I get the feeling that there are some people out there who think that one of the first things you want to do, when starting an Information Architecture project, is a detailed Content Inventory. (Want to get into a discussion about what terms to use and what they mean, go to the IA Wiki – I’d give you a link to the exact page, but the site seems to be down at the minute).
Personally, I am of the opinion that starting your project with an inventory of this kind is probably one of the *worst* ways to go about developing a good IA.
Not only is it the fastest way to lose enthusiasm for a project (hey, you don’t do a Content Inventory for fun… they’re really the most tedious work that an IA has to do). It is also the best way to ensure that you’re *not* taking a fresh approach to how the content might be structured and related.
When you’re doing a content inventory, you’re unavoidably indoctrinating yourself into the way that things are currently done. The IA approach (or lack thereof) currently in use, the way things are named and grouped. The stuff you’re trying to fix. It is very hard, once you’ve been through that process, to divorce yourself from ‘the way it is’ in order to be able to work out ‘ways that it could be’ and ultimately ‘the best way forward’.
And, in the early design stages, you don’t *need* to know every single bit of content and where to find it. You just need to know, broadly, what the really important content is (speaking from a content perspective – there are lots of other things you need to know about your client, your users etc.)
So, rather than doing a content inventory, do a content survey. Have a run through the existing content. Work out what’s there, and find out what’s important. Learn about how much exists, how the content will grow (or not), what content is high priority, what are the different types of content.
Then, while you’re still excited and energised about the project, start designing. Pull out your paper and a pencil and get creative. Imagine all the different ways that you could possibly approach this content.
Design when you’re still fresh, then go do your content inventory and make sure your designs still hold.
I guarantee, not only will you enjoy your work much more, but your work will be more enjoyable for users.
And both of those things, I think, are what it’s all about.
What do you think?
Image Credit: Idiolector @ Flickr