the stakeholders in discussion.

Key Elements of a Music Chart

A more valuable approach is to draw a concept map that shows the main aspects and their connections. This simple picture shows each aspect, for example as a simple box, then connects them to illustrate the main relationships. In the case above the boxes are arranged to group the most closely associated ideas together, the symmetry shows that, for these purposes, songs and albums play similar roles. In this case the lines only show the explicit relationships, it is often useful to also include the inferred relationships, for example drawing them with a thinner or paler line.

In the case above the boxes all have the same colour, obviously if this image is part of a collection then it could be valuable to use colour to relate one view with another. Alternately we could use colour to differentiate between different aspects, for example which ones will be available as the basis for user navigation.


In any domain the number of Aspects is always small enough to mean that many possible approaches will work. One simple way to document the current understanding is to keep a list of the names and descriptions of the aspects as the first tab of a spreadsheet

Links to this page

The following pages link to here: Aspect, Card Sorting, Checklist, Classification, Computer Science, Concept Map, Data Form, Data Migration, Data Model, Gathering Data, IA Best Practice, Implementing IA, Index, Inference, Information Architecture, Model, Narrative, Online analytical processing, Ontology, Unified Modeling Language, Uses for IA

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